Free Checking Accounts - Do They Still Exist?


Choosing the right checking account
Unless you keep your money under your mattress, you probably have at least one checking account. Lately, it seems like even free* checking accounts have hidden fees or fine print that make it almost impossible to access your money without paying the bank. This is an absolutely ridiculous concept so I have decided to do some research for my readers. Remember that I am not a banker, so make sure you check the fine print at your specific financial institution before opening a new bank account. is a great site for comparing different banks. They are not affiliated with any specific bank and provide easy to read charts based on your search. When I searched checking accounts from local banks, it showed me a list that included minimum balance, monthly fees, overdraft fees, and more.

When opening an account with a new bank, the first thing you want to do is make sure they are FDIC or NCUA (credit unions) insured. This means that the money is protected. It won't protect you against a bad investment, but it will protect your funds from the bank itself in the event of theft or bankruptcy.

Possible Fees
A free checking account might have a minimum balance, debit card fee, limited check cashing, and other fees. Follow the rules and you will be fine, but one extra transaction can cost you more than your balance.

Student Accounts vs Free* Accounts
If you are still a student, your school ID might be your golden ticket to an actual free checking account. I know that the bank I used during college, and still use, was completely free with no minimum balance requirements. They would waive the regular fee once a year for overdrawing your account (accidents happen). Once I turned 26, I was notified that they automatically changed it over to a normal account.

Check with your school to see if they have a partnership with any banks. Sometimes these partnerships can save you money and allow you to use your school ID as a debit card which cut down on the amount of plastic in your wallet.

The non-student free checking account requires a minimum $100 daily balance to prevent a $5 monthly fee. Go under $100, even once, and you will be charged the $5 for the month.

One of the most popular free checking accounts is Capital One 360 (formally called ING Direct). There is no minimum balance and you earn interest. Alright, it's less than 0.2% but it's still more than zero.  Remember they are FDIC-insured so your money is safe. If you open a new checking account with Capital One 360, they're always offering promotions. Right now, you'll get $50 for opening a new account.  If you're not in a rush to open a new account, I recommend holding off because they often offer better promotions around holidays.

Another way to save money is to not order your checks from the bank. Unless your account comes with free checks, the bank is not the best deal.  Make sure you have the correct routing and account numbers for your account. Then check out the different offers from companies like Vistaprint and 4Checks to find the best deals.


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