What Are No-Fee Checking Accounts?

Quick Answer

No-fee checking accounts have no monthly maintenance fees, but you might encounter other service fees, like overdraft fees or check fees, depending on how you use the account.

Asian business woman working on laptop on desk in office.

No-fee checking accounts, sometimes called free checking accounts, are checking accounts that don't have monthly fees. Since standard checking accounts might charge up to $15 per month for account maintenance, choosing a no-fee account could potentially save you money each year. Read on to find out how no-fee accounts work and how to open one.

What Is a No-Fee Checking Account?

A no-fee checking account is a type of checking account that charges no monthly maintenance fee, and you don't need to maintain a certain balance to get the fee break. Often no-fee checking accounts are provided by online or digital banks, but some major banks and credit unions with brick-and-mortar locations may have them as well.

While no-fee accounts can help you stop monthly fees from racking up, they aren't entirely fee-free. Financial institutions may still charge other fees for extra services like overdraft protection.

Manage Your Finances

Find Digital Checking Accounts

Experian Logo
$50 with qualifying direct deposits
FDIC Insured

6 Common Checking Account Fees

Here are six common checking account fees that might be charged on a no-fee account:

  • Out-of-network ATM fees: Checking accounts may charge an ATM fee if you draw cash using an out-of-network ATM.
  • Check fees: If you request a checkbook or cashier's check, the financial institution may charge a fee for the service.
  • Overdraft fees: When you make a transaction that overdraws your account, you could be charged overdraft fees. However, it's becoming more common for banks to no longer charge these fees.
  • Stop payment fees: The account may charge a fee if you request to stop payment on a check that hasn't yet been cashed.
  • Nonsufficient fund fees: If you write a check that someone cashes and there's not enough money in your bank account to pay the check, you could get charged a nonsufficient funds fee.
  • Wire transfer fees: A bank or credit union could charge a service fee to process wire transfers when you send money domestically or internationally.

How to Choose a No-Fee Checking Account

If you're thinking about opening a free checking account, here are some ways to compare free checking accounts head-to-head.

  • Review terms and conditions. You can compare fees and minimum balance requirements across multiple checking accounts by pulling their account disclosures. Banks and credit unions may provide a link to account disclosures on their website, and if they don't, you can request a copy to run through fine print.
  • Take a look at ATM networks. If you withdraw cash frequently, having access to a large, free ATM network could save you a sizable sum on ATM fees. Check to see how large the free ATM network is for different accounts to compare options.
  • Look for deposit insurance. Always confirm that a credit union or bank has Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) or National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) insurance before opening an account. FDIC and NCUA insurance protect up to $250,000 of your deposits at each financial institution (per depositor and account ownership category) if the bank or credit union goes bankrupt.
  • Review banking features and reviews. Compare banking apps to see which account offers the best banking tools, features and benefits. You could also read customer reviews to see how other people like a bank or credit union before opening an account.

How to Open a No-Fee Checking Account

If you decide a no-fee checking account is right for you, here are the steps to take next:

  1. Shop around to compare accounts. Check with your current bank to see if it offers a no-fee checking account. If not, do an internet search for no-fee checking accounts to compare your options. Credit unions are a place where you may be able to find no-fee checking accounts, and online banks may charge fewer fees across the board since not having physical locations lowers a bank's operating costs.
  2. Apply for the account. Many bank accounts have online applications you can complete using your mobile device or desktop computer. To open a checking account, financial institutions will likely ask for personal information like your name, address and Social Security or tax identification number to verify your identity.
  3. Fund your account. Lastly, determine how much you want to deposit into your new checking account and fund the account. Depending on the bank or credit union, you may be able to fund your account by making an external bank transfer, depositing cash into an ATM, setting up direct deposit or mailing in a check.

Should I Get a No-Fee Checking Account?

Whether you should open a no-fee checking account depends on the terms of your current account. If your account has monthly maintenance fees but you routinely qualify to have those fees waived by maintaining a certain balance, moving accounts may not be worth the hassle.

On the other hand, if you're racking up monthly fees, it could be cost-effective to explore what no-fee accounts have to offer and how you can avoid paying bank fees. Tallying up your bank fees over the last few months or years could help you decide if pursuing a no-fee checking account makes financial sense.

If you're thinking about opening a new checking account, the Experian Smart Money™ Digital Checking Account & Debit Card can help you build credit without debt by automatically linking to Experian Boost®ø, which gives you credit for eligible bill payments. You will also pay no monthly fees¶ for Experian Smart Money, have access to more than 55,000 fee-free ATMs worldwide** and could receive your paychecks up to two days early when you enroll in direct deposit†. You can get an Experian Smart Money Account through a free or paid Experian membership, which also gives you access to your FICO® Score , Experian credit report and more. See terms at experian.com/legal.