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While most Americans strive to fatten up their savings accounts, it can be difficult to discern how much of your cash belongs in a checking account.

The dilemma: You want to have enough on hand to pay your bills, but not so much that you’re sacrificing higher-yielding options. 

The expert rule-of-thumb answer is…it depends.

“You should aim to have a month of living expenses act like a floor for your checking account,” said Kaylin Dillon, a certified financial planner.

To get a sense of where you stand compared to other Americans – the average checking account balance is just under $9,000, for instance – USA Today Blueprint broke down figures from an analysis of Federal Reserve data by the University of California at Berkeley.

Note: All averages are mean figures.

Average checking account balance by age

The average checking account balance among Americans tends to increase with age, since older workers have had more time to accumulate assets and gain experience to command a higher income. 

Older Americans will also typically need more money available in a checking account, said Dillion. 

An 18-year-old fresh out of high school and with no dependents has fewer daily financial commitments than someone, say, 20 years older with an established career and a family to support. 

Average checking account balance by income level

Those in the top 10% of income distribution — defined as those who have a median income of around $390,000 in 2022, according to the Federal Reserve — have an average balance of more than $36,000 in their checking accounts. That figure drops to around $5,200 for those with a median income of $70,000 and $2,200 for those making less than $20,000 a year. 

You should consider your total income when deciding how much to keep in your checking account, but you also want to consider how often you get paid, said Marianela Collado, chief executive at Tobias Financial Advisors. 

“If you have a consistent paycheck, it might be easier to keep your checking balance a little bit leaner,” Collado said. “You know that the next deposit is coming.” 

But if you’re a freelancer or independent contractor with fluctuating pay, you may want to keep a bigger cushion so you always have enough to cover your spending.

Average checking account balance by education level

There’s a big difference in the average checking account balance depending on your schooling, reflecting how much more the typical college graduate earns. 

The median weekly earnings of someone with a Bachelor’s degree was $1,432 in 2022, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to $935 for people with some college but no degree, $853 for those with only a high school diploma and $682 for those with no high school diploma. 

The unemployment rate also drops with higher education levels.

Average checking account balance by ethnicity

There are stark differences in the average checking account balances between ethnicities. For instance, Asian Americans have an average checking account balance of more than $28,000, compared to just more than $3,000 for Black Americans. 

Part of the explanation is likely due to income disparities. Asian Americans, for instance, had a median weekly income of more than $1,500 in the final three months of 2023, per the BLS, which was almost $600 more than Black workers. 

How much should you keep in your checking account?

The amount of money you should keep in a checking account will depend on your specific situation, including your income and expenses, but a useful rule-of-thumb is one months’ living expenses. 

That base number will likely increase for someone with irregular income, such as a freelance or contract worker, or if you have significant expenses, such a homeowners associations or gym membership payment, which are charged quarterly or annually instead of monthly, Dillon added. 

You also don’t want to keep too much money in your checking account, especially with the high interest rates on savings accounts. 

Excess money you’ll need in the short term or for an emergency fund is likely better off in a high-yield savings account. And don’t neglect your long-term goals, like retirement, by keeping too much money in a checking account instead of investing. 

“Beyond a certain level of living expenses, it becomes inefficient to keep a lot of money in your checking account,” Dillon said. 

How can I increase my checking account balance?

While increasing your income or decreasing your spending are obvious ways to ramp up your checking account balance, that’s not always possible. 

One trick is to enlist a budgeting tool, such as YNAB, to help. YNAB encourages you to live on last month's income, breaking the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. You could also consider a temporary savings gimmick, such as the 100 envelope challenge, to get a little breathing room. 

It might also be time for more structural changes, such as rearranging how you divide your paycheck into your different accounts. You could lower the amount you move automatically into savings, for instance, if your checking account is constantly being overdraft. 

If your income fluctuates, you “want to be a little more thoughtful about having a cushion,” Collado said. 

That may mean increasing that cushion so that it can cover three months of expenses, depending on your financial situation. 

Blueprint is an independent publisher and comparison service, not an investment advisor. The information provided is for educational purposes only and we encourage you to seek personalized advice from qualified professionals regarding specific financial decisions. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Blueprint has an advertiser disclosure policy. The opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Blueprint editorial staff alone. Blueprint adheres to strict editorial integrity standards. The information is accurate as of the publish date, but always check the provider’s website for the most current information.

Mallika Mitra

BLUEPRINT

Mallika Mitra is a freelance writer and editor who has covered business, finance and investing topics for four years. She was previously the investing editor at Money where she wrote a weekly newsletter on stocks, bonds, cryptocurrency and more. Prior to working at Money, Mallika wrote about municipal finance at Bloomberg News and personal finance, entertainment and business at CNBC.

Ashley Barnett has been writing and editing personal finance articles for the internet since 2008. Before editing for 91Ӱ Blueprint, she was the Content Director for an international media company leading the content on their suite of personal finance sites. She lives in Phoenix, AZ where you can find her rereading Harry Potter for the 100th time.

Taylor Tepper

BLUEPRINT

Taylor Tepper is the lead banking editor for 91Ӱ Blueprint. Prior to that he was a senior writer at Forbes Advisor, Wirecutter, Bankrate and Money Magazine. He has also been published in the New York Times, NPR, Bloomberg and the Tampa Bay Times. His work has been recognized by his peers, winning a Loeb, Deadline Club and SABEW award. He has completed the education requirement from the University of Texas to qualify for a Certified Financial Planner certification, and earned a M.A. from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York where he focused on business reporting and was awarded the Frederic Wiegold Prize for Business Journalism. He earned his undergraduate degree from New York University, and married his college sweetheart with whom he raises three kids in Dripping Springs, TX.