Free and Basic Checking Accounts

Free and basic checking accounts share many of the same qualities. Free checking accounts are really just basic checking accounts that do not charge a monthly service fee. Most free and basic accounts do not earn interest on balances and do not come with advanced account features. These accounts appeal to banking customers who carry a low balance, don’t qualify as a senior or student, or those that want to avoid paying high monthly service fee.

Free Accounts vs. Basic Accounts

Banks and credit unions typically provide bank shoppers with a free or basic account among their array of account options. Both types of accounts are very similar, but the main difference is service fees. Free accounts have the word “free” in their name because customers are not charged a service fee for maintaining the account, regardless of their balance. Basic accounts (which may also be referred to as “value,” “standard” or “essential” accounts) on the other hand, typically do require account holders to keep some kind of (relatively low) minimum balance, enroll in Direct Deposit, or perform some other kind of banking activity, like online billpay or a minimum of debit card purchases, each statement period in order to waive the statement service fee.

What Types of Features are included with Free and Basic Accounts?

Although features vary from bank to bank, most free and basic accounts come with standard account features at no extra cost. Institutions encourage their customers and members to use these electronic features because they are more efficient because they take place of traditional transactions that require human labor, costing banks more money. These standard features include:

  • Free debit card
  • Online banking
  • Mobile banking
  • Free online billpay
  • Electronic statements
  • Automated phone banking

What Features Free and Basic Account Don’t Include

Checking account features that cost the institution money when used are not usually included with free and basic accounts. These common features include:

  • Writing checks (look out for check writing fees)
  • Paper checks
  • Paper statements
  • ATM withdrawals at non-affiliated ATMs