Currently, around 3% of the Canadian population is unbanked. This means that over a million Canadians don’t have a bank account in their name or a shared account with another individual.
While some simply don’t care, others are turned off by the monthly rates, fees, and account minimums imposed by big banks.
Things are changing, though.
A growing number of small online banks are offering fee-free chequing to Canadians.
They don’t come with expensive maintenance fees, require you to keep a minimum balance, or come with hidden charges.
Below, I’m going to show you some of the best free chequing accounts in Canada, so you can see for yourself!
- No monthly fees
- Earn interest on deposits
- Free ABMs
- Unlimited transactions
- No monthly fees
- Unlimited debits
- Free overdraft protection
- Access to 3,400 ABMs
A chequing account is one of the most standard types of bank accounts that you can get. By definition, a chequing account is a deposit account that allows the account holder to freely make deposits and withdrawals.
Wondering why it’s called a “chequing” account?
This term dates back to the old days of banking, long before everybody had debit cards and contactless pay methods.
Originally, anybody who wanted to withdraw or deposit money from their bank account would have to do so by using a paper cheque.
Even after online banking and credit cards were created, the age-old term stuck.
Traditionally, banks have always charged a minimal fee to open and maintain a chequing account. After all, the bank is watching your money, keeping it safe, and insuring it.
With the rise of online banking, though, fee-free chequing accounts are becoming more popular. Since the banks have reduced overhead expenses (no physical bank branches), they’re able to cut back on some of the costs that were previously imposed on customers.
With so many on the market, though, it can be hard to pick the right one. Below, I’ll give you a brief overview of some of the best free chequing accounts in Canada, to help you decide.
1. Tangerine No-Fee Daily Chequing Account
- How To Sign Up: Tangerine.ca
- Key Benefits: No monthly fees, earn 0.10% interest, free ABMs, unlimited transactions
When it comes to online banking, Tangerine’s No-Fee Daily Chequing Account offers one of the best free chequing accounts in Canada.
In the past, I’ve recommended Tangerine’s high-interest savings account. However, the bank also offers a chequing account along with several other banking products, such as:
- Tangerine credit card
- Personal loans
- Business loans
Tangerine’s free chequing account is easy to sign up for online, and only requires you to submit a few documents online to verify your identity.
Once you sign up, your debit card will be mailed to your home address and you’ll be able to start using Tangerine’s online banking platform.
The app gives you a virtual card that you can start using right away, so there’s no delay. You’ll also be able to access your routing and account numbers so you can set up direct deposit with your employer.
One of the best features of Tangerines No-Fee Daily Chequing Account is that you can earn interest on your chequing account balance.
This is a big deal because very few chequing accounts offer an interest incentive. Traditionally, you had to open up a separate savings account if you wanted to start earning interest.
Currently, Tangerine offers 0.10% interest on your balance. It may not be much, but it’s still something.
As a Tangerine account holder, you’ll be able to access over 3,5000 Scotiabank ABMs throughout Canada for free. While traveling, you can tap into Scotiabanks expanded global network of 45,000 ABMs (for a fee, of course).
Last but not least, you’ll receive two free chequebooks when you sign up with Tangerine.
Although cheques aren’t used quite as often as they used to be, it’s still nice to have a few lying around when you need them.
2. Simplii Financial No-Fee Chequing Account
- How To Sign Up: Simplii.com
- Key Benefits: No monthly fees, unlimited debits, free overdraft protection, access to 3,400 ABMs
Simplii Financial’s No-Fee Chequing Account is a very close competitor to Tangerine’s free chequing account. Like Tangerine, Simplii Financial is a 100% online-only bank.
You can apply for your free account on your laptop or smartphone in a matter of minutes.
Simplii doesn’t require new members to make an initial deposit, maintain a minimum balance, or pay any monthly maintenance fees.
You can keep as much (or as little) as you want in your account without having to constantly monitor your balance.
You can use your account as much as you want, as you’re given unlimited debit card transactions and bill deposits.
Many of the big banks give account holders a limit on how many transactions they’re allowed to make per day, which can be a hassle if you’re somebody who uses their debit card more than a couple of times per day.
Similar to the way that Tangerine has partnered with Scotiabank, Simplii has partnered with CIBC to offer its customers fee-free ABM access to one of CIBC’s 3,400+ Canadian ABMs.
The debit card issued to you by Simplii is a Mastercard, which is accepted worldwide.
One of the interesting features of this card is that it offers real-time USD exchange rates, which can be useful when shopping online or cross-border trips to the states.
3. Motusbank Fee-Free Chequing Account
- How To Sign Up: Motusbank.ca
- Key Benefits: No monthly fees, unlimited Interac e-Transfers, virtual cheque deposit, unlimited debits, earn 0.15% interest
Motusbank is one of the newest free chequing accounts in Canada. Motusbank is the online banking branch of Meridian Credit Union – one of the top-rated credit unions in Canada.
Motusbank is 100% free to sign up for and doesn’t come with any monthly fees or charges for not maintaining a minimum balance.
One of the best features of Motusbank’s Fee-Free Chequing Account is that it allows members to earn 0.15% interest on their account balance, which is more than Tangerine’s 0.10% interest rate.
Motusbanks gives users fee-free access to a huge network of over 43,000 ABMs throughout North America as well (including many ABMs in the US).
If you’re somebody who frequently withdraws or deposits cash, this is a really nice feature to have.
Once you open your account, you’ll be given the option to order your first booklet of 25 paper cheques for free.
You’ll also have unlimited use of Motusbank’s intuitive Price Drop feature, which automatically compares items on your account statement and tries to find you the best deals, so you can save more money.
4. Alterna Bank No-Fee eChequing Account
- How To Sign Up: Alternabank.ca
- Key Benefits: Unlimited transactions and Interac e-Transfers, access 3,300 ABMs, low-cost overdraft protection, earn 0.05% interest
Compared to the free chequing accounts I mentioned above, Alterna Bank’s No-Fee eChequing Account leaves a bit to be desired in terms of extras and features. That being said, it’s still a reliable online bank with good overall ratings.
Alterna Bank offers a fully online banking experience, free chequing, and access to other financial products, such as:
- Tax-free savings account (TFSA)
- High-interest savings
I’d say that Alterna Bank’s primary lure is the versatility of banking solutions that it offers to customers. Once you create your free chequing account, you’ll be able to easily open up other Alterna Bank accounts, making it simple to transfer money internally.
Unfortunately, Alterna Bank doesn’t offer free overdraft protection (like Tangerine). However, you can add this feature to your account for an extra $2.50 per month, which is still lower than you’ll pay at big banks.
As an Alterna Bank account holder, you’ll have surcharge-free access to 3,300 ABMs through the Exchange Network and low-cost access to over 40,000 global ABMs.
Last but not least, you can earn up to 0.05% interest on your Alterna Bank eChequing balance. Personally, an amount this low isn’t enough to incentivize me.
I’d rather keep a lower chequing account balance and put the rest of my money in a high-interest savings account like Neo MoneyTM, where it can earn 2.25% interest.
5. Koho Spendings & Saving Account
- How To Sign Up: Koho.ca
- Key Benefits: Earn cashback with the Koho debit card, access to free budgeting tools, get your paycheque early
Koho has a very interesting business model. This bank doesn’t offer your typical free online chequing account. Instead, it offers a hybrid account that serves as a spending and savings account all-in-one.
Once you create your account and request your Koho card, you’ll be able to “load” your account with money, similar to the way that you’d deposit money into a standard chequing account.
The main difference between a Koho account and other online chequing accounts is that Koho allows you to earn cashback on your everyday purchases. You’ll be able to earn 0.5% back on all purchases, no matter where you use your card.
It’s not quite as much cashback as you’d earn with a good cashback credit card, but it’s more than you’ll get out of any other debit card on this list.
Koho isn’t just a prepaid debit card, though. Employers can use the card for payroll. Employers who use Koho’s payroll system can issue Koho cards to their employees, where funds can be deposited.
This, in turn, allows the employee to access their funds several days quicker, compared to a traditional bank deposit.
Koho does offer a premium account that allows members to earn up to 2% cashback on all purchases. However, Koho Premium costs a bit more and comes with a $9/month fee.
If you use your card regularly, though, you can easily earn back $9 or more in cashback rewards.
The base Koho account is 100% free, though, and allows you to earn 0.5% cashback on everything.
- How To Sign Up: Motivefinancial.com
- Key Benefits: Free cheques, unlimited debit card transactions, unlimited Interac e-Transfers
Motive Financial offers a free online chequing account that’s similar to Alterna Bank’s fee-free eChequing account.
Members aren’t required to make an initial deposit or maintain a minimum monthly balance, and you’ll never have to worry about annoying monthly fees.
Once you sign up, you’ll be given 50 cheques for free, which is the same deal offered by Tangerine.
Motive Financial also offers a decent interest rate on your chequing account balance. With a 0.25% rate, the Cha-Ching account offers a higher interest rate than Alterna Bank, Motusbank, and Tangerine.
That being said, this is a variable rate and is subject to change in the future. It’s likely a promotional rate designed to get customers in the door.
Like other free chequing accounts in Canada, you’ll have unlimited and unrestricted use of your debit card.
You’ll also be able to take advantage of free Interac e-Transfers, which makes it easy to send and receive money directly to others without having to handle cash.
- How To Sign Up: Wealthsimple.com
- Key Benefits: Earn 1% cashback, earn 1.5% interest, full banking features coming soon
Wealthsimple is one of the top fintech companies in Canada. They’re known for having one of the largest trading platforms in Canada, which I’ve previously recommended.
However, the company’s latest product is Wealthsimple Spend. This isn’t a traditional chequing account like Tangerine or Motusbank. Instead, it’s somewhat similar to the Koho card.
Once you create an account you’ll be able to load your account, spend money as you please, or save it to earn interest.
With your Wealthsimple spend prepaid debit card, you’ll be able to earn 1% cashback on all of your purchases. If you prefer to save your money instead, then you’ll be rewarded with 1.5% interest on your account balance (paid monthly).
Once you load the money on your card, you’ll also be able to convert the balance to cryptocurrency as well.
At this time, Wealthsimple Spend can’t take the place of a traditional chequing account. In fact you’ll need an existing chequing account to set up your Wealthsimple Spend account.
However, Wealthsimple Spend has plans to grow a lot larger in the near future. The fintech company is working on transforming the service into a full-fledged online banking service, with features like:
- Direct deposits
- Bill payments
- Interac e-Transfers
8. Scotiabank Student Banking Advantage Plan
- How To Sign Up: Scotiabank.com
- Key Benefits: Free chequing account with a big bank, unlimited debit transactions, earn points for purchases
Scotiabank is one of the largest banks in Canada. Typically, big banks don’t offer free chequing accounts. However, Scotiabank’s Student Banking Advantage Plan is 100% free to all eligible college students in Canada.
With an account, you’ll have access to all of the perks offered by a big-name bank, such as:
- Access to plenty of ABMs (over 4,000 in Canada)
- Ability to visit branches in-person
- Superior customer service
With your account, you’ll be able to make unlimited debit card transactions and make unlimited fee-free Interac e-Transfers.
You’ll also be enrolled in the Scene+ program, which allows you to earn points when making daily purchases on your Scotiabank debit card. Once your points accumulate, you’ll be able to redeem them for gift cards, rewards, and even vacations.
Currently Scotiabank is running a number of promotions for new members as well, which could allow you to save even more money upfront.
The only catch is that you have to start paying for the account once you graduate college.
- How To Sign Up: EQBank.ca
- Key Benefits: Earn 2.5% interest, no monthly fees, free Interac e-Transfers, free bill payment
EQ Bank’s Savings Plus account isn’t a traditional chequing account. It’s an online high-interest savings account.
It can’t take the place of a chequing account, but it’s a great account to have in addition to one of the other free chequing accounts on this list.
That being said, the Savings Plus account does provide members with helpful banking features, including:
- Unlimited free Interac e-Transfers
- Free bill payment (auto withdrawal)
- Free electronic funds transfer to other EQ accounts
EQ Bank offers a generous 2.50% interest rate (credited to your account monthly) on every dollar you have saved. You can also open up a joint savings account, which is a great way for you and a business partner or spouse to start setting money aside.
So, what’s the difference between a major bank chequing account and free chequing accounts in Canada?
There really isn’t a big difference.
The main sacrifice that you’ll make by banking online is that you won’t have access to as many branch ABMs or be able to speak with bankers in-person.
However, the majority of people today don’t need these extra conveniences and would rather save money with a free online chequing account.
Most online chequing accounts offer more perks to customers, overall lower fees, and some even pay interest to account holders.
If having access to brick-and-mortar bank branches isn’t important to you, then you’re honestly better off going with a free online chequing account.
Comparing the banks on this list, I’d say that Tangerine and Motusbank offer the best free chequing accounts in Canada.
Both accounts offer an easy-to-use online banking platform, have great customer service ratings, and give you access to thousands of fee-free ABMs across the country and internationally.
Want to learn more?
Be sure to keep on reading and check out my complete no-holds-barred review of Tangerine’s online banking platform next.