Best Online Checking AccountReviewAdvice

Best Online Checking Account for 2016

Which banks offer the best free online checking accounts?

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Best Online Checking Accounts

The best online checking accounts provide a trove of perks, including higher yields and lower fees due to competition between banks to win potential customers.

I've compiled a list of the best online checking accounts in terms of interest rates, features, and minimum required balances. I compared the different options available and uncovered the top online checking accounts.

About one in four U.S. households do not use bank accounts. However, online checking accounts will save you time and money because they typically have fewer fees than traditional banks.

Best Online Checking Account: What to Consider

While perusing the following online checking accounts, I took the following factors into consideration:

1. Balance Requirement

This is the minimum dollar amount necessary to open and/or maintain the account. Clarify this contingency with the institution to avoid penalties.

2. BBB Rating

The Better Business Bureau rates institutions on a variety of factors including customer satisfaction, business operations, and compliance with legal regulations.

3. Interest Rate

Be sure the institution you open your online checking account with offers a competitive interest rate. Since this number fluctuates alongside economic conditions, it's difficult to specify what a "good" or "bad" rate is. As this is the case, evaluate them based on your individual situation.

4. Fees

Monthly, insufficient funds, and overdraft fees are just a handful of the ones to look out for when deciding which online checking account to open.

ATM fees can be particularly painful. In my research, I found that the best checking accounts available online will actually reimburse at least some of your ATM fees. The reason for this is that online-only banks don't normally offer their own machines. With the average ATM fee sitting at $2.90, this can mean significant savings.

5. Extra Features

Explore the extra features offered, as these can make an online checking account even more convenient. The most useful features I put on my list include:

  • Mobile banking: If you live life on the go, like many people do these days, this feature can be a lifesaver. You can check your balance, move money around between accounts, and even make deposits by simply photographing a check.
  • Mobile alerts: These typically arrive via text message, and can notify you of a number of events depending on your settings. Get low balance warnings, transaction alerts, and even security alerts which tell you if your PIN or other vital information has been changed. This can help you by letting you know you need to contact your bank immediately.
  • Bill pay: According to the Pew Charitable Trusts (a civic research and policy firm), 24% of Americans have used their smartphone to pay a bill. This trend is only increasing, so it's important to make sure you're getting the most up-to-date features when you open a checking account online.
  • 24/7 customer service: If you've ever gotten stuck trying to pay for something only to have your card declined, you know why round-the-clock service matters. Technology isn't perfect, and sometimes you need an issue resolved right now, not at the open of business. The best checking accounts online include expanded service hours.

6. FDIC Insurance

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation insures deposits in banks up to $250,000. This is a valuable component to look for when evaluating different online checking accounts because it's a trusted agency of the federal government and will protect your funds in the event that the banking institution fails.

The Best Online Checking Accounts

The following is a breakdown of the three most prominent options for the best online bank account. It includes an overview of each institution's checking account offers, along with the pros and cons of each one. Everyone's needs are different when it comes to banking so it's important to look at the features which will work best for you.

Capital One 360 Checking Account Review

  • Pros
  • Mobile check deposits
  • No minimum amount required for account opening
  • Zero dollar balance requirement
  • FDIC insured
  • No monthly fee
  • Cons
  • Can be challenging to deposit cash
  • No online chat function for customer support - only phone
  • Only one 360 checking account permitted per customer

This is a good checking account from Capital One, with all the features you have come to expect from big banking names. The company is known for innovative banking and credit card lending, and this account fits right in with the organization's product strategy.

It has three variable rates depending on the initial deposit. The first interest rate is applied to balances ranging from $0 to $49,999.99, the second rate is applied to balances from $50,000 to $99,999.99, and the third applies to $100,000 or more. Seeing as how these rates fluctuate so frequently, it's best to consult Capital One directly for up-to-date figures.

As part of its suite of mobile capable features, they accept mobile checks deposits which can greatly increase the speed with which your funds clear. Plus they have 38,000 fee-free Allpoint ATMS, no overdraft charges and no excessive monthly fees like some other banks.

Last, but certainly not least, it's FDIC insured up to $250,000 and the BBB gives the company a B rating. The few negative reviews I found were regarding difficulties logging into personal accounts. After further reading, I think it was just a few select cases that were eventually resolved.

This is a great free online checking account to apply for, especially if you have Capital One credit cards or carry other products. They don't require a starting balance although their APR offerings are distributed across three tiers, they don't charge fees, and overall have a decent BBB rating. Customer reviews are, for the most part, positive and individuals are satisfied with the level of service they receive through the client relations department.

Ally Bank Interest Checking Account Review

  • Pros
  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • No fee if you withdraw at an Allpoint ATM
  • Customer service via phone and online chat
  • Free checks - including reorders
  • Cons
  • No cash deposits
  • Limit of $10 per month reimbursement for using non-Allpoint ATMs

Ally Bank has a number of features that appeal to customers. They have two variable interest rates--one if your daily balance is less than $15,000 and another one if your daily balance is more than $15,000. For specific annual percentage yields, contact Ally directly.

They offer free checks, no monthly maintenance fees, and online/mobile banking. The mobile banking feature is a great way to receive balance alerts and stay up-to-date on the status of your account. They're also FDIC insured for the standard $250,000.

In terms of negatives, they do charge an overdraft item paid (or overdraft item returned) fee, stop payment fee, and insufficient funds fee. And, the BBB gives them a rather low rating (C+) compared to other institutions on our list. Ally's interest rate (at the time of writing this review) is slightly higher than Schwab's but Schwab's doesn't charge you the multitude of fees. If you're in the habit of racking up fees, I would suggest opting for Schwab's checking account instead since they don't tack on those fees.

An online account I like and would recommend to you if you are in the market for a web-based checking account. They were named the #1 best online bank three years in a row by Money Magazine, and have great online perks as well as freebies including checks, balance alerts, and more. The few fees they do have like the overdraft item paid/returned fee and insufficient funds tend to be common across the industry so it's not by any means a deal breaker.

USAA Checking Account Review

  • Pros
  • No monthly fees
  • No minimum balance requirement
  • Free nationwide ATMs
  • Cash and check deposits via ATM
  • USAA money manager tool
  • Cons
  • Requires minimum opening deposit ($25)
  • Charges $25 for overdrafts
  • No interest earned on balances under $1000

USAA combines strong military values with premier financial service in this online checking account. You'll get free nationwide ATM use, account access anywhere and anytime, deposits at your fingertips and a host of additional security features. Before I continue, it's worth acknowledging that you'll only earn an annual percentage yield on balances over $1,000. At some point in the future this may change but it's best to consult with USAA for APY specifications.

There are over 60,000 USAA-preferred ATMs nationwide and in the event that you have to use another one, USAA will refund your bank fees. The mobile banking app, also available on Apple devices allows you to quickly check your account and manage the incoming or outgoing funds.

USAA's money manager tool provides additional information to learn effective strategies and the value of proper spending habits. Easy deposit is a feature which allows you to deposit checks at more than 2,000 select UPS Store locations.

USAA's offerings are quite wide ranging considering that this provider used to be exclusively available to military personnel. They were rated highly by the Better Business Bureau, and have positive reviews regarding their customer service. While their APY is low, this has the possibility to change.

Schwab Bank High-Yield Checking Account Review

  • Pros
  • No balance required to maintain account
  • No minimum amount required to open
  • FDIC insured
  • No monthly fee
  • Online banking
  • Cons
  • Must have a Schwab brokerage account to qualify
  • No cash deposits
  • Limited deposit methods

What's great about this online account is the fact that it gives you the hybrid benefits of both checking and savings accounts, but it's only available if linked to a Schwab One brokerage account. Before you read any further, brokerage products are not FDIC-insured, are not guaranteed by the bank and may therefore lose value. If you've understood this stipulation and are willing to give it a gamble then we'll move on.

It has an APY variable interest rate on any balance, which means there's no minimum amount required to open it and the checking side of it is FDIC insured up to $250,000. As part of the account features you get online banking, mobile applications and access to free standard checks. The downside of this account as previously mentioned is that it must be tied to a Schwab One brokerage account. Apart from that it also has a fee for returned and insufficient funds plus the low BBB rating.

Although this account has all the positives you would want in a web-based checking account, it gets 3 stars predominantly because it needs to be linked to a brokerage account which is not FDIC insured, plus it has a low BBB rating and a few excessive fees. It does, however, have some really neat features which hold value, making it one of the best checking account offers if you're already a client.

Simple.com Review

  • Pros
  • Member FDIC
  • iOS and Android apps available
  • User-friendly interface
  • Visa Zero Liability policy
  • No possibility of overdraft, thus no fees
  • Cons
  • No cash deposit
  • No paper checks available
  • No joint or business accounts

Another noteworthy stipulation is you have to own a device/smartphone which can operate the Simple mobile app. Most iOS devices with 8.0 or higher will work. While you can access some of the features though the traditional web application, you just won't access the full scope without the proper mobile application. This may be a deal breaker already, depending on your proficiency with mobile technology.

Simple has a very proficient fraud policy, which should appease some of your concerns. The Visa Zero Liability policy allows you to block your card as soon as you notice suspicious activity right away through the mobile app or web portal.

According to their website, "for transactions processed as credit, you're not liable for fraud as long as you notify us within two business days after you notice it (after two business days, you can be liable for up to $500). With debit transactions, you're only liable for the first $50 as long as you notify us within 2 business days. These protections don't apply to ATMs or transactions processed outside the Visa network".

So how does depositing funds work? You have a number of options including direct deposit, which will be the easiest for most individuals. Otherwise, you can deposit checks by taking a photo of them with the Simple mobile app. They also take deposits by mail.

In terms of fees, this provider claims not to charge any apart from an International Service Assessment (ISA) fee and ATM fees for those that are out-of-network. Bill pay is also available with Simple. You can utilize their Payments and Transfers feature to pay anyone you'd like to and a check will be mailed to them. For payments to larger businesses, you can opt to have them paid electronically and the funds will arrive in about two business days.

Overall, we're quite impressed by the offerings that Simple boasts. While they're not as prominent in the market as some of the other providers like Schwab, Ally Bank, and Capital One, they do possess some features that will appeal to many individuals.

In particular, Simple is attractive to those who want all the simplicity of mobile banking with the additional goal tracking feature, fraud protection, limited fees, and user-friendly interface. If you haven't already done so, browse this provider's client reviews - which for the most part are positive.

Best Online Checking Account vs Savings Account?

Checking Account Definition

What exactly is a checking account? Investopedia defines it as an account held at a financial institution, allowing you to make both deposits and withdrawals.

What Is a Checking Account?

To expand on the simple definition itself, I also looked at other components which make this financial tool a checking account, as opposed to other types. Typically, this type - including free checking accounts - will include:

  • The ability to access funds using paper checks
  • The use of ATMs (automated teller machines)
  • The use of a debit card for point-of-sale and other mobile purchases
  • Transactional liquidity - allowance of numerous withdrawals and typically unlimited deposits, unlike other account types which limit these transactions

In addition to these characteristics, checking accounts are available to meet different needs. Student accounts often come with lower, or no, fees. Business accounts help you keep your personal and business transactions separate. Joint accounts allow you to add other people like your spouse, so that they can also carry out transactions like deposits and purchases.

When you're in the market to open a checking account online, you may also be looking for an option that offers you a savings account as well. But how do you know which one you need, or if you need both?

When you're in the market to open a checking account online, you may also be looking for an option that offers you a savings account as well. But how do you know which one you need, or if you need both? I took a look at this aspect of online-only banking when investigating the best bank accounts online in order to give you the big picture:

Online Checking Accounts

  • Intended for daily or frequent use
  • No (or very lenient) restrictions on withdrawals and deposits
  • Access at any time
  • Ability to use automatic bill pay, money transfers, and other external transactions
  • Low (or no) interest rate earned

Online Savings Accounts

  • Intended for moderate- to long-term use in order to save and earn interest
  • Restrictions on withdrawals, typically between 3 and 6 permitted per month
  • Access limited, sometimes requiring transfer to checking first
  • Typically no external facility transfers permitted
  • Higher interest rate than checking One factor that can vary to a high degree among both checking and savings accounts is the fee structure. When shopping for the best bank accounts be sure to read all of the fine print on fees, regardless of the type you're looking to open.

Why use the Best Online Checking Account?

You may be wondering, why not just stick with traditional brick-and-mortar banking? It's no secret that nearly everything is moving into cyberspace, and financial transactions are no different. The better question may be, why not? Some of the most advanced, convenient features are being offered through online banking. Getting the most out of your money may mean taking advantage of the best free checking accounts on the Internet.

The best checking accounts available online will actually reimburse at least some of your ATM fees. The reason for this is that online-only banks don't normally offer their own machines. With the average ATM fee sitting at $2.90, this can mean significant savings.

Best Online Checking Account Recap

To figure out what online account is ideal for your financial situation, consider the interest rates offered, monthly and ATM fees, and minimum balance. Once you've decided on the right online checking account for you, continue your financial makeover by checking out our guide to the best online savings accounts as well as our review of the best personal loans.

Best Online Checking Account FAQ

What is an electronic transfer?

An electronic transfer is an exchange of money from one online account to another. This can be done with online checking accounts, savings accounts and a number of other types either in a single institution or to other outside financial institutions. Typically, there is no fee associated with an electronic transfer within the same bank. For example, Bank of America does not charge a fee if you want to wire money from one BOA account to another. When performing an electronic transfer, be sure to use a safe and secure platform on your mobile device or computer in order to avoid compromising your personal information.

How much does a checking account cost?

Online checking accounts are offered by an overwhelming majority of banks in the United States. In essence, a checking account allows you to make numerous withdrawals and deposits in exchange for a slightly lower interest rate. Checking accounts are FDIC insured with most institutions. Some of these accounts require you to maintain a minimum balance and/or apply a number of transactions upon registering the account. In some instances, if you fail to carry out the banks terms, you will be charged a service fee. This, however, should be explicitly stated in the details and terms upon creating the account.

Overdraft fees, what are they?

An overdraft fee is incurred when you withdraw money from your online checking account resulting in a balance below zero. The best way to avoid overdraft fees is to keep a close eye on your balance and to establish a budget ahead of time to track your spending and purchases. Overdraft fees vary in amount from bank to bank. For example, the Capital One 360 Checking Account and Schwab Bank High-Yield Investor Checking Account each have no overdraft whereas the Ally Interest Checking Account has a $25 overdraft item paid/returned fee. If you're concerned about overdraft fees, consult your bank about the types of overdraft services they offer. One solution is to link your checking account with your savings account. In the event that your balance gets too low, the funds will automatically be moved over in order to cover the overdraft. Again, inquire with the specific bank as to which services they offer.

Why should I get a checking account?

There are more than a few good reasons to open an online checking account. One reason is because it allows you to keep track and manage your spending conveniently online. Checking accounts are generally tied to debit cards and purchases/transactions are deducted from these accounts. You can also adjust a checking account's settings to have your employer deposit paychecks directly into them. As a supplement to a savings account, a checking account is a formidable way to make withdrawals, deposits, and transfers. Overall, it's a reliable and efficient way to pay bills, make purchases, and manage your spending.

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In order for MoneySavingPro to remain a consumer free service, many of the companies covered in our industry reviews compensate MoneySavingPro for new sign ups.

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While we try to research and review as many providers as possible in the 100+ industries we cover, we have not reviewed every company available.

Our rating system is independent of compensation and reflects our true understanding of the industry and the company based on a variety of factors. The companies that receive the highest rating will always be the providers that we believe offer the best value to the consumer.

Advertiser Disclosure

In order for MoneySavingPro to remain a consumer free service, many of the companies covered in our industry reviews compensate MoneySavingPro for new sign ups.

However, the results of our comparison tools, the rankings of the providers and the information presented is not affected by compensation. Indeed, many of these companies approach us for an advertising partnership after we have already written a published their reviews.

While we try to research and review as many providers as possible in the 100+ industries we cover, we have not reviewed every company available.

Our rating system is independent of compensation and reflects our true understanding of the industry and the company based on a variety of factors. The companies that receive the highest rating will always be the providers that we believe offer the best value to the consumer.