How to Choose the Right Checking Account

a woman researches checking accounts on her laptop

Choosing the right checking account is an important financial decision. It's the financial hub for many daily activities—from paying bills to shopping online. With countless options available today, finding the perfect fit can be challenging. In this guide, we'll simplify the process and help you identify the key factors to consider when selecting a checking account that aligns with your goals and financial well-being.

Brick-and-Mortar vs Online Banking

To choose the perfect checking account, start by deciding between brick-and-mortar and online banks. This choice mainly hinges on your needs and preferences. Remember to consider your convenience priorities, lifestyle, proximity to physical branches, and tech comfort.

Online banks offer remote access and lower fees because they don’t have physical branch locations to maintain. Brick-and-mortar banks are ideal if you prefer in-person assistance and often deal with cash, checks, or need a wide range of financial services (such as mortgages, loans, and wealth management). Some large, traditional banks, like Armed Forces Bank, combine the advantages of both digital and physical banking, offering robust online and mobile tools for their customers.

Types of Checking Accounts

There are various types of checking accounts to consider, and the best choice depends on your needs and financial goals. Here are some categories:

  • Standard Checking Account: Basic for everyday transactions.
  • High-Interest Checking Account: Offers higher interest rates with minimum balance requirements.
  • Rewards Checking Account: Rewards certain banking behaviors, like debit card usage.
  • Online Checking Account: Operates online with lower fees and higher interest rates.
  • Joint Checking Account: Shared by multiple individuals, ideal for couples or families.
  • Senior Checking Account: Tailored for seniors with reduced fees and extra services.
  • Student Checking Account: Designed for students with fewer fees and relaxed requirements.
  • Business Checking Account: For business owners, offering business-specific features.
  • Recruit Checking Account: Offers special benefits for military recruits and their families.

Once you have determined which type of checking account is best-suited for your needs and financial goals, you can start to narrow down your search.

Minimum Balance Requirements

Make sure you have a full understanding of the minimum opening balance requirements (or minimum deposits) associated with your account. These requirements can vary between banks, usually ranging from $25 to $100 or even more, depending on the account type. Also, failing to meet daily/monthly balance requirements in deposit accounts may result in extra monthly service charge fees up to $15-$20, which could impact your overall banking costs.

Keep things cost-effective and ensure that you can consistently maintain the required balance.

Understanding Account Fees

Like many financial products, checking accounts come with various fees, so it's crucial to understand them when selecting the right account. Common fees include monthly service fees, overdraft fees, non-sufficient funds fees, out-of-network ATM fees, and foreign transaction fees.

Monthly service fees are a common feature of checking accounts, but they might be waived if you meet certain account requirements. This is not guaranteed, however. It's also wise to consider overdraft fees, which vary among banks and may involve overdraft protection options. Understanding these policies can help guide you while selecting the right account.

It's important to understand that fees aren’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, when it comes to banking, you get what you pay for. Avoiding maintenance fees might result in basic account offerings and missed opportunities savings and rewards.  We recommend taking the time to research what suits you best rather than opting for what appears to be the cheapest upfront.

ATM Networks

It’s your money, so why not have access to it whenever you need? Assess your ATM usage habits and find an account that aligns with your needs. If you frequently rely on cash payments, having convenient access to ATMs should be a top priority. Look for financial institutions with extensive networks of ATMs, ideally with locations near your home, workplace, or other frequented areas.

Access to a widespread ATM network can help you avoid fees associated with out-of-network withdrawals. For instance, Armed Forces Bank is affiliated with the expansive MoneyPass® ATM network, which grants you free access to over 30,000 ATMs nationwide. This ensures hassle-free access to your funds whenever and wherever you need them.

Best Online Banking Features

When choosing a checking account, don't just focus on the money. Digital features play a big role in your decision-making process. Here are some items to take into consideration:

  • Mobile Check Deposit: Look for the ability to deposit checks using your mobile device, saving you time and effort.1  
  • Peer-to-Peer Payments: Ensure compatibility with apps like Zelle® for seamless money transfers.
  • Mobile Bill Pay: Check for online or mobile bill pay options to simplify payments anywhere, anytime.1
  • Account Notifications: Stay informed with alerts for balances, transactions, and potential issues.
  • Card Lock/Freeze: Enhance security by temporarily locking or freezing your debit card.
  • Two-Factor Authentication: Prioritize safety with accounts offering two-factor authentication for added protection.

Having the right digital banking features not only simplifies your financial management but also allows you to handle your banking needs conveniently, even when you're on the move.

Banks with FDIC Insurance

Your money's safety is a top priority. Check if the bank has FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) insurance. It offers standard coverage up to $250,000 per account holder, per bank, protecting your money in the unlikely event of bank financial challenges. Having FDIC insurance has several advantages, and it provides you with peace of mind, knowing that your hard-earned funds are protected.

Accounts with Rewards

Rewards aren't just for credit cards! They can play a significant role in your choice of checking accounts. Here’s why rewards matter:

  • Boosting Your Financial Health: Checking account rewards can add a positive dimension to your financial picture. They allow you to earn benefits while managing your everyday expenses, which can be especially rewarding over time.
  • Extra Earnings: Just as with a credit card, some checking accounts offer cashback, points, or other incentives for certain transactions. These rewards can be a valuable supplement to your income and help you make the most of your money.
  • Offsetting Fees: In some cases, rewards can help offset account fees. By maximizing your rewards, you may find that you're effectively reducing the overall cost of maintaining your checking account.

To make the most of rewards, make sure to understand the program's structure, match it to your spending habits, and ensure it complements your overall financial strategy.

What checking account is right for me?

The Armed Forces Bank Access Rewards Checking Account provides all that and more! (See Insurance Disclosure Notice). Here are several compelling reasons why it makes a great choice:

  • Military Early Pay: Get paid one day early with this account, providing you with quicker access to your funds. Learn more.
  • Nationwide ATM Access: Enjoy unlimited and free access to over 30,000 ATMs nationwide through the MoneyPass® Network, making cash withdrawals convenient and fee-free.
  • Online Banking Convenience: Access your account anytime, anywhere with Online Banking, bill pay, and Mobile Banking with check deposit.
  • Peer-to-Peer Payments: Compatibility with Zelle® for seamless money transfers.
  • Visa Debit Card & Controls: Benefit from a Visa debit card and additional card controls for added security.
  • FDIC-Insured: Armed Forces Bank is a member of the FDIC, providing its customers with the reassurance that their deposits are insured up to $250,000 per account.
  • Free e.Statements: Reduce paper clutter and access your statements electronically at no extra cost.
  • Saving Cents Eligibility: Automatically round up your debit card purchases and save the spare change in your savings account.
  • Exclusive Rewards: Gain access to a range of rewards and discounts, including travel and leisure discounts, cashback offers for online shopping, roadside assistance, healthcare discounts, and more.
  • Identity Theft Protection: Rest easy knowing that the account includes IDProtect®, offering identity theft monitoring, resolution services, and expense reimbursement coverage. (See Insurance Disclosure)
  • Unexpected Loss & Accident Protection: Enjoy added protection with cell phone protection, travel accidental death & dismemberment insurance, and buyer's protection. (See Insurance Disclosure)

While there are some account requirements, like a $100 opening balance and a $6 monthly service charge, the benefits and rewards offered by the Armed Forces Bank Access Rewards Checking Account make it a great choice for people who are seeking both financial advantages and security.

Member FDIC 

1Mobile carrier fees may apply.

Important Insurance Disclosure Notice: The descriptions herein are summaries only and do not include all terms, conditions, and exclusions of the Benefits described. Please refer to the actual Guide to Benefit and/or insurance disclosure documents for complete details of coverage and exclusions.  Coverage is provided through the company named in the Guide to Benefit for on the certificate of insurance.

INSURANCE DISCLOSURE: Insurance products are NOT insured by FDIC or any Federal Government Agency; NOT a deposit of or guaranteed by the bank or any bank affiliate. Coverage is provided through the company named in the Guide to Benefit or on the certificate of insurance.



Access Rewards Checking Account

Blog: How Our Armed Forces Bank Access Rewards Checking Helps You Save  

Blog: Introducing the New Armed Forces Bank Access Rewards Checking Account 

Blog: Work Toward Your Financial Goals With Checking and Savings Accounts 

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