WalletHub has details on checking accounts
from banks and credit unions across the country that may meet your needs. If you’re willing to give up the convenience of local branches, make sure to consider online-only banks, which offer the best interest rates and lowest fees, according to the WalletHub Banking Landscape Report
. If access to local ATMs and branches is your priority, you can search for the banks and credit unions nearest you. Once you find the right more
checking account, we’ll redirect you to the issuing institution’s website so you can open your checking account online. Also, check out our "Expert’s Answers" below to learn everything you need to know about checking accounts and how to compare offers. less
Ask our Experts
Do I Need a Checking Account?
Yes. You need a checking account primarily for two reasons:
- Safety: Stashing your money in your sock drawer or under your mattress is both impractical and dangerous. The safer option is to store your money in a checking account. The federal government insures deposits of up to $250,000. And you receive fraud protection on your debit card purchases.
- Simplicity: Although a cash-only lifestyle is still possible in this day and age, it’s also inconvenient. Most checking accounts come with a debit/ATM card that you can swipe to make purchases or withdraw cash. Standard checking accounts usually also provide physical checks and electronic banking options so you can easily pay your bills.
Receiving funds is also simpler with a bank account. It can be difficult and expensive to cash payroll and government checks without a bank account of your own. You’ll also be able to receive direct deposits into your checking account.
How Do I Open a Checking Account That’s Right for Me?
Opening a checking account is easy. To find the account that's right for you, just make sure to cover these important bases:
- Evaluate Your Needs: Your financial needs and previous banking habits should dictate the types of services you require and value most. For example, can you meet an account’s minimum balance requirement or have your paycheck direct-deposited to reduce monthly fees? Do you need free ATM access when you travel? Let those factors guide your selection.
- Compare Offers: WalletHub’s comparison tool (above) allows you to weigh your options and narrow your search to just general consumer, student or business accounts. You can also filter the results according to certain features you’re looking for, institution type, whether you need access to a branch in your area and more. Look carefully at the costs and fees associated with each account to find the one that best fits your lifestyle.
- Don’t Rule out Prepaid Cards: Some people prefer using prepaid cards, which are essentially checking accounts without the paper checkbook. Prepaid cards allow you to spend only the money you have loaded onto your account, so there’s no risk of accidentally overdrawing your balance and being hit with the associated fees. But prepaid cards come with their own sets of fees, so weigh these against your standard checking account options as well.
Once you’ve identified the checking account you’d like to open, we’ll direct you to its online application, but you can also complete an application at a local bank or credit union branch. You will need a few things at hand to set up your account. We’ve provided step-by-step instructions to give you an idea of what to expect.
Should I Get a Bank or Credit Union Checking Account?
Compare all the checking accounts you qualify for at both banks and credit unions and select the account that gives you the best deal, regardless of the type of financial institution. There are some differences between banks and credit unions, but they offer similar services, and both are protected by federal deposit insurance. Also keep in mind that credit unions have eligibility criteria
that you must meet before you can open an account.
You can learn more about the chief distinctions between the two types of financial institutions by reading WalletHub’s guide on Credit Unions vs. Banks
What Is the Difference Between Checking and Savings Accounts?
Checking and savings accounts are the two most common types of deposit accounts offered by banks and credit unions. Each allows you to deposit funds and protects your account with deposit insurance.
WalletHub’s guide on Checking vs. Savings Accounts
provides more details about how the two types of accounts contrast with each other.
How Do I Avoid Overdraft Fees?
On occasion, you might accidentally overdraw your checking account or bounce a check. It happens. But you’ll want to avoid doing so because most banks and credit unions charge overdraft and nonsufficient funds (NSF) fees that range between $25 and $34
every time you put your account in the hole. You can dodge — or at least minimize — the hefty cost of overdrafts by following these tips:
- Budget & Balance: The cheapest — but not always the easiest — way to avoid such costly fees is to develop good budgeting habits and to balance your checkbook regularly.
- Say No to Your Institution: When you open a checking account, your bank or credit union will offer to cover overdrafts on one-time debit card transactions and ATM withdrawals in exchange for an overdraft fee. You can and should refuse this offer. If you choose not to accept, your transactions will be declined when you lack the funds to cover them, but you won’t be charged any fees.
- Sign Up for Overdraft Protection: A service offered by banks and credit unions, overdraft protection covers checking account shortfalls by transferring funds from another deposit account or even from a loan. There is a cost associated with this option, but it is cheaper than overdraft and NSF fees.
- Get a Prepaid Card: Prepaid cards allow you to do virtually everything you can with a traditional checking account minus the ability to write physical checks. By making all your payments with plastic, you won’t be able to spend more than what you have, so you won’t incur overdraft fees.