Bank for Less with Free Chequing Accounts

The banking industry in Canada has been ranked the world’s soundest by the World Economic Forum; in fact, it has been the leader for the last 7 years.

The Big Five banks in Canada continue to be very profitable, beating analyst expectations in the second quarter this year. RBC, BMO and Scotiabank saw profits jump 14 percent, 8 percent, and 2 percent respectively. CIBC tripled its profits. TD grew an earnings adjusted 5 per cent. It appears that times are good for Canadian banks. Canadian banks have found a way to weather the challenging economic environment and, in some cases, rake in record breaking profits. An increasingly large component of their ongoing success comes at the expense of their customers - higher service fees.

Bank fees and service charges are a lucrative profit center for big banks. The Big Five all increased their fees in 2015. The increases range from rising monthly account and transaction costs to reductions in seniors’ and veterans’ discounts. This has led to increased consumer frustration.

Sure, many Big Five accounts offer free services with the caveat that a monthly minimum balance is maintained, but this ties up money that could otherwise be growing as an investment or in a higher interest savings account. Outside the Big Five, there are alternative institutions that offer accounts with unlimited transactions and no fees. Are you still paying fees or keeping a minimum monthly balance for free everyday transactions where alternatives exist?

Banks with Free Accounts

There are two popular alternatives that offer free accounts for everyday banking: President’s Choice (PC) Financial and Tangerine Bank. PC Financial is a personal banking service provided by Loblaw Companies (owner of Superstore) in partnership with CIBC. Tangerine Bank, formerly ING Direct, offers their banking services as a subsidiary of Scotiabank. In both cases, deposits are insured with the Canadian Insurance Deposit Corporation.

PC Financial and Tangerine offer 24/7 customer support for services provided online, by telephone, mail and mobile banking. Both banks operate without any branch network, but do offer in-person customer interactions at a limited number of pavilions or cafés. By eliminating the substantial cost of brick-and-mortar branch locations, they are able to pass along the significant overhead savings to clients in the form of higher interest rates and lower service charges.

Related: Never A Better Time To Open A Tangerine Bank Account

Both banks offer free chequing and savings accounts with unlimited transactions and no minimum balances. They offer the same conveniences as the Big Five such as direct deposit, pre-authorized bill payments, fund transfers, and Interac e-Transfers. These accounts also have a few other interesting differentiating features:


The Tangerine Chequing Account is a no fee daily banking account that earns interest, calculated daily and paid monthly. The account comes with a free book of 50 cheques; subsequent books will cost an additional $12.50. Mobile deposits can be made via the smartphone app. Deposits and withdrawals can be made at one of 3600 Scotiabank ATMs.

Unique features of this account:

  • Free Email Money Transfers: Similar to Interac e-Transfers, in that funds can be emailed to any desired recipient. While Interac e-Transfers incur a fee and happen instantaneously, Free Email Money Transfers take 2-3 business days to get processed.
  • Orange Key Referral Bonus: Tangerine’s referral bonus is simple to use. When you open an account you are assigned a code called the Orange Key. When your friends or family sign up using your Orange Key with a minimum deposit of $100, both parties will receive a bonus of $25 deposited to your account. Keep an eye out for promotions, the bonus sometimes doubles up to $50 for the referrer and the referred.
  • Automatic Savings Program (ASP): Tangerine is running a current promotion that will give you a $25 cash bonus if you set your savings account up with their Automatic Savings Program. All you need to do is set an ASP of $100 or more when you first open your savings account, and keep it going for 6 months.

Here's My Orange Key: 41502230S1

Switch To Tangerine Chequing

PC Financial

In addition free daily banking with no monthly fee, PC Financial’s No Fee Bank Account earns interest on balances calculated at the end of each day and paid to the account monthly. Mobile deposits can be made via the smartphone app by taking pictures of cheques. Deposits and withdrawals can be made at 1 of 3800 PC Financial or CIBC bank machines.

Unique feature of this account:

  • Unlimited Free Cheques: Account holders can enjoy the benefit of writing an unlimited number of cheques.
  • PC Plus Rewards Program: Transactions can be used to earn PC Points towards free groceries. Each dollar spent using the bank card at participating stores earn 5 PC points. Setting up a direct deposit for a paycheque or a pension will also net a one time bonus of 10,000 PC points. Card holders can start redeeming once 20,000 PC points have been earned – the equivalent of $20 in free groceries.

The Credit Union Alternative

Banks are for-profit financial institutions that provide products and services in order to maximize earnings for shareholders. When a bank makes money, the profits are distributed in the form of dividends to their shareholders. Credit unions, on the other hand, are member owned, not-for-profit organizations that provide financial services aligned with the interests of their membership and not a group of shareholders. When credit unions make profits, the extra money is returned to its members in the form of lower loan rates, fewer fees, better service and sometimes, even bonus cheques.

To become members, potential account holders are generally required to purchase membership shares to become part owners of the credit union. This purchase is often refunded when accounts are closed. While banks have branches nationwide, credit unions focus primarily on local communities and can offer advice and services specific to the geographical location.

Related: US Bank Account Comparison For Canadians

ATM services are provided nationwide either on 1 of 2,500 ATMs through the EXCHANGE Network, or one of 1,800 through the ACCULINK Network. ATM locator tools are easily accessible online or via mobile apps. Credit Union deposits are insured provincially in accordance with the Credit Unions and Caisses Populaires Act., 1994. Many credit unions in provinces across the country offer free chequing accounts to their members which are often overlooked by those seeking free banking options.

Free Bank Account Comparison

Here’s a head to head comparison of some free banking options.

Please note this table scrolls horizontally by using the slider at the bottom.

Account Name
Deposit Insurance
Mobile Cheque Deposit
Paper Statement
Non-Bank ATM
Foreign ATM (Inside US/Mex)
Foreign ATM (Outside US/Mex)
Proprietary Email Money Transfer
Overdraft Protection
Cheque Image Return
Other Benefits
PC Financial Tangerine Coast Capital Savings First Calgary Financial Conexus Credit Union FirstOntario
Bank Bank Credit Union Credit Union Credit Union Credit Union
Canada Canada BC AB SK ON
No Fee Bank Account Tangerine Chequing Free Chequing, Free Debit and More No Fees for Me FreeStyle No-Fee Be Free Chequing Plan
Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes No No No No
Free Free Free Free Free Free
$1.00 Free NA $2.50 Free $5.00
$1.50 $1.00 $2.50 $1.50 $2.50 $1.50
$3.00 $2.00 $2.50 $3.00 $4.00 $3.00
Conversion rate + 2.5% $2.00 $5.00 $4.00 $4.00 $3.00
NA Free (2 Business Days) NA NA NA NA
$1.50 $1.00 $1.50 3/mth + $1.50 Free $1.50
$4.97 $2.50 Free $4.00 $5.00 $2.50
Free Free Free Free Free Free
* Free unlimited cheques
* PC points toward Free groceries
* First 50 cheques free
* 1 free stop payment per year
      * First 20 cheques free

Choose the Account that Best Meets Your Needs

Free everyday banking can bring in savings close to or exceeding $200 a year when compared to the fees of an unlimited chequing account offered by a Big Five bank.

Free banking can offer similar, if not better services, than conventional banking accounts with monthly fees. Choosing one of the free banking options can also free up money tied up in minimum balance requirements, allowing savings to grow faster either through higher savings rates or investments. Ultimately, the right account is the one that best suits your individual needs, but if you are not fully using the features of a monthly fee account, there are many compelling alternatives that are worth looking into.

Related: Savings Account Interest Rate Chasing Can Be Rewarding

What’s Your Current Banking Arrangement?

Answer the short 3 question quiz below and let us know how you bank. After you complete the quiz, you will see a summary of responses to you can compare your situation to that of other Canadians.

Do You Think the Fee is Worth it?

Don't forget the Orange Key: 41502230S1

Switch To Tangerine Chequing

What can you do with your monthly fee bank account that you couldn’t with one of these no fee alternatives?

Disclosure: Some links in this article may be affiliate links. We're letting you know because it's the right thing to do. Here’s a more detailed disclosure on how HTS makes money.


Ken S
Ken S's picture

You know, I disagree with this. I didn't think I would until reality changed my mind.

I have a Scotiabank Moneyback account. It costs $15 a month, or $180/yr.

It allows up to $300/year as cashback for interac transactions, and pre-authorized payments.

I have, so far, yet to have a year where I didn't hit that cap.

That means, in the two years I have had this account, I have been *paid* $240 for banking with Scotiabank.

August 11, 2015 @ 7:36 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Yes, but if you used one of the top credit cards instead to make those purchases in conjunction with a no fee bank account then you would have earned a lot MORE cash back and not paid any fees at all. Definitely not a bad arrangement for those who can't help but use their debit card for some reason.

Also, Stop Using Your Debit Card Canada.

August 11, 2015 @ 7:55 pm
Ken's picture

Thanks, Stephen.

Actually, I do use my Credit card for all possible purchases, having followed your advice and gone with cashback as much as possible on those cards.

That being said, there are several large costs I tend to incur that, annoyingly, cannot be made by credit card. In the cases where Credit cards can't be used, I do suggest that folks look at the options for cashback debit, and see if their projected spending on debit for the year may *also* net them some savings, as it has for me. :)

August 11, 2015 @ 9:19 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Wow, that's amazing that you are able to spend that much in interac transactions (and pre-authorized payments) after you've funneled all the spending you can through your credit card. I checked the Scotia Moneyback Account details and I didn't see anywhere it mentioned that pre-authorized payments eligible for cash back. I wonder if that has changed and you are grandfathered in or I just missed it. How do you manage $30,000 worth of those types of transactions a year - you must be balling or run a business? :)

August 12, 2015 @ 8:23 pm
GMan's picture

Ken S,

OR you can get a scotia 4% cash back visa, make %800 to 900 a year without paying interest and bank at Tangerine ( owned by Scotia ) for FREE plus THEY pay you interest.

3 Years in a row now that our cash back money has paid for Back to School and 100% of our Christmas spending on gifts.

Even with the 2% cash back visa you get about $450 a year.... and Tangerine has a ZERO fee 2% CB card.

August 13, 2016 @ 7:21 pm
GMan's picture

Ken S

I too banked with Scotia bank and until you do the math for other options out there, you will realize that there are better ways. I switched from scotia bank to Tangerine. So, within 1 year I have saved $180 in fee's made $80 in interest but the best part is I kept my Scotia 4% cash back visa. I use that for everything, even a tangerine no fee 2% cash back would give you more then $240. Last year Scotia bank deposited $890 into my account, zero fee's paid or interest and I the banks pay me now. Win / Win .... Just my 2 cents

January 25, 2017 @ 2:57 pm
Deb S
Deb S's picture

I'm signing up with Tangerine! Enough of the big 5 and their nickel and diming as you say.

August 12, 2015 @ 1:29 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

I agree. The banks are insanely profitable yet they tend to keep raising fees even though they don't need to. The point of a business is to make money, so I don't blame them for trying, but you'd think they'd show a little restraint and not raise fees.

August 12, 2015 @ 8:24 pm
Andrew Wade
Andrew Wade's picture

Worth noting that Tangerine has halved its interest rates for savings accounts in the last year or so. I'm not happy about that.

August 13, 2015 @ 4:00 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Yes they have but so has almost all the big banks and most others. There are smaller financial institutions that are still above 1% but the big banks are down near half a percent. Tangerine and PC Financial are currently at 0.8%. A combination of PC Financial and Tangerine together are also great for maximizing interest rate promotions.

August 13, 2015 @ 3:17 pm
tara nierychlo
tara nierychlo's picture

not a techy person, so please bear with me. How would I deposit or cash a personal check? Now, with Coast Cap, I just go into the bank & deal through the teller. Thanks for your patience.

August 12, 2015 @ 6:06 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

No problem Tara. You can deposit your cheques through the bank machine, it's very easy. Tangerine customers can use all Scotia ATMs and PC Financial customers can use all CIBC ATMs plus those PC Financial ATMs located at Superstore and other Loblaws stores.

Both also have cheque imaging deposit, which is super easy and convenient because you can do it from home using a smartphone. This is how I deposit most of my cheques now. You just sign the back of your cheque and use the bank's app you download from the app store to take a picture of the front and back and voila the money is in your account immediately (the usual holds will apply).

August 12, 2015 @ 8:27 pm
karen's picture

Is there a no fee home business bank account available on the market where you do get your cheques back?

August 24, 2015 @ 4:52 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

The only no-fee small business bank account available to Canadians is offered by RBC. Only online transactions are free. All teller transactions cost money and sending EFTs costs money as well. This account wouldn't be good for businesses that deal with a lot of cash and cheques or that need personal service because the fees for those things are higher. If you don't need that stuff, then it's perfect. I'm planning to open one myself soon.

August 27, 2015 @ 11:05 pm
ALISSA  's picture

I am presently with RBC as I can also have an RBC US account and transfer money between countries which is helpful as I also have US credit cards I keep active since living down there. Would that be possible through Tangerine or PC ?

February 16, 2016 @ 7:11 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Well, that is a little outside the scope of my knowledge, but you can certainly set up transfers between Canadian and USA bank accounts. If you can't set up an EFT transfer between them directly, you can use a service like xeTrade as a middle man to do the transfer, which would probably be cheaper than whatever currency exchange fees RBC is tacking on for transferring between your USA and Canadian accounts.

February 17, 2016 @ 4:37 pm
Mark's picture

Hi Stephen

Alterna Bank also has a no fee chequing account call the "No Fee eChequing". They offer 2 free interac e-transfers a month which is not bad in my opinion. I only found out about it recently when I opened a 1.85% high interest savings account with them. You actually have to click on "Becoming a Client" at the top of the webpage to get the details on it. I didn't know they offer a no fee chequing until I clicked on "Becoming a Client" to open up the high interest savings account.

There is also Canadian Direct Financial. They have a no fee chequing account call "KeyDirect" chequing. As with Alterna Bank, I found out about their no fee chequing when I was looking into their 1.50% "KeyRate" high interest savings account. However, they currently do not have mobile deposit, but is supposedly in the works.

Both these banks are federally licensed (CDIC members) and available to all Canadians.


March 27, 2016 @ 11:31 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

That's excellent Mark, thanks for sharing those additional options!

March 28, 2016 @ 10:25 pm
GMan's picture

Hey Stephen Weyman,

FYI, please update your info. Tangerine has FREE email money transfer as well ( Unlimited ) only difference is it takes 3 days for the recipient to get their money. So Tangerine offers the Instant transfer for $1 or the FREE transfer as well

August 13, 2016 @ 7:25 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

If you take a closer look at the table you'll see that it is already there.

August 13, 2016 @ 7:59 pm
Mike S
Mike S's picture

Thanks for sharing a great post, Stephen.
Do you know if it costs any fee to transfer money (say, monthly) from a major bank to either of Tangerine or PC Financial's No Fee accounts?

August 31, 2016 @ 12:30 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

No, this is free. You see up an "Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT)" arrangement using either PC Financial or Tangerine. After that you can transfer money with a few clicks in both directions between your bank accounts. It takes 2-3 business days to process and you can set up recurring and automated transfers no problem.

September 05, 2016 @ 1:09 pm
David McKay
David McKay's picture

Thanks Stephen, great information.

One other nice perk of Tangerine's overdraft protection is that they notify you if you dip into it, and give you until midnight to fix it before accessing the fee.


April 02, 2017 @ 9:06 pm

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