When you have a history of not using your former checking accounts in the best way possible, you may find it difficult to qualify for an account at a new bank or credit union. This is especially true in California, where 8% of the state’s population is unbanked, which is above the national average of 7.7%.
Banks use a tracking program called ChexSystems to determine if you qualify for a new checking account. If you’ve had too many overdrafts or incidences of nonsufficient funds, for example, your history in ChexSystems could keep you from being approved at another bank.
Luckily, there are plenty of banks in California that offer either non-ChexSystems or second chance accounts. That means they either don’t check your banking history at all or have accounts designed specifically for customers who need a second chance.
If you know you have a negative history in ChexSystems you’ll want to keep reading. We’ve pulled together the definitive list of best banks and credit unions in California that are designed just for you. Browse these options before you apply for anymore checking accounts — you’ll be glad you did.
Best Banks in California for Non-ChexSystems and Second Chance Accounts
BBVA Compass ClearConnect Free Checking
The BBVA Compass ClearConnect account is a non-ChexSystems option that truly stands out. It’s extremely accessible thanks to no monthly service fees and a mere $25 opening deposit required. You’ll receive a Visa debit card that even allows you to earn cash back rewards when you use it for everyday purchases.
You can also take advantage of both online and mobile banking services with the ClearConnect checking account. When you need cash, you can make fee-free withdrawals from your account using either a BBVA Compass or Allpoint ATM. Avoid the $3 monthly paper statement fee by opting for electronic statements. Once you do that, you’re all set to enjoy truly free checking.
BBVA Compass ClearChoice Free Checking
Another California non-ChexSystems option from BBVA Compass is the ClearChoice Free Checking account. There’s no monthly fee with this account and you’ll still only need $25 to open your account. In addition to your free Visa debit card, you also have multiple customizable options to make your account work best for you.
For example, you can sign up for free alerts, budget-friendly checks, and low-cost cashier’s checks. You can even personalize your debit card with a photo for a one-time $10 fee. Plus, you get access to standard online and mobile banking, plus bill pay services and free paper statements.
Bank of the Sierra
While Bank of the Sierra does automatically run a ChexSystem report if you apply online, you’re likely to get around this requirement if you apply in one of their California branches. Their Totally Free Checking account comes with a number of perks you can benefit from. For example, you’ll receive a free debit card, along with free e-statements, online banking, and bill pay.
If you write checks on a regular basis, there’s no limit on how many you can use each month. You can even personalize your checks with images. With no monthly fees or minimum balance requirement, Bank of the Sierra can potentially be a strong option for unbanked Californians.
Formerly called Bank of the Ozarks, this bank offers a Pathway Checking account that can gain you access to a bank account in California regardless of your ChexSystems history. The minimum opening balance is $50 and the monthly fee is just $10. Once you start using your account, there’s no minimum balance that needs to be maintained. There are four branch locations in California, which include two in Los Angeles and two in San Francisco.
In order to qualify for a checking account in US Bank, try stopping by one of their in-store branches in California. These are different from traditional branches in that they’re located in places like Safeway grocery stores rather than their own free-standing building.
When applying, consider opting for the Safe Debit Account. You won’t get to write checks, but you’ll get a debit card with online and mobile banking features. Although you’ll pay a $4.95 monthly maintenance fee, you’ll receive free access to your credit score through VantageScore 3.0 as well as discounts on money orders.
Even though Union Bank does run your application through ChexSystems, they’ll still approve you if you meet certain requirements. For instance, your record must be at least a year old and you need to have made any required payments, plus have no history of fraud. For ChexSystems records that are over three years old, you should automatically be approved unless you have a history of fraud.
Consider starting off with one Union Bank’s basic checking accounts available in California, called Banking By Design. With a $100 opening deposit, you automatically get a debit card, plus online and mobile banking.
You can then add on other services for a minor monthly fee, such as an unlimited check supply for $1 per month or a savings account for $1.50 a month. You’ll have to pay a $5 monthly fee for the Banking By Design account. But you can get it waived if you sign up for monthly direct deposits or mobile check deposits of at least $250.
Best Credit Unions in California for Non-ChexSystems and Second Chance Accounts
Alliance Credit Union
California’s Alliance Credit Union allows you to establish a clean slate with your banking history. Aptly named the Fresh Start checking account, you’ll need to stop by a local branch to apply. The good news is that you can qualify even if you’ve had past records in ChexSystems for excessive overdraft fees or nonsufficient funds.
To get started, you’ll need a $50 deposit as well as a savings account through Alliance Credit Union. The monthly service fee is $10 a month, but you get quite a few perks, including online, text, and mobile banking. In addition to accessing in-network ATMs for free, you’ll also get to use out-of-network ATMs for free two times a month. Otherwise, you’ll pay just $2 for that service.
Alta Vista Credit Union
Alta Vista Credit Union offers California residents their own second chance checking account. Called the Opportunity Checking account, it allows you to gain a positive checking history even if you have a ChexSystems record. You’ll pay a rather steep $20 monthly service fee to gain access to this account. Additionally, your daily ATM withdrawal limit will be $65. Branches are located in Redlands and Rialto.
American United Federal Credit Union
American United Federal Credit Union’s FreshStart Checking account is for people who’ve had issues with banking, particularly bounced checks. There’s a $20 fee to open the account and you’ll need to maintain at least a $100 balance. The monthly service fee is $7 but that can be reduced to $4 if your account balance is $750 or more.
Account benefits include free online banking, bill pay, and unlimited check writing. You can also sign up for overdraft protection for your account.
California Coast Credit Union
Headquartered in San Diego, you can access the Fresh Start checking account at California Coast Credit Union with just a $25 opening deposit as long as there’s no fraud on your ChexSystems report. You also can’t have any open owed amounts. The monthly service fee is $10 and you’ll have reduced limits as to how much you can withdraw daily from the ATM.
E-Central Credit Union
E-Central Credit Union is in Pasadena and gives you a second chance with the E-Builder Checking account. You’ll need $50 to open your account, as well as $200 in a savings account. There’s a $10 monthly fee but you’ll have the opportunity to upgrade to another account after 12 months of good history. Southern California residents in Los Angeles County can apply for the E-Builder Checking account.
Federal Employees West Federal Credit Union
Instead of using ChexSystems, Federal Employees West Federal Credit Union uses TeleChex for California residents. You can get approved if you don’t have any delinquencies on a credit union loan or current negative banking accounts.
There’s no minimum balance required for a checking account with Federal Employees West Federal Credit Union. It’s also easy to get the $5 monthly fee waived by simply signing up for e-statements or direct deposit. If your account balance is $250 or more, you can automatically earn interest. You also get free online banking and your maximum daily ATM withdrawal amount is a favorable $500.
Foothill Credit Union
Apply for Foothill CU’s Rebound Checking account for a second chance bank experience. The monthly service fee is just $6 if you maintain a balance of $50 or more. Otherwise, the cost is $10 per month.
If your account is in good standing for a year, you can upgrade to Foothill’s Simply Free Checking account. You can apply in person at one of their three branch locations in Arcadia, Covina, or Glendora.
Note that Foothill states that Rebound Checking accounts are subject to close monitoring by the credit union and can be closed immediately for negative activity. That gives you extra incentive to manage your account responsibly.
Fort Sill National Bank
Fort Sill National Bank doesn’t use ChexSystems or credit checks for new applicants of the Basic Checking account. Unlike some second chance accounts, this one is available even if you don’t have direct deposit. The opening fee is a low $5 and you’ll need to maintain a $75 balance to avoid paying the monthly $5.50 statement fee.
If your balance is $500 or more, you’ll start earning interest on your account. You’ll also get a Visa check card and free online banking. Another perk for Californians choosing FSNB is the Savings Round Up program. You’ll get each purchase rounded up to the whole dollar, and the extra is deposited directly into a savings account for you.
Kern Federal Credit Union
For another Fresh Checking account option, consider Kern Federal Credit Union. You could qualify if you have a history of non-sufficient funds or other derogatory history in ChexSystems. You will, however, need to have any outstanding balances from other banks paid before applying. After a year of using the Fresh Checking account responsibly, you may be eligible to bump up to KFCU’s Free Checking account option.
So what do you get with Fresh Checking? To start, you’ll get a MasterCard debit card to use. There’s just a $25 minimum opening deposit to get started but you will have to pay a steep $20 monthly fee. There’s no minimum balance requirement and you’ll get access to free mobile banking, online banking, and bill pay.
Los Angeles Federal Credit Union
You can get a Second Chance Checking account with Los Angeles Federal Credit Union if all of your ChexSystems balances are fully paid. Once you’ve kept your account in good standing for 12 months, you can upgrade to a Regular Checking account.
If you sign up for direct deposit with your Second Chance account, your monthly fee will be $10. Otherwise, you’ll pay $15 each month. Like most other financial institutions, you’ll receive a debit card as well as services like online banking.
Mid Cities Credit Union
Apply in person to qualify for a Second Chance Checking account with Mid Cities Credit Union, which is located in Compton. If approved, you’ll pay just a $5 monthly fee. Plus, there’s a Mid Cities CU ATM located on campus at Compton Community College. Other perks include online banking and free direct deposit. There’s just a $25 opening deposit required, which is minimal for this low-cost second chance account.
Navy Federal Credit Union
If you qualify for membership to Navy Federal Credit Union, you won’t have to worry about them using ChexSystems to approve your checking account. In order to become a member, you need to be either on active duty or retired from the U.S. military.
There are two free checking accounts from Navy FCU, one of which is Active Duty Checking. There’s no monthly fee, but you’ll need to receive direct deposit from the military. If you do, you’ll get access to those deposited funds one business day earlier than usual.
You also get $20 a month in ATM free rebates, which is ideal when you’re stationed in different parts of the world throughout your service time. The other free account from Navy FCU is called EveryDay Checking. It’s a basic checking account and doesn’t come with any direct deposit requirements.
Premier America Credit Union
Even with a ChexSystems history, you could qualify for a Fresh Start Checking account with Premier America Credit Union. The minimum opening deposit is $25 and the monthly fee is $13. However, that can be lowered to $10 per month if you get at least $200 in direct deposits each month.
Services with this account include online and mobile banking, bill pay, and mobile check deposit. Premier American also has a wide network of ATMs that you can access for free. You also won’t pay a fee to Premier if you use an out-of-network ATM. Plus, you can use person-to-person funds transfer with Popmoney.
Priority One Credit Union
The New Leaf Checking account from Priority One Credit Union helps you reestablish your banking history even with a record in ChexSystems. In order to qualify, you’ll need a credit score of at least 520 and a $25 opening deposit. You must also have at least $500 a month in direct deposits and must pay a $15 monthly service fee. To open an account, visit one of Priority One’s branches in South Pasadena, Los Angeles, or Van Nuys.
Once you’re approved for your account, there’s no minimum balance required. You’re free to access both online and mobile banking and can use your check card anywhere Visa is accepted. There is, however, a $300 daily limit on how much you can withdraw through both purchases and ATMs.
Self-Help Federal Credit Union
With several branches in California, Self-Help Federal Credit Union offers individual members the Access Checking account, even with a history in ChexSystems. There’s no minimum to deposit or maintain in your account and the account is even interest-earning. The monthly service fee is $5, but that can be waived in one of three ways:
Average daily balance of $2,500 in all your Self-Help accounts
Direct deposits of $500 or more each month
Age is 24 and under or 65 and older
Services like online banking, mobile banking, and mobile deposits are free. If you plan to use their bill pay feature, only the first 20 are free; after that, you’ll pay $1 each time.
Southland Credit Union
Visit a Southland Credit Union branch to apply for the Opportunity Checking account. Like many second chance accounts, you can qualify as long as there are no outstanding amounts due or incidents of fraud on your ChexSystems report. There’s no minimum deposit or balance, but the monthly service fee is $15. You’ll also be required to set up direct deposit unless your employer doesn’t offer this service.
Once you successfully manage your Opportunity account for 12 months, you can take a Consumer Credit Counseling Service class, paid for by SCU. After completing the class, you can then upgrade to regular accounts with Southland Credit Union.
Ventura County Credit Union
If you live in Ventura County, consider VCCU for their Second Chance Checking account. You can sign up for a regular direct deposit and enjoy a reduced monthly service fee of just $5; otherwise, it’s $12. Increase your chances of approval by visiting a branch in person. There are convenient locations in Ventura, Port Hueneme, Oxnard, River Park, Camarillo, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, and Moorpark, California.