The best online bank accounts: What’s the best online checking account?

Panna Kemenes
06.04.21
7 minute read

There are many online bank accounts available with different fees, rewards, and features. This can make it tough to choose which one to use.

This guide will introduce some of the best online bank accounts and help you decide which one is best for you.

Top 10 best online bank accounts

The choice of which bank is best comes down to what you need from an account.

Each bank offers different benefits and features and will suit different customers. It can be helpful to work out what you need from an account and choose the one that best matches this.

Top 10 summary

Wise Account

Useful forFees
  • Managing foreign currencies and making international transfers and payments.
  • No monthly account fee.
  • Foreign transfer fees are low, transparent, and use the mid-market real exchange rate.

Wise is not a bank, but rather an online solution for managing money held in different currencies, and for making overseas transfers.

This can be a great option for anyone making regular overseas payments. Wise charges low, transparent fees, and does not apply a markup on the exchange rate used.

Send and save money with Wise 💰

Axos Rewards Checking

Useful forFees and APY
  • Anyone meeting the criteria to earn the highest APY.
  • Wide ATM usage permitted.
  • No monthly account fees.
  • No overdraft fees.
  • No ATM fees for any domestic ATM.
  • 1.25% APY

Axos is an online bank that opened in 2000. The Axos Rewards Checking account has the highest APY of the online bank accounts here.

To receive the higher APY you need to meet certain usage criteria:

  • Monthly direct deposits of $1,000 or more.
  • 15 debit card transactions of $3 or more a month.

There are also no monthly fees, overdraft fees, or ATM usage fees (and Axos will rebate fees for any domestic ATM). But there is a minimum $50 deposit to open the account.¹

🔍 You can see more details about Axos, the Rewards Checking account, and other accounts in our detailed Axos Bank review.

Varo Online Checking Account

Useful forFees and APY
  • Easy access, standard account with no fees or minimum balance.
  • Top APY if you use the linked savings account.
  • No monthly fees.
  • No overdraft fees (if you meet monthly deposit requirements).
  • No ATM fees.
  • 0% for the bank account, but the linked savings account has an APY of 3%.

Varo Bank is a relatively new online bank, founded in 2015. The Varo Online Checking account offers no fees, with no minimum balance requirement. It uses the Allpoint ATM network with a large ATM network in the US and overseas.

The Varo account comes with a linked savings account which offers an APY of up to 3% for balances under $5,000.²

🔍 Read more about this and other Varo accounts in our full Varo Bank review.

Ally Interest Checking Account

Useful forFees and APY
  • Those wanting a standard no-fee bank account with overdraft use.
  • Excellent access to ATMs.
  • No monthly fee.High fees (up to $25) on overdrafts.
  • No ATM fees (plus rebates for out-of-network ATMs).
  • 0.1% APY

Ally Bank is another relatively new internet bank, started in 2009. Its Interest Checking account is a good standard no-fee option, but notably, it charges for overdraft use.

Ally Bank uses the Allpoint ATM network in the US and overseas, but goes one step further with a rebate of up to $10 per month for ATM usage outside this.³

It has a low APR of 0.1%, but a linked savings account is available that offers 0.5%.

🔍 Read more in our Ally Bank review.

Discover Checking Account

Useful forFees and APY
  • Regular debit card users able to take advantage of cashback.
  • No monthly fee.
  • No ATM fees.
  • 0% APY.

Discover is an older bank (established in 1985) that offers online accounts. It does also have one physical branch.

The standard Discover Checking Account has no monthly fee but does not pay interest. Discover does offer an online savings account at 0.4% APY though.⁴

Standout features are US ATM access – with a network of 60,000 locations. It also offers a debit card with 1% cashback on purchases (up to $30 per month).

🔍 You can read more in our full Discover review.

Chime Spending Account

Useful forFees and APY
  • No-fee account
  • No minimum requirements for free overdraft use.
  • No monthly fees.
  • No overdraft fees.
  • 0% APY.

Chime is a mobile-only online bank. It offers a standard account with no fees. There is also no interest payment – although it does have a linked savings account with the option to automatically transfer funds.

Chime offers fee-free access to a $200 overdraft facility with no minimum deposit requirements.

For ATM access, Chime uses the MoneyPass and Visa Plus Alliance (and allows access at $2.50 to other ATMs).⁵

Capital One 360 Checking Account

Useful forFees and APY
  • Traditional bank with no fees and interest payments.
  • No monthly fee.
  • No ATM fees.
  • Overdraft use is charged.
  • 0.1% APY.

Capital One provides an online 360 Checking Account. This is a good option for a traditional bank moving online, with some interest paid and no account fees or minimum payments required. Overdraft fees can add up though.

For ATMs use you can use Capital One ATMs (these allow check deposits as well), and the Allpoint ATM network.

🔍 If you plan to use Capital One abroad, then it's also worth reading up on the foreign transaction fees.

NBKC Everything Account

Useful forFees and APY
  • A good no-fee option.
  • No monthly fee.
  • No overdraft fees.
  • No ATM fees.
  • No wire transfer fees.
  • 0.15% APY.

NBKC is a regional Kansas City bank, but online accounts are available nationwide. It offers some of the lowest fees out of the banks featured here, whilst still paying interest.

The account also has good ATM access. It uses the MoneyPass network (with 34,000 locations), but will also cover up to $12 per month of other ATM fees.⁶

As a regional bank, customer service is more limited than with larger online banks. Live chat for example is only available during normal weekday banking hours.

Chase Total Checking

Useful forFees and APY
  • Those wanting branch access, and making regular deposits.
  • $12 monthly fee (waived if deposits over $500 are made or daily balance is over $1,500).
  • Overdraft fees apply.
  • Free use of Chase ATMs.
  • 0% APY.

Chase is a well-known bank, and its Total Checking account is a good option for those wanting to combine an online account with branch access.

Fees can be high if you do not make regular payments to keep the fee-free use.⁷

🔍 If you plan to use Chase internationally, it's also worth knowing the Chase debit international fees.

PNC Bank

Useful forFees and APY
  • Those located in the bank's catchment areas, who would benefit from branch access.
  • No monthly fees.
  • High overdraft fees.
  • No ATM or branch use fees.
  • 0.4% APY.

PNC is a regional bank, with over 2,000 branches in the Northeast, South, and Midwest. It offers a good option for those in these areas.

Outside these areas, you can use ATMs (it has a network of 18,000). Interest rates are good, but lower if you live outside the bank’s areas.⁸

Pros and cons of an online checking account

Choosing an online account over a traditional bank branch account can bring many benefits. You should get overall lower costs and higher returns.

There are limitations, but these can be minimized with consideration of the best account and what you need.

Pros

  • Simple, 24/7 online access from anywhere.
  • Well-developed apps and online functionality.
  • Usually offer lower fees than traditional banks (as they pass on their lowering operating costs).
  • Likewise, they usually offer higher interest rates.
  • Many accounts have large networks of ATM access and may rebate fees from other ATMs.

Cons

  • No, or very limited, branch access.
  • No in-person customer service.
  • Difficulty making check or cash deposits (some allow this via ATMs).

Features to consider when choosing the best online bank account

There are plenty of things to consider when looking at an online account. Choosing the ‘best’ account depends on what features you will make the most use of.

ATM access

As online banks typically do not offer branch access (although some do have partners for this), ATMs are an important consideration.

All these accounts offer ATM access, but the availability of ATMs varies widely.

Banks use different ATM networks which can be stronger in some areas. Some accounts offer rebates for even wider use beyond these networks.

It's a good idea to consider which network is best for you when choosing an online bank.

Rewards

Online banks generally offer low fees and better interest rates than traditional banks. But these can often vary widely. There may be promotional higher rates on offer or cashback from card purchases that can boost returns.

Customer service

Without branch access, you will need to use telephone or online chat features for queries and customer service. Check what channels are used, and what the opening times are.

Additional accounts

Many banks offer a range of other accounts, such as savings accounts or certificates of deposit. This is particularly useful if you have larger balances that you want to keep in the same place and earn better returns.

Fees

While online banks usually offer lower fees, there will still be charges for some services. Overdraft fees are one important example – some banks allow a certain level of free overdraft use, while others charge.

International fees are another. If you regularly make international transfers or payments, fees can be high.

Safety

Like traditional banks, online-only banks should be registered and insured.

Make sure any you choose is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which will provide cover in the event of bank failure. Or for credit unions, look for National Credit Union Administration cover.

Wise - The online solution for sending and spending multiple currencies

Most online bank accounts (like traditional bank accounts) have high fees, and exchange rate markups for conversions and payments overseas.

If you send money abroad regularly, consider a Wise account. Wise allows low-cost foreign transfers and offers the Wise debit card for overseas use.

Open a Wise account in minutes 🚀

Sources:

  1. Fee Free Rewards Checking Account - Axos
  2. Open an Online Savings Account - Varo
  3. Online Checking Account: High Interest Checking - Ally
  4. Online Checking Account - Discover
  5. Free Visa Debit Card - Chime
  6. Everything Account | nbkc
  7. Chase Checking Accounts: Compare & Apply Today
  8. PNC personal banking

All sources checked 3 June 2021.


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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