Despite an uptick in the number of big banks charging fees for low-balance checking accounts, free checking accounts are not dead--yet.
A new tool from personal finance comparison site NerdWallet.com helps you find the remaining free accounts out there: Its checking account search compares 120 different checking accounts--including those offered by big banks, online-only banks and credit unions--and discloses all fees and costs. While the tool looks comprehensive, bear in mind that there are are more than 12,000 banks and credit unions of all sizes across the country so there thousands of options that are not included in the search.
The tool helps sort results based on specific needs: Will you direct deposit? Will you open other accounts at the bank? Do you need a second chance account because of a poor banking history?
"By answering up to 10 simple questions, NerdWallet identifies the checking account with the lowest fees by matching your individual profile and behavior against the hundreds of requirements and hard-to-find fees imposed by banks," said NerdWallet's spokeswoman Stephanie Wei.
Based on multiple searches, the top-result for a truly zero-fee checking account is ING's Electric Orange Checking account, which has no monthly fee, no ATM fees and has an overdraft line of credit which charges 11.25 percent interest rather than a flat fee. Capital One completed its purchase of ING earlier this year, and has promised it would not change the beloved low-cost ING accounts--and Capital One said ING customers will be able access to brick-and-mortar services in its branch locations.
But while many accounts listed on NerdWallet's search look free--highlighting a $0 annual fee--many of them actually have other financial requirements such as a minimum balance or direct deposit, so it pays to read the fine print.
Picking a bank account is a highly personal decision--and depends greatly on what you kind of services you want.
Big banks, like Bank of America and Wells Fargo, charge fees but they also have giant ATM networks all over the country. Credit unions and internet-only banks, like ING, have more options for those looking for an account with no minimum balance. If you do plan on keeping a decent balance--say $1,500--in your checking account at all times, some banks offer fee-free checking with other benefits like out of network reimbursements. Also not all online banking apps are created equal--if you plan on doing a fair amount of banking online, Citibank and other bigger banks have slickly designed apps for smartphone and tablet computers.
NerdWallet joins other online financial comparison websites like MyBankTracker.com, which includes real customer reviews. Bankrate.com also offers a checking account comparison that shows more regional and local banks.