Return to the Home Page
Our editorial team is independent and objective. To help support our review work, and to continue our ability to provide this content for free to our readers, we receive compensation from the companies that advertise on the CreditMashup site. This site does not include all companies or products available within the market.

We also include links to advertisers’ offers in some of our articles; these “affiliate links” may generate income for our site when you click on them. The compensation we receive from advertisers does not influence the recommendations or advice our editorial team provides in our articles or otherwise impact any of the editorial content.

While we work hard to provide accurate and up to date information that we think you will find relevant, CreditMashup does not and cannot guarantee that any information provided is complete and makes no representations or warranties in connection thereto, nor to the accuracy or applicability thereof. Here is a list of our partners who offer products that we have affiliate links for.

Banks in California That Offer Free Checking and Second Chance Banking

Check out the best banks in California that offer free checking accounts and second chance banking.
second-chance-banks-credit-unions-in-california
second-chance-banks-credit-unions-in-california

Finding the best free banks in California depends on your banking needs. Whether your priority is free checking, high-yield savings, a variety of banking products, digital banking or physical branches, there is a bank in California that can meet your requirements.

If you’re unable to open a bank account due to ChexSystems or Early Warning Services (EWS) records, we have compiled a list of second chance banks in California that offer an opportunity to build a new banking history.

10 Best Free Banks in California

1. First Citizens Bank

first-citizens-bank-free-checking

First Citizens Bank was originally founded as the Bank of Smithfield in 1898. Headquartered in Raleigh, NC, First Citizens Bank has branches in 21 states. They offer a wide range of financial services to individuals, businesses, and organizations including checking, savings, trust services, mortgage loans, credit cards, investment services, insurance, and more. The Free Checking account has many features including the following:

  • $50 Minimum opening deposit
  • Pay your bills from any device, transfer funds to other accounts and send money with Zelle®
  • Manage and monitor your funds with free online banking tools
  • Link your debit card to digital wallets like Apple Pay® and Samsung Pay®
  • Choose the right level of overdraft protection coverage for your account.

APPLY NOW


2. Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus

upgrade-rewards-welcome-bonus

The Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus is best for debit card spending. Customers get up to 2% cash back on common everyday expenses for active accounts with a monthly $1,000 direct deposit 1 plus many features including the following:

  • $0 Minimum Opening Deposit.
  • Up to 2% cash back on common everyday expenses for active accounts with monthly $1,000 direct deposit, and up to 1% cash back for other purchases2.
  • Optional savings account that earns 5.07% APY3.
  • Customers with direct deposit can get paid up to two days early4.
  • No monthly fees, no overdraft fees5, and get reimbursed for ATM fees with an active account.
  • FDIC-Insured Up to $250,000.

APPLY NOW

Upgrade is a financial technology company, not a bank. Checking and savings accounts provided by Cross River Bank, Member FDIC.


3. Consumers Credit Union

Consumers Credit Union is a credit union based in Illinois with membership open to anyone regardless of where they live or work. Financial products and services include checking, savings, CDs, personal, auto and mortgage loans, small business banking, investments and financial education. The monthly free checking account is called Rewards Checking with the following features:

  • Unlimited reimbursement for any and all ATM fees.**
  • Over 30,000 ATMs & over 5,000 shared branches.
  • Online & mobile banking plus bill pay.
  • Get paid as much as two days early with early direct deposit.**
  • No monthly maintenance fees, for anything.

APPLY NOW


4. OneUnited Bank

OneUnited Bank’s Online Checking Account is a free checking available online but also has branches in Los Angeles and Compton, CA. OneUnited Bank is a Black-Owned Bank that offers the Black Wall Street Checking account with no monthly fee. For people needing a second chance banking option, OneUnited Bank’s U2 E-Checking Account is available with a $12 monthly fee. 

Here are the checking account features:

  • $25 minimum opening deposit.
  • No monthly fee.
  • Get paid up to 2 days early with early direct deposit.
  • Free Online & Mobile Banking.
  • Obtain Cash, Surcharge Free at Over 35,000 ATMs Nationwide.
  • Deposit cash to the OneUnited debit card at over 90,000 locations across the country through a partnership with Green Dot®.
  • Deposit checks through the mobile app.

APPLY NOW


5. BMO Harris Bank

BMO-Harris-Bank

BMO Harris Bank is a well-established financial institution with over 500 branches across U.S. and access to over 40,000 ATMs. As the 8th largest bank in North America by assets, BMO Harris Bank has $852 billion in total assets. Financial products and services include checking, savings, CDs, personal, auto and mortgage loans, HELOCs, small business banking, investment and retirement accounts. The monthly free checking account is called Smart Advantage Account with the following features:

  • $25 Minimum Opening Deposit
  • Unlimited Transactions at 40,000+ fee-free ATMs nationwide
  • $0 Monthly maintenance fee
  • BMO Digital Banking – pay bills, transfer money and more


6. Ally Bank

Ally Bank is an online bank that offers a range of financial products, including checking and savings accounts, CDs, credit cards, personal and mortgage loans, investments and retirement planning. They offer an account called “Interest Checking” with the following features:

  • No monthly maintenance or overdraft fees.
  • Access 43,000+ no-fee Allpoint® ATMs; reimbursement up to $10 per statement cycle for fees charged at other ATMs nationwide.
  • Get paid up to 2 days sooner with early direct deposit.
  • Overdraft Protection service.


7. American United Federal Credit Union

American United Federal Credit Union was founded in 1952 in Utah. It was initially established as a credit union for the employees of the Utah Power and Light Company and has grown to serve more than 30,000 members in multiple states. Today, the credit union offers a range of financial products and services, including savings accounts, checking accounts, loans, credit card and retirement planning. They offer a free checking account called Empowered Checking with the following features:

  • $5 Minimum Opening Deposit.
  • No overdraft fees or insufficient funds fees.
  • Earn dividends with an average daily balance of $50 or more.
  • Move your money digitally with direct deposit, automatic withdrawals, and Zelle®.


8. Banc of California

Banc of California is one of the largest banks headquartered in California, with branches extending from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Financial products include checking, savings, and credit cards. They offer the free Banc-On Account with the following features:

  • $25 deposit to open.
  • Full access to Online and Mobile Banking with Mobile Check Deposit.
  • No overdraft fees―spend only what you have available in your account.
  • Unlimited ATM access with the Banc Personal Debit Card.
  • No minimum balance.


9. Bank of the Sierra

Bank of the Sierra was founded in 1977 in Porterville, California. The bank was established with the goal of providing financial services to the local community, with a focus on personal relationships and outstanding customer service. There are locations throughout California, as well as in Nevada. The bank offers a range of financial products and services, including checking and savings accounts, loans, credit cards, and wealth management. The bank offers one free checking account called Essential Checking with the following features:

  • $5 Minimum Opening Deposit.
  • Online & mobile banking to access mobile deposits, Zelle, Bill Pay.
  • 55,000 Surcharge-Free ATMs Worldwide.
  • Free mobile deposits.
  • Free eStatements.


»Want to Know How Credit Unions Are Different? Check out Credit Unions vs. Banks

10. First Bank

First Bank is an independent family-owned bank that focuses on clients’ long-term goals and objectives, as opposed to only focusing on our short-term gains. Financial products include checking, savings, personal, car and mortgage loans, investment and retirement services. The bank offers a free checking account called Thrive Checking with the following features:

  • $25 Minimum Opening Deposit.
  • Build up your funds with this interest-bearing account.
  • Avoid check-cashing fees.
  • Deposit checks in minutes using your smartphone camera and our mobile app.
  • No monthly service charge.

Second Chance Banks in California

SoFi Bank

Top Online-Only Bank
$ 275 Welcome Bonus
  • Get $25 for opening account with a $10 opening deposit
  • Earn an additional bonus up to $250 (direct deposit required)
  • Savings account earns 4.60% APY with any amount of direct deposit
  • Get paid up to two days early with direct deposit
  • No fees for overdrafts or account maintenance
  • More than 55,000+ Free ATMs
  • Cash deposits at 90,000 retail locations nationwide
  • Earn up to 15% cash back on purchases at select local retailers
  • FDIC insured (up to $2M with opt-in to SoFi Insured Deposit Program)

American Riviera Bank

The Simply Checking account requires a $25 minimum to open with a monthly fee of $5.


Armed Forces Bank

The Safe Spending Account requires a $25 opening deposit and a $5 monthly service fee. You’ll have free access to online banking, mobile deposit, bill pay and account alerts.

Bank of America

The Advantage SafeBalance Banking Account requires a $25 opening deposit and a $4.95 monthly service fee. You’ll have free access to online banking, mobile deposit1, bill pay and account alerts.

California Bank & Trust

OnBudget® Banking requires a $5 opening deposit and a $5 monthly service fee. You’ll have free access to online banking, mobile deposit, bill pay and account alerts.

Chase

The Chase Secure BankingSM requires no minimum opening deposit and has a $4.95 monthly service fee. You’ll have free access to online banking, mobile deposit, bill pay and account alerts.

California Bank & Trust

OnBudget® Banking requires a $5 opening deposit and a $5 monthly service fee. You’ll have free access to online banking, mobile deposit, bill pay and account alerts.

Homestreet Bank

The Bank-On Checking Account requires a $25 opening deposit and a $5 monthly service fee.

Premier Valley Bank

Check Free Banking requires a $25 opening deposit and a $5 monthly service fee. The account has no overdraft or non-sufficient funds fees, and includes mobile budgeting apps.

Tri Counties Bank

Money Smart Checking requires a $25 opening deposit and a $5 monthly service fee. Checks are not provided with this account and is not eligible for Online Bill Pay or Overdraft Services.

US Bank

Safe Debit Account requires a $25 opening deposit and a $4.95 monthly service fee. You’ll have free access to online banking, mobile deposit, bill pay and account alerts.

Second Chance Credit Unions in California

There are multiple credit unions in California that offer second chance checking accounts. But unlike banks, credit unions may have restrictions on membership. Potential members have to meet membership requirements that vary depending on the credit union’s objective.

American United Federal Credit Union

The Fresh Start Checking account requires a small fee to open and a small monthly fee. The account features free online banking and online bill pay, free mobile banking, direct deposit and a Visa debit card.

Kern Federal Credit Union

Fresh Start Checking gives Kern members who qualify a chance to establish a solid checking history. After 12 months of good account management you may be eligible for the Free Checking Account.  There is a $25 minimum deposit to open and a $10 monthly fee.

Premier America Credit Union

Premier America Credit Union offers a Fresh Start Checking Account for people with past ChexSystems records. The minimum deposit required to open an account is $25. There is a monthly service fee of $13 but it can be reduced to $10 with minimum of $200 monthly direct deposit. 

Alta Vista Credit Union

Second chance banking at Alta Vista Credit Union comes in the account called “Opportunity Checking.” With the opportunity checking account past checking mistakes are forgiven. The monthly service fee is $20.00 can be waived under certain requirements.

Credit Union of Southern California

Get a second chance with the Aspire Checking account. The monthly service fee is $15 cut can be reduced to $5 per month fee with $500 monthly direct deposit, or if you use – or swipe – your CU SoCal Debit Card at least 20 times per month and have opted in for eDocuments.

Heritage Community Credit Union

The Worry Free Checking account requires a $25 minimum opening deposit and has a $5 monthly service fee.

Priority One Credit Union

The New Leaf Checking requires a minimum $25 opening deposit and has a $15 monthly service fee.

Best practices when choosing a new bank account in California

Past banking issues along with negative banking records can impact low- and middle-income households. Second chance banking will get you back on track even if you have bad credit.

A negative ChexSystems record can remain 5 years unless you successfully dispute ChexSystems to get it deleted. For consumers with an EWS record, it can last for 7 years unless you’re able to successfully dispute EWS.

Whether you choose a bank or credit union, be mindful of the type of banking relationship you desire and consider the following best practices:

  1. Research and compare different account options. Take the time to research and compare different checking account options from different banks or credit unions. Look at the fees, interest rates, account requirements, and other features to determine which account is the best fit for you.

  2. Understand the fees. Be sure to read and understand the fee schedule for the account you are considering. Look for monthly maintenance fees, ATM fees, overdraft fees, and any other fees that may apply. Choose an account with low fees or no fees if possible.

  3. Know the account requirements. Make sure you understand any requirements for the account, such as minimum balance requirements, direct deposit requirements, or transaction limits.

  4. Consider overdraft protection. Decide if you want to opt-in for overdraft protection, which can help you avoid overdraft fees but may come with its own fees.

  5. Set up account alerts. Many banks and credit unions offer account alerts to help you stay on top of your account balance, transactions, and other important information. Consider setting up alerts to help you manage your account and avoid fees.

  6. Use online banking. Take advantage of online banking features, such as mobile banking apps and online bill pay, to make it easier to manage your account and avoid fees.

  7. Review your account regularly. Take time to review your account regularly to ensure that you are staying within your budget and avoiding any unnecessary fees.

By following these best practices, you can open a checking account that meets your needs and manage it properly to stay clear of ChexSystems.

California Unbanked Numbers

According a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) 2021 Survey, 5.0% of California residents were unbanked. It’s estimated that unbanked people pay up to 10% of their salary for check cashing services.

California fares better than the national average of unbanked or underbanked households in America, but there are still too many Californians without access to traditional banks that offer free checking accounts.

ChexSystems Resources

  • Banks That Don’t Use ChexSystems – Take a look at our list of banks that do not use ChexSystems for a new checking account.
  • EWS (Early Warning Services) – EWS is similar to ChexSystems and can prevent you from opening a checking account.
  • Check your ChexSystems Report – Unsure what information exists in your ChexSystems report? Learn how to find out.
  • ChexSystems Scores – Did you know that you have a ChexSystems score similar to a credit score? Find out how to get yours.
  • Account Abuse – Find out why ChexSystems often reports customers for account abuse with no real explanation of what that notation means.

Upgrade Disclaimers

1 Active Accounts with a monthly direct deposit of $1000 are eligible for additional benefits on Rewards Checking Plus such as additional cash back rewards, ATM fee reimbursement, and more. See the Active Account page for more information.

2 Rewards Checking Plus customers who set-up monthly direct deposits of $1,000 or more earn 2% cash back on common everyday expenses at convenience stores, drugstores, restaurants and bars – including deliveries – and gas stations, as well as recurring payments on utilities and monthly subscriptions including phone, cable, TV and other streaming services, and 1% cash back on all other debit card purchases. 2% cash back is limited to $500 in rewards per calendar year; after $500, customers earn 1% cash back on all eligible debit card purchases for the remainder of the year. Rewards Checking Plus accounts with less than $1,000 in monthly direct deposits 60 days after account opening will earn 1% cash back on common everyday expenses and 0.50% cash back on all other eligible debit card purchases. Some limitations apply. Please refer to the applicable Upgrade VISA® Debit Card Agreement and Disclosures for more information.

3 The 1.5% Annual Percentage Yield (APY) for the Performance Savings account is effective as of June 1, 2023. The APY for the Performance Savings account is variable and may change at any time. Active Accounts qualify for 5.07% APY with monthly $1000 direct deposit. The APY for Active Accounts is effective as of September 1, 2023, is variable, and may change at any time. Please refer to the applicable Cross River Bank Performance Savings Deposit Account Agreement and Truth in Savings Disclosure. To earn APY, you must open and fund a Performance Savings account. Rewards Checking Plus accounts do not earn APY.

4 Early direct deposit requires set up of recurring electronic direct deposit from your employer, payroll, or benefits provider and is limited to direct deposits under $5000. Early access to direct deposit funds depends on the timing in which we receive notice of impending direct deposit, which is generally up to two days before the scheduled deposit date.

5 There are no overdraft fees or annual fees associated with Rewards Checking Plus accounts. Rewards Checking Plus charges no ATM fees, but third-party institutions may charge you a fee if you use their ATM/network or if you use your Upgrade VISA® Debit Card internationally. For Active Accounts, Upgrade will rebate ATM fees charged by another institution for debit card withdrawals in the United States, up to five times per calendar month. To be eligible to receive third-party ATM fee rebates in any calendar month for eligible ATM withdrawals made during that month on a Rewards Checking Plus account, the account must be an Active Account in the prior calendar month. See the Active Account page for more information. As a courtesy to new customers, Upgrade will provide third-party ATM fee rebates for 60 days after account opening regardless of account user status. Some limitations apply. Please refer to the applicable Cross River Bank Checking Deposit Account Agreement and Upgrade VISA® Debit Card Agreement and Disclosures for more information.

Share:

Explore More

Send Us A Message

Get In Touch

6080 Center Dr, 6th Fl
Los Angeles, CA 90045

© 2024 All Rights Reserved.