2015 Checking Account Cost Comparison Report
With certain checking accounts charging close to 50 different fees, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of the growing structural complexity of this supposedly basic banking tool. As a result, checking account costs can vary by hundreds of dollars per year based what account you have and the way in which you use it.
In order to more accurately assess the extent of the problem, WalletHub compared the annual cost of each traditional checking account offered by 35 of the largest consumer-facing U.S. banks and credit unions, using five theoretical consumer profiles as our test cases. This report, together with WalletHub’s corresponding Checking Account Transparency Report, will therefore help provide consumers with a holistic view of both the good and bad aspects of the checking market.
The consumer profiles used in this Cost Comparison Report were designed to represent a wide range of consumer banking styles and provide an effective basis of comparison between institutions. You can find a breakdown of each profile’s general characteristics below. Additional detail is provided in the Methodology section.
- Your checking account could cost as much as $800 per year if you choose wrong and do not adjust banking habits based on the account’s price structure.
- Complex overdraft policy differences make it nearly impossible for customers to understand which account will be most affordable based on their particular usage habits. People who find themselves repeatedly overdrawing their accounts should consider alternative checking accounts, which either do not allow overdraft fees or charge relatively low overdraft fees. Cash Strapped consumers can save the most: $387 per year on average. The one major tradeoff is that you might have to give up your paper checkbook.
Cost Difference Between Most & Least Affordable Accounts
- The less money you have, the more a checking account will cost you. The average Cash Strapped consumer would incur roughly $470 in fees each year. Overdraft and insufficient funds fees add up quickly when times are tight, and it’s difficult to meet the direct deposit or minimum balance thresholds that many financial institutions require in order for customers to avoid monthly fees.
Average Annual Account Costs By Consumer Profile
- All consumers can save on everyday banking by gravitating to checking accounts from credit unions and online-only banks, with Cash Strapped consumers eligible to save the most money on average: $348 per year.
Scenario Cost by Type of Account
- Santander extra20 Checking is the best overall choice, topping 3 out of the 5 consumer profile scenarios used in this report. This account offers a $20 reward each month for making a direct deposit in excess of $1,500 as well as two online bill payments. However, keep in mind that this account requires a savings account to be opened at the same time.
- Similar to last year, we found that banks with lower costs in one customer segment were not necessarily likely to have lower costs in the rest of the scenarios. In fact, there was low correlation in the rankings of individual banks from one segment to another.
 The average Pearson correlation coefficient of the rankings of all scenarios was 0.34.
Most & Least Affordable Accounts
|Average Annual Checking Account Costs||Most Affordable Checking Account||Most Expensive Checking Account|
|Old School||$11.32||Santander extra20 checking||-$96.00||Key Express Checking Account||$55.98|
|Young||$28.97||Santander extra20 Checking||-$204.00||First Republic Classic Checking||$300.00|
|Cash Strapped||$471.98||Capital One 360 Checking||$2.83||SunTrust Essential Checking||$803.04|
|Everyday Joe||$136.49||Santander extra20 checking||$-87.00||First Republic Classic Checking||$395.28|
|International||$297.09||First Niagra PinnaclePlus||$43.50||Fifth Third Established Account||$573.16|
Note: Negative numbers indicate the user would make money by having the account.
Most & Least Affordable Financial Institutions
|Overall Rank||Bank||Old School Rank||Young Rank||Cash Strapped Rank||Everyday Joe Rank||International Rank|
|3||Charles Schwab bank||N/A||3||2||3||N/A|
|T - 21||Bank of America||13||15||22||17||20|
|T - 21||KeyBank||25||15||5||26||16|
|24||BMO Harris Bank||22||15||16||20||17|
|26||Bank of the West||17||15||21||24||19|
|1||Navy Federal Credit Union||1||3||1||2||2|
|T - 3||State Employees Credit Union||3||5||N/A||N/A||1|
|T - 3||Pentagon Federal Credit Union||4||2||N/A||N/A||3|
|5||Alliant Credit Union||5||1||3||3||5|
5 Tips for Finding the Best Checking Account
Clearly, checking accounts can be quite costly. They don’t have to be, though. Here are a few tips that will help you anticipate potential money-drains and keep prices down.
- Be Practical: The sheer vastness of checking account fees is telling of the service variety they offer, ranging from ATM withdrawals to paper statements to international wire transfers. As you likely won’t need all of them, it’s best to approach checking accounts in practical terms. When shopping for an account, think of your past usage patterns and evaluate the relevant fees. For instance, will you need a physical checkbook or paper statements? Will your transactions require frequent access to your local bank branch? How often will you need to withdraw cash from a non-bank-owned ATM? Let the answers to such questions guide your selection and dictate which fees to focus on minimizing.
- Comparison-Shop: In general, don’t begin with the end in mind. Many consumers enter the shopping process with preconceived notions about their ideal bank as well as its size and services. However, that limits one’s choices to a particular bank’s offers, which may not be the most suitable for the customer’s needs. The best way to find the right checking account is to compare different offers and services from multiple banks, large and small. If the banking institution and checking account meet the majority of your needs, additional amenities and functions won’t matter.
- Forget About Debit Card Rewards: Don’t let debit card rewards bias your search for a checking account. Not only are debit card rewards far less common than they were before the Durbin Amendment took effect, but credit card rewards are also up to eight times more lucrative. So, if you really want spending-based rewards, get a rewards credit card with a high earning rate on your biggest everyday expenses.
- Carefully Review Account Terms Once you've selected the account that you feel will best suit your needs (or even narrowed down your options to a few finalists), pore through the account agreement(s) with a fine-tooth comb. This is tedious work, but it can pay huge dividends by revealing restrictions and fees that you might otherwise be unaware of prior to experiencing them directly.
- Build a Financial Arsenal: Although checking accounts are quite versatile — allowing consumers to receive direct deposits, make debit card purchases, pay bills online and access cash on demand — they cannot be used for everything. An attractive savings account or credit card could fill other needs. Supplementing your checking account with other such types of financial products will enable you to easily and efficiently manage your finances.
Below you can find a complete breakdown of all the accounts that were evaluated in this report, grouped by consumer segment.
Best & Worst for Old School Consumers
Best & Worst for Young Consumers
Best & Worst for Cash Strapped Consumers
Best & Worst for Everyday Joe Consumers
Best & Worst for International Consumers
|Account Name||Type of Account||Consumer A "Old School"||Consumer B "Young"||Consumer C "Cash Strapped"||Consumer D "Everyday Joe"||Consumer E "International and on the Move"|
|Ally Bank Interest Checking||Online Only||Not Suitable||-$0.05||$150.00||$75.00||Not Suitable|
|Bank of America Core Checking||Branch||$15.36||$30.00||N/A||$142.68||$332.26|
|Bank of America SafeBalance||Alternative
No Check Writing
|Not Suitable||Not Suitable||$89.40||N/A||Not Suitable|
|Bank of the West Signature Checking||Branch||N/A||N/A||N/A||$461.00||N/A|
|Bank of the West Easy Checking||Branch||$19.97||$30.00||$596.99||N/A||$323.99|
|BB&T Bright Banking Checking Account||Branch||$19.20||$30.00||N/A||$147.60||$453.70|
|BB&T Fundamentals Checking||Branch||N/A||N/A||$598.80||N/A||N/A|
|BMO Harris Select Checking||Branch||$22.90||N/A||N/A||N/A||$312.28|
|BMO Harris Everyday Checking||Branch||N/A||$30.00||$545.85||$146.70||N/A|
|Capital One 360 Checking||Online||-$0.40||$0.00||$2.83||$4.80||Not Suitable|
|Charles Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking||Combo (Checking & Brokerage)||Not Suitable||$0.00||$150.00||$75.00||Not Suitable|
|Discover Cashback Checking||Combo (Checking & Credit Card)||Not Suitable||$0.00||$0.00||$0.00||$180.00|
|Citibank Basic Banking Checking Account||Branch||$20.11||$30.00||N/A||N/A||$264.04|
|Citibank Access Account||Alternative
No Check Writing
|Not Suitable||N/A||$30.00||$30.00||Not Suitable|
|Comerica Rich Rewards Checking||Branch||$19.47||N/A||$748.99||N/A||$387.99|
|Comerica Access Checking||Branch||$19.97||$107.40||N/A||$128.98||N/A|
|BBVA Compass ClearChoice Free Checking||Branch||N/A||$24.00||$535.28||$148.56||N/A|
|BBVA Compass ClearChoice Premium Checking||Branch||-$1.50||N/A||N/A||N/A||$284.50|
|E*Trade Checking Account||Online||Not Suitable||$0.00||$360.00||$135.00||N/A|
|E*Trade Bank Max Rate Checking Account||Online||Not Suitable||$0.00||N/A||$135.00||$157.50|
|Fifth Third Established Account - Checking||Branch||$20.16||N/A||N/A||N/A||$573.16|
|Fifth Third Essential Checking||Branch||N/A||$120.00||$461.04||$229.08||N/A|
|First Niagara Choice Checking||Branch||N/A||$0.00||$294.40||$115.80||N/A|
|First Niagara Pinnacle Plus Checking Account||Branch||-$0.50||N/A||N/A||N/A||$43.50|
|First Republic ATM Rebate Checking||Branch||$10.49||$300.00||$482.64||$395.28||$183.89|
|First Republic Classic Checking||Branch||N/A||$300.00||$482.64||$395.28||N/A|
|HSBC Choice Checking||Branch||$22.08||$30.00||N/A||$146.04||$264.78|
|HSBC Basic Banking - Checking||Branch||N/A||N/A||$281.52||N/A||N/A|
|JPMorgan Chase Chase Total Checking||Branch||$19.20||$30.00||$676.80||$141.60||$303.70|
|Key Express Checking Account||Branch||$55.98||$30.00||N/A||N/A||$308.79|
|KeyBank Hassle Free Account||Alternative
No Overdrafts Allowed
No Check Writing
|Not Suitable||Not Suitable||$30.00||$30.00||N/A|
|M&T EZChoice Checking||Branch||N/A||N/A||$735.00||N/A||N/A|
|M&T MyChoice Plus Checking||Branch||N/A||$0.00||N/A||$127.50||$483.00|
|M&T My Choice Checking||Branch||$24.00||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|PNC Virtual Wallet -Performance Spend||Online||-$0.30||$0.00||N/A||$108.00||N/A|
|PNC Virtual Wallet-Performance Select||Online||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||$269.70|
|PNC Performance Checking||Branch||-$0.30||$0.00||N/A||$108.00||N/A|
|PNC Bank Standard Checking||Branch||N/A||N/A||$680.00||N/A||N/A|
|RBS Citizens One Deposit Checking||Branch||N/A||$36.00||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|RBS Citizens Value Checking||Branch||N/A||N/A||$565.74||$152.88||N/A|
|RBS Citizens Personal Checking with Interest||Branch||$45.58||N/A||N/A||N/A||$267.18|
|Regions LifeGreen Checking||Branch||N/A||$30.00||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Regions LifeGreen eAccess Account||Online||N/A||N/A||N/A||$168.00||N/A|
|Regions LifeGreen Simple Checking Account||Branch||N/A||N/A||$552.00||N/A||N/A|
|Regions LifeGreen Preferred Checking Account||Branch||$12.00||N/A||N/A||N/A||$318.50|
|Santander extra20 Checking||Combo (Checking & Savings)||-$96.00||-$204.00||$412.00||-$87.00||$72.00|
|SunTrust Bank Select Checking||Branch||$20.16||$0.00||N/A||$118.08||$351.56|
|SunTrust Balanced Banking||Alternative
No Overdrafts Allowed
|Not Suitable||Not Suitable||$179.04||N/A||Not Suitable"|
|TD Bank TD Simple||Branch||N/A||$107.88||$585.02||$235.15||N/A|
|TD Bank TD Premier Checking||Branch||-$2.50||N/A||N/A||N/A||$237.50|
|Huntington Asterisk-Free Checking||Branch||N/A||$24.00||$354.32||$130.64||N/A|
|Huntington 5 Checking||Branch||$9.78||N/A||N/A||N/A||$448.98|
|U.S. Bank Easy Checking||Branch||$14.40||$30.00||$623.00||$145.20||$351.90|
|U.S Bank Silver Checking||Branch||$14.40||$30.00||$623.00||$145.20||$351.90|
|Union Bank Baking By Design||Branch||N/A||$24.00||N/A||N/A||$270.00|
|Union Bank Ready to Go Checking||Branch||$0.00||$24.00||N/A||N/A||$270.00|
|Union Bank Access Account||Alternative
No Overdrafts Allowed
No Check Writing
|Not Suitable||Not Suitable||$96.00||$24.00||Not Suitable|
|USAA Secure Checking||Branch||-$0.40||$0.00||$150.00||$75.00||$269.60|
|Wells Fargo Everyday Checking||Branch||$13.44||$30.00||$573.36||$141.72||$307.54|
|Alliant Credit Union Free Chcecking||Online||$24.48||-$0.32||$315.12||$93.24||$272.19|
|Boeing Employees Credit Union Checking||Branch||-$2.50||$0.00||$300.00||$75.00||$207.50|
|Navy Federal Credit Union Everyday Checking||Branch||N/A||N/A||$252.00||N/A||N/A|
|Navy Federal Credit Union Flagship Checking||Branch||-$17.50||N/A||N/A||N/A||$132.50|
|Navy Federal Credit Union e-Checking||Online||N/A||$0.00||N/A||$87.00||N/A|
|Pentagon Federal AccessAmerica Checking||Branch||$11.60||-$0.10||$132.00||$12.00||$186.00|
|State Employees Credit Union Checking||Branch||$4.30||$20.88||Not Suitable||Not Suitable||$76.05|
N/A indicates a checking account is less suited for the particular consumer segment, other offers being more advantageous.
In this study we analyzed checking accounts with an online application component for 30 of the largest US consumer-facing banks based on total asset volume, as reported by the FDIC, plus 5 of the largest credit unions. Where institutions offered multiple checking accounts, we reviewed all relevant accounts and presented the costs of the most affordable one for each scenario that also met the following criteria:
a.) Must be available to all consumers (must not require a minimum opening deposit over $2,500, or be for students or seniors only)
b.) Must provide all of the services (including check writing) that would be necessary to meet the transactions of each scenario
It is possible that consumers with usage patterns similar to those in our scenarios would benefit from alternative account offerings, or by combining overdraft protection with a line of credit or a linked savings account at many of the institutions reviewed. This year, we also decided to analyze alternative checking accounts (accounts that do not allow check writing or decline overdraft transactions) in order to show consumers how they could cut on their expenses if they are willing to give up on some of the features offered by traditional check accounts.
All account information collected was current as of August 14, 2015.
We gathered the basic information for our report from the websites of each of the 35 institutions, and confirmed fee information with each institution with the exception of for Charles Schwab, E*TRADE Financial, U.S. Bank (missed data verification deadline) and State Employees Credit Union (refused to participate).
Usage Patterns for Consumer Profiles
The goal of this report is to compare the cost structure of different banks across a number of theoretical consumer usage patterns. However, these profiles are not meant to mimic the particular usage patterns observed by any one bank or even to follow the average transactions of all checking accounts. Instead, we tried to capture a wide range of usage patterns and key fees in our profiles.
Where possible, we did use existing data to inform our methodology. For example, overdraft fees are one of the most costly expenses checking account consumers can encounter. We therefore wanted to ensure that we showed the cost of multiple overdraft fees in our profile without over representing the cost or risk of these fees. In creating our “Cash Strapped” profile, we relied on data from a recent CFPB report (June 2014) that stated, "…a relatively small number of account holders are responsible for most overdrafts, with 8.3 percent of account holders who overdraft more than 10 times per year responsible for 73.7 percent of overdraft fees. A majority of accounts, 69.8 percent, do not incur any overdrafts, and 82.3 percent of accounts incur 3 or fewer overdrafts." Additionally the report lists that the average annual charge for overdrafts alone for this consumer segment to be $380.40. This data helped inform our decision to include 12 transactions annually for which Consumer C’s account dropped below $0; six debit transactions and six check or ACH transactions. It also lead us to leave three out of the five total scenarios free from all overdraft fees.
We also tried to represent a variety of types of transactions and key fees that consumers might encounter, depending upon one’s financial profile and banking patterns. Below we have listed the description of each profile as well as the specific transactions that composed the calculations.
Consumer A “Old School”: uses her checking account in a traditional manner and wants in-branch service. Her primary use of the account is to pay her bills with checks. She uses her credit card instead of debit card for purchases. She goes to her own bank to withdrawal cash once a week (never uses another bank’s ATM), keeps a minimum balance of $5,000 in her account, and uses direct deposit. Consumer A always knows exactly how much money she has in her account and never allows her account to fall below $0. She manages her account with a paper statement.
Consumer A Transactions: 1 monthly maintenance fee (if applicable), no third party ATM fees, no online bill pay, writes 8 checks per month, no overdrafts, no wire transfers, paper statements, uses credit card.
Consumer B “Young”: is a modern consumer and primarily uses the account to pay his bills online, make purchases with his debit card (9 per month), and retrieve money from ATMs. He typically looks for in-house ATMs but occasionally needs to access another bank’s ATM. He has direct deposit of $3,000 per month. His account occasionally dips below $100 and a few times a year the account goes below $0 leaving him with insufficient funds to pay for several transactions – all debit card related. Because he did not sign up for debit card overdraft, those transactions are denied at the point of sale and he is not charged an overdraft fee. He manages the account online.
Consumer B Transactions: 1 monthly maintenance fee (if applicable), 1 out of network ATM per month, pays all bills online, 0 checks per month, 5 debit card NSFs per year but does not opt-in to debit card OD so transactions are denied at point of sale, online statements only, uses debit card 9 times per month.
Consumer C “Cash Strapped”: uses her bank account to help manage monthly cash flow. She deposits her checks as they come in (no direct deposit) and her account frequently dips below $0.00. Consumer C opts in to debit card overdraft and pays overdraft fees so that her bills and purchases are covered until her next pay check. Four times a year her balance remains below zero for between 5 and 10 days, during which she incurs additional “extended” overdraft fees from some institutions. Because she is often low on funds, she does not have a line of credit or a savings account to cover the overdraft transactions when they occur. She also uses the account for other banking features such as ATMs, online bill pay, and check writing. She typically looks for in-house ATMs but occasionally needs to access an ATM from another bank. She receives both online and paper statements and uses her debit card only 9 times a month.
Consumer C Transactions: 1 monthly maintenance fee (if applicable),1 out of network ATM per month, pays bills online, writes 2 checks per month, 12 overdrafts per year (6 debit card, 6 checks), opts-in to debit card OD without line of credit, triggers extended OD fee 4X (2X 5 days and 2X10 days), online and paper statements, uses debit card 9 times per month.
Consumer D “Everyday Joe”: has direct deposit of $3,000 per month, and uses the account for the typical features: ATM withdrawals, online bill pay, check writing. He typically looks for in-house ATMs but occasionally needs to access one at another bank. Occasionally he unknowingly runs his account below $0 but does not have overdraft protection. He pays bills online and writes checks. He receives both online and paper statements and uses his debit card 17 times per month.
Customer D Transactions: 1 monthly maintenance fee (if applicable), 1 out of network ATM per month, 3 check/ACH overdrafts per year, does not opt-in to OD protection, pays bills online, writes 4 checks, both paper and online statements, uses debit card 17 times per month.
Consumer E “International and on the Move”: has family overseas and travels one month out of the year to visit them. He primary uses his account to pay bills and send money to her relatives overseas. He has direct deposit of $4,000 per month and does not allow his account to dip below $0. He pays his bills online, writes several checks, wires money to his family every other month and uses his credit card rather than his debit card. When he travels overseas he uses an ATM to withdrawal funds. He manages his money using an online bank statement.
Consumer E Transactions: 1 monthly maintenance fee (if applicable), 6 international outgoing wire transfers per year, 5 3rd party ATM per year, plus 4 international ATM withdrawals during one month of international travel (total of 4 per year), writes 3 checks per month , pays bills online, does not overdraft, online statements, uses credit card.
ATM Fees: We did not include the cost of non-owner ATM surcharges in our calculation. To calculate the International ATM charges, we included both the flat international ATM fee and the conversion percentage fee. Conversion fees listed in percentages have been calculated based on the assumption that Consumer E withdraws $200 on each withdrawal.
Per Check Fee: Check costs vary according to style. The per check fee we assessed is based on the purchase of the physical checks (not transaction costs which are uncommon). To calculate a per check fee, we divided the cost of the most basic box of checks by the total number of checks in each box. We excluded “first box free” orders.
Overdraft/ NSF Fees: Include both those assessed when the bank covers the transaction as well as NSF fees where the bank does not cover the transaction. Where we assume that the consumer has “opted in” to debit card overdraft, we assume they have chosen to have the bank pay for transactions for which they do not have enough money in their account to cover the full amount of the transaction (and not have their transactions rejected at point of sale). None of our scenarios have overdraft plans that tie their account to a line of credit or savings account. Additionally, we assume that none of the overdraft transactions that take place during the course of a year happen on the same day, that each exceeds $10.00 and the overdrawn amount to be $50.
Online/ Paper Statements: Two of our consumer scenarios include both a paper and an online statement. In those instances where banks do not offer consumer the option to receive both online and paper, we assumed the consumer would choose to receive a paper statement. If they had separate fees for both online and paper statements we have taken both into the account where the scenario mentioned both.
Wire transfer fees: When an online wire transfer fee was available, we chose to use that fee over a branch fee for consumer E.
Interest bearing accounts: We applied the APYs offered by these types of accounts to the balance assumptions of each scenario. Based on the amount yielded, we have offset the total monthly cost for the respective scenarios.
NOTE: We have only used on-going fees and features related to accounts, for example the first checkbook offered for free or limited time bonuses (APY or cash) will not be reflected into our total cost assessment.