Best Checking Accounts for 2021

Chances are, if you’re an adult you use banking products. The financial account that likely sees the most activity is a checking or debit card account. These accounts get used for everything from automatic payments to impulse purchases, which means finding the best checking accounts to meet all your needs is important.

Right now, the best banks for checking accounts are offering low account minimums to open, along with fee-free services, access to an ATM network and some form of interest or account rewards.

In this article

    The 5 best checking accounts of 2021

    • N26 — Best mobile app
    • Ally Bank — Best for high APY
    • Capital One — Best for overdraft protection
    • Discover — Best for cash back rewards
    • PNC Bank — Best for digital tools (basic virtual wallet)

    Best checking accounts at a glance

    ProviderMin. DepositMonthly FeeATM NetworkAPYKey Benefit
    N26$0$055,000+Not listedGet paychecks two days early
    Ally Bank$0$043,000+0.10% to 0.50%Reimbursement for ATM use outside network
    Capital One$0$039,000+0.20%Several overdraft assistance options
    Discover$0$060,000+1% cash backMonthly cash back on debit purchases
    PNC BankNot listed$0 to $2515,000+Not listedNew account bonuses available

    Best mobile app – N26

    Digital bank N26 has a checking account option that comes with some notable perks.

    Min. Deposit
    $0
    Overdraft Protection
    1
    J.D. Power Rating
    N/A
    SimpleScore
    3.5 / 5.0
    close
    SimpleScore N26 3.5
    Min. Deposit 5
    Overdraft Protection 3
    Customer Satisfaction N/A
    Support 5
    Additional Accounts 1

    First, the bank’s mobile app is driven by artificial intelligence to simplify and streamline banking processes for users. An account with N26 also comes with a debit card and access to free cash withdrawals at over 55,000 ATM locations throughout the world.

    Still, while the number of ATMs is one of the highest on this list, it’s important to remember that the ATMs are spread throughout six different countries.

    One additional perk of an N26 checking account is that users who receive direct deposit paychecks can get their money on Wednesdays instead of Fridays — two days early. This is not in the form of a loan, either, but rather the bank simplifying backend processes to approve the deposit faster.

    Best for high APY – Ally

    Those of you looking to earn interest on the money in your checking account may like the APY rates offered on a high yield checking account from Ally Bank.

    Min. Deposit
    $0
    Overdraft Protection
    1
    J.D. Power Rating
    5/5
    SimpleScore
    4.6 / 5.0
    close
    SimpleScore Ally 4.6
    Min. Deposit 5
    Overdraft Protection 3
    Customer Satisfaction 5
    Support 5
    Additional Accounts 5

    For balances under $15,000, the rate is 0.10%. If you keep a minimum daily balance over $15,000, that APY jumps to 0.50%. This is lower than what you’d get through a savings account, but is higher than many checking account options offer.

    Plus, you won’t see those interest earnings gobbled up by fees, because Ally does not charge monthly maintenance fees or fees on many common banking processes, like ACH transfers, incoming wires or cashier’s checks.

    Best for overdraft protection – Capital One 360

    Checking account users earn 0.20% APY on the money in their accounts, regardless of the balance size.

    Min. Deposit
    $0
    Overdraft Protection
    4
    J.D. Power Rating
    2/5
    SimpleScore
    4.4 / 5.0
    close
    SimpleScore Capital One 360 4.4
    Interest APY 5
    Overdraft Protection 5
    Customer Satisfaction 2
    Support 5
    Additional Accounts 5

    For many people, a checking accounts require constant supervision to prevent overdraft charges, especially when direct deposits and payments post on different schedules. Capital One’s online checking account comes with four different overdraft protection options to limit the need for meticulous monitoring. These options include auto-decline, an overdraft line of credit, free savings transfer and next day grace.

    Best for cash back rewards – Discover, Member FDIC

    Instead of giving users an APY return, Discover offers monthly cash back on checking accounts of 1% on up to $3,000 in purchases.

    Min. Deposit
    $0
    Overdraft Protection
    1
    J.D. Power Rating
    5/5
    SimpleScore
    4.6 / 5.0
    close
    SimpleScore Discover, Member FDIC 4.6
    Min. Deposit 5
    Overdraft Protection 3
    Customer Satisfaction 5
    Support 5
    Additional Accounts 5

    If you regularly use your checking account for purchases rather than your debit card, the cash back option makes Discover’s checking account attractive. All of Discover’s checking accounts come with terms that include no account minimums, no maintenance fees and access to over 60,000 ATMs throughout the nation.

    More passive spenders might be better served with a high yield checking account regardless of spending, and may want to consider using a savings account for some of their funds.

    Best for digital tools (basic virtual wallet) – PNC Bank

    PNC Bank refers to its online checking account options as virtual wallets. According to PNC, these virtual wallets offer innovative online tools for managing your money and checking account, which is what makes it stand out against the competition. It also includes online banking, online bill pay, online statements and mobile banking, options that are also offered by a lot of the other banks on this list, at least to some degree.

    Savings APY
    Varies by location
    1Y CD Rate
    0.02%
    J.D. Power Rating
    829/1,000
    SimpleScore
    3.2 / 5.0
    close
    SimpleScore PNC Bank 3.2
    Savings APY 2
    1Y CD APY 2
    Customer Satisfaction 3
    Mobile App 4
    Product Variety 5

    Some of PNC’s checking accounts come with fees, so depending on the level of checking account you select, you may be subject to monthly service fees that range from $7 to $25. These fees are avoidable, though, by meeting certain monthly requirements. The easiest way to avoid the fees is to keep the required minimum daily balance. For the basic virtual wallet account, that is $500. For the highest-tier account, that amount is $5,000.

    One nice perk about the PNC accounts is that they come with new account bonuses of $50, $200 or $300. Customers will need to meet the bank’s list of eligibility requirements to qualify.

    What is a checking account?

    A checking account is a bank account that holds your money and is designed for high-traffic use. Typically, checking accounts come with the ability to store funds with the bank and withdraw those funds via check, electronic transfer or through the use of a debit card. If you currently have a debit card, you have a checking account (unless it is a prepaid debit cards).

    Compared to savings accounts, checking accounts offer lower interest rates so your money earns less, but they do offer more access to your money. Savings accounts are limited to six transactions monthly, but checking accounts rarely have any such limits.

    How should I choose the right checking account?

    Finding the best checking account involves looking at several different factors and determining what is most important to you. Many people choose their checking account solely based on the interest rate or APY offered. Yes, it’s important to have your money working for you when you can, but you should be looking at more than just the rates.

    Most customers will be actively using their checking accounts in daily life. This makes things like customer service, fees, access to ATM networks and security important factors to consider. Ultimately, you want the checking account that pays the highest rates while still meeting all of your needs.

    We welcome your feedback on this article and would love to hear about your experience with the checking accounts we recommend. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

    Methodology

    SimpleScore

    The SimpleScore is a proprietary scoring metric we use to objectively compare products and services at The Simple Dollar.

    For every review, our editorial team:

    • Identifies five measurable aspects to compare across each brand
    • Determines the rating criteria for each aspect score
    • Averages the five aspect scores to produce a single SimpleScore

    Here’s a breakdown of the five aspect scores and their rating criteria for our review of the best checking accounts of 2020.

    Why do some brands have different SimpleScores on different pages?

    To ensure the SimpleScore is as helpful and accurate as possible, we developed unique criteria for every category we compare at The Simple Dollar. Since most brands offer a variety of financial solutions, their products and services will score differently depending on what we’re scoring on a given page.

    However, it’s also possible for the same product from the same brand to have multiple SimpleScores. For instance, if we compare the savings account offered by Chase, it scores a 3.8 out of 5. However, when we compare the checking account offered by Chase with the checking account SimpleScore metrics, it scores a 4.4 out of 5. We change and tweak the methodologies for different categories based on industry standards to paint a complete picture of products and brands.

    Have questions about our methodology?

    Email Hayley Armstrong at hayley@thesimpledollar.com.

    Minimum deposit

    We awarded checking account providers that require low or no minimum deposits to open an account.

    Overdraft protection

    It sucks when your account gets overdrafted and you’re hit with fees. Brands that offer more overdraft protections are awarded higher SimpleScores.

    Customer satisfaction

    We leveraged J.D. Power’s 2020 U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study and 2020 U.S. Direct Banking Satisfaction Study to rate each brand for customer satisfaction. The higher the satisfaction score, the higher the SimpleScore.

    Customer support

    The checking account providers that have the most channels of customer support score higher than providers that don’t. We considered e-chat, email, phone, mobile app support and social media as channels of support for this metric.

    Additional products

    When it comes to banking, it’s nice to have options. If you want a checking and savings account in one place, that’s great, but we also considered other financial products like MMAs, CDs, IRAs, loans and more. Providers that have more additional products score higher.

    Jason Lee

    Contributing Writer

    Jason Lee is a U.S.-based freelance writer with a passion for writing about dating, banking, tech, personal growth, food and personal finance. As a business owner, relationship strategist, and officer in the U.S. military, Jason enjoys sharing his unique knowledge base and skill sets with the rest of the world. Follow Jason on Facebook here