How to Find the Best Online Checking Account [10 Factors to Consider]

Online checking accounts are fast and easy to set up. You can apply for one in the comfort of your own home and start enjoying the convenience of a debit card and checks without much delay. Yet as you start looking for the best online checking account, you'll quickly discover that they have many different features. How can you choose the right one? Here are ten features to look at that will help you find the best checking accounts.

1. FDIC Insured Deposits

Make sure the bank carries insurance for your checking account deposits. Banks purchase insurance from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC). The best online checking account for your needs will protect your deposits.

2. Minimum Balance Requirements

Some checking accounts, especially those that offer interest on purchases, will require a minimum balance to be maintained to avoid fees. If you want the benefit of the interest, this isn't necessarily a bad feature, but make sure you know what the minimum is and can maintain it. Otherwise, the checking account will become quite expensive quickly.

3. Fees

Some checking accounts are free. Others charge fees. Sometimes the best online checking account for your needs won't be free, but you need to know the fees and why you pay them. If you don't want to pay any fees, look for a free checking account. These typically have no balance requirements, but they also usually pay no interest. They simply hold your money until you need to use it.

4. APY

Some checking accounts pay interest. This isn't going to be a high yield account, but it is still money you can earn simply for using the bank's services. If you're considering a checking account that pays interest, make sure you read the details carefully. You may need to meet certain requirements or be willing to pay a fee to use the interest-earning feature on the account.

5. Mobile App with Check Deposit, Alerts, and Debit Card Controls

Accessing your money on the go is always beneficial. A mobile app is a nice benefit to have with your online checking account. Not all apps are created equal, though. Many will allow you to deposit checks through the app using mobile deposit, but many go beyond this. For instance, some offer the ability to automate alerts and manage your debit card. Activity alerts can be set up to notify you if your balance falls below a certain amount when a deposit or withdrawal above a certain amount is made. Most banks that offer alerts let you select the type of notification, and some may let you set up custom alerts. Debit card controls allow you to report a lost or stolen card or temporarily turn your card off and back on if you think you’ve just misplaced it. An app full of features will help you make the most out of your online checking account.

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6. New Account Sign On Bonus or Incentive

Online checking accounts are highly competitive. They want your business and may offer a bonus or incentive to open a new account. They may offer limited-time incentives or bonuses such as gifts, higher rates, or cash sign-on offers. Most are limited to one per household and have minimum balance requirements, direct deposit for a certain number of months before the incentive is paid, or an early close-out fee. It’s important to know the offer’s details and make sure when all is said and done, that the standard account features are what you need in a long-term checking account.  

7. Usage Requirements

In addition to minimum balance requirements, some checking accounts have usage requirements or other restrictions. You may be required to limit the number of transactions each month to maintain the checking account. Make sure you know these requirements before opening the account.

8. Overdraft Protection

Everyone makes mistakes, and you don't want to be faced with stiff penalties and fines if you have a check that bounces. Overdraft protection means the bank will cover the difference if you spend a little more than what's in your account. There is a fee for this, but overdraft protection can be beneficial when you compare the fees associated with bouncing a check.

9. ATM Options

If you need cash quickly, you'll want access to an ATM. The best checking accounts offer no-fee ATM services or no fees for ATMs that are within their network. If you travel frequently, then you will want a checking account that allows you to use a large network of ATMs or won’t charge you for using another bank’s ATM. It’s also important to know if they’ll reimburse you for ATM fees that the other bank may charge (surcharge fee) to non-customers.

10. Automatic Deposits and Bill Pay Features

Do you want to have your paycheck deposited automatically? Direct deposit allows your employer to deposit your paycheck directly into your checking account. You may also want a bill pay option that will allow you to schedule automatic one-time or recurring bill payments directly from your checking account. No checks to write, no stamps to buy, and no envelopes to put in the mail.

Finding the best checking accounts doesn't have to be hard. You need to know what to look for, but you can find an account that fits your needs well with this information in hand. Take the time to research each of these ten features, and soon you'll find the perfect account.

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