Ensuring finances are in order and managed properly from the start is a crucial component of starting a business. A free business bank account can be an excellent tool for separating new business finances from personal bills. The trick is finding a provider that won’t charge an arm and a leg for their services. As a new business, every penny matters, and unnecessary costs add up super quickly.
January 11, 2021 Update: Azlo, a worthy contender on this list, has shut down and as such was removed from this list.
My goal with this post is to do the following:
- Share some great banking options for new business owners
- Point out the ones I like
- Drop some knowledge on why I picked them and bonus tips from when I was in this hunt, myself.
Aside: It’s important to know this post is geared towards United States readers, but I’ve made sure to include a specific option for those in the U.K., as well. The banks in this post may have a presence in other countries, but their offerings may be different or applicable in different situations. With that in mind, you might still find how I’m evaluating these options helpful in your search within another country.
What Does a Small Business e-Commerce Bank Look Like?
It’s effortless to find any bank to take your money. Within four miles from my home, there are at least 10 bank branches from at least five different banks and credit unions. Needless to say, there is no shortage of options near me.
However, that doesn’t mean they’re the best for a business just starting. A lot of banks appreciate high deposit balances and don’t offer large transaction allowances. High-dollar e-commerce businesses might see daily deposits from their payment processor and withdrawals for payroll and expenses, but those are scheduled and routine.
Banks that focus on new businesses, especially e-commerce, know that smaller shops’ needs are going to be different. When every dollar counts, high deposit balances aren’t likely going to be a thing–at least from the start–and there’ll be a need for a debit card and frequent transactions as the only way to take care of regular expenses until lines of credit and invoice terms are established with suppliers.
Having a free business checking account is critical for all these reasons and more. While you might not get as many hand-holding-type features and service offerings with some of these banking options, as a startup, you won’t likely need them, anyway.
How These 5 Banks Were Chosen
Anyone can pick 5 random banks off the Internet and slap them into a blog post. I wanted to stay away from such canned content and relive some of what I went through during my research of the bank I use for one of my businesses.
Here is what I wanted to use as criteria for evaluating the options I found:
- Cost. There’s no reason a bank should cost a bunch of money every month when you’re starting. Like I said earlier, every dollar counts.
- Reasonable feature set. At the very least, the account should be easily accessible, and money should be allowed to flow freely.
- Decent transaction limits. I don’t need to see unlimited transactions, but bonus points to those that offer such a thing. Otherwise, please don’t punish me for swiping and using my money a la carte.
- Integrations. This is optional, but more bonus points for those with at least some integration with other services, like Stripe, Quickbooks, etc.
- Talking to a human. It should be clear that if I need help, I can reach out, and a human will respond. Simple as that.
- Longevity. Is this operation going to be around in 5 years? For the online-only bank options, the financial backing institution is an important player. They should be known for or have experience in being a backing bank.
At the end of this post, I picked out two that stood out to me the most during my hunt. I used the criteria above in a more rough form to make these two choices back when I did my own bank hunting. You’ll read why I chose them.
The 5 Best Free Business Bank Accounts for e-Commerce
With the experience fresh in my head, I consulted friends, colleagues, other professional contacts that I trusted and did some old-fashioned research. With the criteria above–and recollection from my own experience, here’s the list of 5 banks I think are great options for new e-commerce businesses and why:
Novo falls into the same category as the defunct Azlo, a mobile-centric banking app for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Like Azlo, the application process takes just a few minutes.
You’ll find all the best features here that come free of charge: unlimited transactions, a Mastercard debit card with an EMV chip, notifications on every transaction, and so much more.
Integrating with Xero is readily available. It’s not clear if they support other platforms like Quickbooks. One thing that stands out is the additional integration with Transferwise.
Transferwise is a service that makes transferring money internationally a lot easier and a lot cheaper. With direct integration, money can flow from a Novo bank account with no additional steps required.
One thing that stands out as a more interesting integration is the tie-in with Slack. For any company or team that uses Slack, having transactions post to the account and a connected Slack channel might be useful.
Burying the lede a bit, one of Novo’s biggest unique offerings is the list of perks. Including $3,000 in Google Cloud credits (this is big) and $20,000 in zero-cost processing from Stripe (this is HUGE) might be a standout option.
During my search, this was an option that surprised me to an extent. Chase is no stranger to offering incentives for opening accounts with them. Whether it’s a credit card, checking account, or even sometimes less-trafficked deposit accounts like CDs, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a product that doesn’t come with some offer attached.
Before we dive in, let’s talk about features.
The Chase mobile app is pretty good and places all your Chase accounts into one area. I have Chase products and have never had difficulty navigating the app to find what I need.
All the typical bank stuff is present with this account–extensive ATM network, mobile deposit, debit card, wires, ACH transfers, calling and talking to humans, etc.
Chase does have a monthly fee, but it is waived as long as $1,500 remains in the account regularly. Otherwise, the fee starts at $12/month with paperless statements.
I’m a fan of banks that offer mobile apps that function well, and NorthOne falls squarely onto that list. Used by over 100,000 customers, NorthOne is America's fastest-growing business banking app and their free business bank account makes transferring money, depositing checks, and paying with the NorthOne Mastercard super simple, but what I really enjoy about this option is the dedicated tax account(s). If you collect sales or use tax, making sure you keep your taxes aside and available for remittance is important. Making that an automatic process takes this to the next level.
As far as money management goes, NorthOne supports multiple users and integration with bookkeeping options to pass off accounting tasks to others on your team. Need to get an overview of your cash flow? The app presents good-looking graphs to make that happen.
On top of all that, NorthOne ties into just about every platform you could ever need: Quickbooks, PayPal, Amazon, Venmo, Shopify, Etsy, Freshbooks, and literally a truckload more.
NorthOne is no-fuss, easy banking for businesses. Even if you’re not opening a new business, you’ll find the feature set valuable and a surprising amount of room to grow.
4. TIAA Bank
I wanted to keep traditional banks on this list to a minimum but couldn’t leave TIAA off the list. I’ve worked with these folks before in other capacities, and it’s clear their interests are more aligned with their customers than it might seem.
Small business checking offerings from TIAA come with interest-bearing features from the start, provided a minimum deposit of $1,500. With no monthly maintenance fee, the more money the account holds, the higher the interest rate.
For the first year, the free business bank account earns an APY of 1.21%, an amount that blows even some of the more lucrative savings account options from other banks out of the water. After the first year, the offered rate vill vary based on the balance of the account. For example, the lowest APR of 0.20% can be had with just $1, while the highest perpetual rate of 0.61% comes with a minimum balance of $100,000 or more.
Wire transfers cost money (as they would at just about any bank ever), but ATM fees are reimbursed, and checks can be deposited through their mobile app. As your business grows, tie in TIAA‘s merchant services for an inclusive solution.
5. ANNA (for U.K. Residents Only)
As time passes, I try to make sure to update this post with new options as I find them. One of such cases is ANNA, a banking product aimed directly at U.K. residents.
One thing I love about this option is that not only does it come with a regular ol’ bank account and debit card, but invoicing functionality, accounting software, and tax services. For small business owners, having all the critical money tasks in one place can be a real-time- and money-saver.
Prices for ANNA start at £0 for income under £500/month and comes with two cards, two money transfers within the U.K, and £100 worth of ATM withdrawals per month fee-free. Above that, rates start at £4.90/month.
A Note About Azlo
Azlo used to be a worthy contender on this list. Azlo’s supporting bank, BBVA USA, was acquired by PNC Bank. Per that agreement, BBVA canceled its services with Azlo, effective immediately. There are no plans for Azlo customers to be converted.
The Seller Journal Pick
Novo is my go-to bank. I a former Azlo, too, with BBVA shutting them down. If you’re an Azlo customer looking for an alternative, see why Novo is my number one pick. Like many starting their e-commerce business journey, my needs don’t include fancy branches, expensive offerings, and complicated tools. Novo is clean and simple and checks all the right boxes. I set up a new online presence and having the $20,000 in free credit card processing from Stripe, and the sweet Quickbooks discount made this an incredibly compelling option.
When I originally wrote this article, I had 10 options on the list. As I was going through them, I realized some of them weren’t actually that great and not worthy of being offered up as truly the “best” options.
Even then, some of these might not fit your exact needs, and that’s okay. Businesses growing and needing more backing and flexibility from a traditional institution might not find what they need on this list (though Chase is a powerhouse).
For most of those operating an e-commerce business or are just starting, these options are all solid and worth looking into. I’d be happy with any of them, myself, and I feel unconditionally comfortable suggesting these 5 options to my readers.
Regardless of what path you take, the biggest takeaway is to make sure you’re not spending money on a bank that you don’t have to spend. In the early stages, every dollar counts (I’ve said that how many times, now?). Watch out for unnecessary fees and transaction limits that could end up costing more down the road.
Simple might be a good thing. Start small and build. Like an e-commerce business, you might find the bank you choose has a lot of the same motivations.