When it comes to managing everyday finances, some people might consider what type of account is best. Or they might ponder if they need more than one kind of bank account. Understanding the difference between checking and savings accounts and how to use them is a good place to start figuring that out.
In a nutshell, checking accounts are designed for frequent banking transactions such as paying monthly bills, making daily purchases with a debit card, and conducting other transactions involving spending. Savings accounts, on the other hand, are not usually accessed as often. They are instead typically used to hold money being saved to meet a short-term goal (think next summer’s vacation) or as an emergency fund.
Let’s take a closer look at how a checking account vs. a savings account stacks up. We’ll consider which one might be a good choice for a person’s particular financial needs — it could be both — by diving into:
• The key differences between checking and savings account.
• What is a savings account and what benefits it offers?
• What is a checking account and what benefits it offers?
Checking vs Savings Account: Key Differences
To help you understand the differences between checking and savings accounts, here is a chart summarizing the details.
|Checking Account||Saving Account|
|Interest earnings||Minimal (if at all)||Yes|
|Debit card access||Yes||No|
|Check writing capabilities||Yes||No|
|Withdrawal limits||None||Typically 6 per month|
|Minimum opening balance||Varies||Varies|
|Best used for||Spending||Saving|
There are similarities when you compare savings accounts vs. checking accounts, such as varied minimum opening deposits, maintenance fees, and other monthly fees. That said, there are also three major differences: how account holders access their money, withdrawal limits, and interest earnings.
When it comes to earning a bit of a return on an online bank account, savings accounts typically offer a higher interest rate than checking accounts. In many cases, checking accounts aren’t interest-bearing, meaning no interest is earned at all. Interest rates for savings accounts vary. The current average is 0.07% APY (compared to a current average of 0.03% APY for checking accounts), according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC. You probably will find higher rates at online banks instead of bricks-and-mortar ones. By not having physical locations, online banks save money and can pass savings onto their customers.
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Debit Card Access
Checking accounts are typically used by account holders to frequently access their cash, whether paying monthly bills or buying a latte. Checking accounts generally include a debit card which can be used for purchases or ATM withdrawals.
Savings accounts, on the other hand, don’t usually come with debit cards. Some financial institutions offer an ATM card for deposits and withdrawals to a savings account.
Checking accounts allow unlimited withdrawals, whereas savings accounts have typically allowed up to six per month. After that point, the transaction could be denied or the account holder charged a penalty. The bank might even convert the savings account into a checking account.
However, in April 2020, the Federal Reserve lifted this limitation imposed through Regulation D. Financial institutions are no longer required to limit savings account withdrawals or transfers to six per month, but some may continue to impose the maximum. Check with your financial institution to learn the full story.
What Is a Savings Account?
If you’d like to tease apart the differences of savings vs. checking accounts a bit more, let’s take a closer look. A savings account is an account held at a financial institution such as a bank or credit union — its primary purpose is to store your funds safely. Most savings accounts allow the account holder to earn interest on the account balance.
Savings account rates are generally higher than those offered with checking accounts (if those pay any interest at all). For this reason, they can be a good option as a savings vehicle for money that the account holder doesn’t need to access frequently. Common uses for savings accounts are emergency funds, short-term savings goals, and funds for occasional expenses. The cash can accumulate in the savings account and have an opportunity to earn interest.
As mentioned above, banks can still impose a per-month transaction limit on savings accounts — they’re just not required to by the Fed anymore. There could be fees imposed on these excess transactions, which can add up.
Some financial institutions may automatically close an account holder’s savings account or convert the savings account to a checking account if too many withdrawals are made each month on a regular basis.
Other financial institutions don’t charge a maintenance fee or require account holders to maintain a minimum account balance, although they may require a minimum deposit to open an account. It’s wise to check with your financial institution to make sure you understand the ground rules.
Benefits of Savings Accounts
Here are some of the upsides of opening and maintaining a savings account:
• Savings accounts are low-risk, which means you are unlikely to lose money. Rather, you are likely to make money, thanks to interest, especially when that interest compounds.
• Interest is a plus. Right now, interest rates are fairly low, often well under 1%, but at least you are earning something. And by shopping around for high-yield accounts, you may be able to get a better return without the volatility of investing in, say, stocks.
• Savings accounts are usually insured by the FDIC for up to $250,000 per account holder, per account type. In the unlikely event of your bank going out of business, you’d be covered.
• Easy access is another plus. Unless term or time deposits, in which your money can be locked up for a specific period of time, savings accounts allow for easy withdrawal of your funds.
• Peace of mind can come with savings. Having a savings account can help you feel more secure as you work toward your financial goals. For instance, you’ll know that you have funds available if an emergency cropped up.
What Is a Checking Account?
A checking account is also held at a financial institution, though its primary purpose is to be used for everyday spending. These accounts generally don’t have any withdrawal limits, so account holders can make as many transactions as their heart desires.
• Debit cards typically come with checking accounts, and can be used for purchases at bricks-and-mortar and online retailers and to withdraw cash from an ATM.)
• Checking account holders may also be able to use paper checks, either complimentary or purchased by the account holder, which can be used to pay bills and make purchases.
• Account holders may also access their funds by P2P platforms and other means.
Checking accounts may not earn as much interest compared to savings accounts, if they earn any interest at all.
Many financial institutions charge the same types of fees for checking accounts and savings accounts, such as monthly maintenance fees. Additional checking account fees may include overdraft or non-sufficient funds fees and out-of-network ATM fees.
Having enough money in the account and sticking with in-network ATMs are good ways to avoid charges like these, but banks are required to disclose certain fees it charges. Take a look at the fee schedule for any particular type of account you are thinking of opening and get acquainted with the details.
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Benefits of Checking Accounts
There are many advantages to having a checking account, including:
• You can pay bills and transfer funds online, in person, or by app; there’s no need to carry around cash for such transactions. Checking accounts can make money management very convenient.
• Checking accounts are typically insured by the FDIC (or, if you bank with a credit union, by the National Credit Union Administration, or NCUA), so your money is safe. Even if the financial institution were to go out of business, you wouldn’t lose your money up to $250,000.
• Checking accounts can be an affordable way to conduct financial transactions. For instance, your account is likely to come with checks, which can save you the effort and expense of using money orders or other types of payments in many situations.
• Your checking account may offer rewards, such as cash back opportunities, or if you apply for a loan at the same institution, you may get a better rate.
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Yes, there are significant differences between checking and savings accounts. They serve quite separate purposes and can be useful in working toward varied financial goals. For many people, however, it’s not a question of which kind of account to open, but where’s the best place to open both. When it comes time to consider savings account vs. checking accounts, the result may well be your realizing you need at least one of each.
An online banking account like SoFi Checking and Savings can be a great banking option. With SoFi Checking and Savings, account holders can spend, save, and earn all in one place. Sign up with direct deposit and earn a highly competitive APY — and not pay any account fees. With a convenient mobile app, your account can be managed from wherever you are.
Photo credit: iStock/AleksandarNakic
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SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 3.75% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on Savings account balances (including Vaults) and up to 2.50% APY on Checking account balances. There is no minimum direct deposit amount required to qualify for these rates. Members without direct deposit will earn 1.20% APY on all account balances in Checking and Savings (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 12/16/2022. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet
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