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How to Choose a Checking Account


From buying groceries with your debit card to making deposits and setting up auto-pay, your checking account runs your day-to-day. But the world of checking accounts is pretty diverse, so we're here to help you make sense of the variety and find one that meets your daily needs.

Explore Your Checking Account Options

From standard to rewards and student to senior, there's a variety of checking accounts to choose from, no matter where you're at on your financial journey. Here are a couple basic starting points:

Standard Checking Account

Checking accounts allow you to access your money on a daily basis. With a standard account, you can access your money by writing a check or using a debit/ATM card, and you can manage your funds via online or mobile banking resources.

Standard checking accounts typically pay little to no interest, but starting here can help you determine your core needs. Once you have a standard account up and running, you can continue to shop for an account that's more tailored to your preferences.

Most brick-and-mortars also provide online and mobile banking options, so you can have the best of both worlds.

If this is your first checking account, look for account features that meet the needs of someone just starting out — or rebooting — their financial journey, such as:

  • Minimal fees/possibility for waived fees
  • Mobile banking app
  • No or low minimum deposit

Free Checking

A free checking account is just like a standard checking account except that it comes without monthly maintenance fees. Even if your maintenance fees seem small, over a single year they can cost you hundreds of dollars. You can look for free checking through credit unions, online banks, or your local bank.

Joint Checking Account

Joint accounts can serve as a convenient way to share finances between:

  • Couples
  • Business partners
  • Roommates

Don’t pay to access your own money – get free checking.

More Checking Account Options

Interest Checking
  • Earns dividends on your balance
  • Helps grow your wealth
Student Checking
  • Tailored to students ages 17-24
  • Few fees or no fees at all
Senior Checking
  • Often available for 55 and older
  • Might also pay interest or dividends
Rewards Checking
  • Like a rewards credit card
  • Earn points or cash back for everyday spending
  • Some rewards accounts may also pay interest

Opening Your Account: Face-to-Face vs. Online

You can open an account online or at a local branch. If knowing you can walk into a bank or credit union branch and talk in person with a financial expert gives you peace of mind, you may prefer opening a checking account at a local financial institution.

Most brick-and-mortars also provide online and mobile banking options, so you can have the best of both worlds.

Even if your maintenance fees seem small, over a single year they can cost you hundreds of dollars.

If penciling in a pitstop at the bank isn't an option for you, or you just prefer to do everything remotely, open your account online. You can do this with a brick-and-mortar bank or with an online-only institution. Without the overhead associated with maintaining physical branches, online-only financial institutions are often able to charge lower fees and pay higher yields.

Plus, optimized 24/7 access to your online account means you can do your banking while waiting in line for a latte or binge-watching on the couch. Complete convenience.


See everything you can do with online and mobile banking.

Is Mobile Your Mantra?

mobile banking app on your smartphone or tablet takes convenience one step further. With a mobile app, you have banking options such as paying bills, transferring funds, checking your balance, depositing checks, and making other transactions safely and securely — literally at your fingertips.

Like online banking, mobile banking not only saves you from making a trip to your bank or credit union, but it also eliminates the paper trail of statements and receipts. So essentially, it's greener.

Look for accounts that offer reimbursements for fees if you use ATMs frequently.

If mobile banking is a must for you, check with the bank or credit union first to see if they offer an app, then check customer reviews to find out if the app is user friendly.

Consider Your Banking Needs

Think about how you'll use your checking account on a daily basis. Here are some important factors to keep in mind:

Frequent ATM Withdrawals

If you make ATM transactions on a regular basis (with safety top of mind), make sure to look for a checking account that's linked to a wide network of fee-free ATMs. Having free and easy access to your money whether you're close to home, traveling for business, or on a weekend road trip means one less thing to worry about for you. Also look for accounts that offer reimbursements for fees if you use ATMs frequently.


See how Access America Checking could help you. 

Increased Earnings

You might not initially think of a checking account as a means for earnings, but a high-interest checking account pays interest or dividends on your money. Most financial institutions offer high-interest checking, but credit unions generally pay higher dividends on your account balance. Keep in mind that often with these types of accounts, you'll need to maintain a specific minimum balance.

Curious about another way to earn? If you usually reach for your debit card when you go to pay, rewards checking might be a fruitful choice for you. A rewards checking account can help you earn points or cash back for debit card purchases — some accounts pay interest/dividends to boot.

A rewards checking account can help you earn points or cash back for debit card purchases.

Frequent Debits

Some types of checking accounts, including high-interest accounts, may limit how many checks you can write or debit purchases you can make per month. If you'd rather have more freedom with your monthly transactions, do your research to make sure the checking accounts you're considering don't have these transaction restrictions.

Minimal Fees

The cost of having a checking account can be high. Even if your bank or credit union doesn’t offer free checking, ask if there are ways you can get maintenance fees waived such as:

  • Maintaining a minimum balance
  • Signing up for monthly direct deposit
  • Making a minimum deposit each month
  • Enrolling in paperless statements

And if that sounds like too much work, you can always hold out for a free checking account to avoid monthly maintenance fees without having to do anything special.


Discover ten personal finance questions you need to answer. 

Take Note of Fees

Comparing accounts from different financial institutions can help you find a checking account that not only meets your needs for storing and managing your money, but also has lower fees and higher interest rates. Fees vary with each financial institution, but some common ones to watch out for include:

  • Monthly maintenance fees
  • Minimum balance fees
  • Overdraft fees
  • ATM fees
  • Inactivity fees

As you become more aware of potential fees while shopping around, figure out which ones can be avoided or waived before you sign up for an account depending on your needs and spending habits.

Parents looking to help their kids build healthy money habits can also open what's called a joint starter account.

The Takeaway

Whether you're opening your first checking account or reconsidering your financial situation, you have plenty of account options to consider. With these tips in mind, you'll be ready to compare the options and choose the perfect checking account.

Learn About PenFed Checking

See the features and benefits PenFed checking accounts have to offer.