Best Banks of 2017

Like most financial decisions, choosing the "best" bank leads to a different place for each person. With dozens of banks and hundreds of deposit account types to choose from, selecting just one or two places to put your money often feels more time-consuming than it's worth. If you're looking for a new bank, we've compiled a selection of institutions that are best for different groups.

Best Bank for Checking: Chase Bank

For many people, the most important thing about a good checking account is quick access to their money. Chase Bank, one of the three largest retail banks in the nation, ranks as one of our top choices because it provides a level of access that smaller banks can't match. Even when you travel outside Chase's service areas, the bank's mobile app and online interface allow you to manage your account at any time and place. In addition to Chase's accessibility, the bank's high signup bonus and variety of other products make it a great choice for your checking needs.

map of Chase branches in the US, by county

The $12 monthly fee on a standard Total Checking Account can be avoided with either a daily minimum balance of $1,500 or $500 in monthly direct deposits. These numbers are roughly the same at Wells Fargo and Bank of America, Chase's largest competitors, but if you've never banked with Chase before, the bank's ongoing $200 signup bonus for a Total Checking Account keeps it among your best options for switching to a new place for checking. Going with Chase also lets you avoid several unnecessary fees, such as the "paper statement" fee that other banks charge simply for sending monthly statements through the mail rather than online.

Besides its deposit accounts, Chase Bank also carries a range of more complex financial products like mortgages and auto loans, as well as a fairly strong credit card rewards program. All of these products become easier to manage when you have a checking account with Chase, since you'll be able to enable automatic payments from your checking. If you plan on buying a home or taking out a loan in the near future, keeping everything in one place may be preferable to scattering your accounts across several banks.

Chase Bank – Key Figures

  • Standard Checking Fee: $12/month
  • Checking Fee Waiver: $1,500 daily balance OR $500 monthly direct deposit
  • Standard Savings APY: 0.01%
  • Mobile App Features: balances/statements, transfers, check deposit, bill pay
  • Person-to-Person Payments: Chase QuickPay

Best Bank for Savings: Synchrony Bank

Synchrony Bank provides 1.20% APY for its High Yield Savings Account —the highest rate you can find on any savings account, online or otherwise. This makes it our top choice among banks for storing your savings. While there are several other banks that manage to match this rate, Synchrony also offers several benefits that aren't typically available for an online savings account.

Many people find it difficult to withdraw money from online savings accounts because they lack the option of branch locations or debit cards, instead relying on electronic transfers through the Automated Clearing House system or by wire. Synchrony provides an ATM card associated with the High Yield Savings Account so that customers can make cash withdrawals from their savings. Although you're still legally restricted to six such withdrawals per month, you won't easily find another savings option that includes an ATM card.

The lack of checking accounts makes Synchrony less attractive as a choice for one-stop banking, but customers have electronic transfer options that provide a limited amount of flexibility. You could choose to open Synchrony High Yield Savings in addition to your existing accounts at a separate bank, and schedule automatic transfers to fund the new account. Synchrony also provides certificates of deposit and money market accounts.

Synchrony Bank – Key Figures

  • Synchrony High Yield Savings APY: 1.20%
  • Synchrony Money Market Account APY: 0.85%
  • Minimum to Open: $0
  • Minimum to Earn APY: $0
  • Incoming Domestic Wire Fee: $0

Best Online Bank: Ally Bank

Among the online banks we reviewed, Ally Bank strikes the best balance of strong rates, easy account access and a diverse selection of account types. While several other online banks may carry individual products slightly better than either Ally Online Savings or Ally Interest Checking, Ally stands out because it offers these options in one place. However, you won't be able to deposit any cash with Ally Bank, which may be critical if you get paid in cash more frequently than by check or direct deposit.

The 1.15% APY on Ally Online Savings may not be the highest available rate among online banks, but it comes very close. More importantly, you won't need to meet any balance or deposit minimums to earn the full rate —something most of Ally's competitors will require. Finally, the Ally Interest Checking Account not only earns 0.10% to 0.60% APY, but also comes with zero monthly fees and zero ATM fees. This is important since Ally, like most online banks, operates very few physical branches, and you'll likely be visiting ATMs more frequently than with a traditional account.

The bank's ATM services are provided through Allpoint, a third-party network with 55,000 ATM machines worldwide. Most of these are located in the U.S., and while they aren't as clearly marked as the machines run by major banks, both Ally and Allpoint offer mobile apps to help you locate the closest ATMs. If all else fails, you can simply use whatever ATM you find: Ally itself charges no non-network ATM fees, and it also reimburses up to $10 each month in surcharges you pay to other ATM operators.

Ally Bank – Key Figures

  • Standard Checking Fee: $0/month
  • Checking APY: 0.10% OR 0.60% on balances $15,000 or more
  • Standard Savings APY: 1.15%
  • Mobile App Features: balances/statements, transfers, check deposit, bill pay
  • Person-to-Person Payments: Popmoney®

Best Bank for Small Business: Wells Fargo

When we considered the three core aspects of small business banking —lending, bank accounts and merchant services —we found that Wells Fargo is one of the best banks for financing a business. According to the Small Business Administration, Wells Fargo was the most active SBA 7(a) lender through 2016, with $459 million loaned out in 1,554 separate approvals —about twice as many approvals as the next bank in line. In addition to providing 7(a) loans, Wells Fargo also carries its own business loan products. The bank publicly posts the interest rates on its loans, providing numbers that other banks tend not to reveal until you sit down with a banker.

U.S. map of Wells Fargo branches, by county

As far as business checking accounts go, Wells Fargo's Business Choice Checking is unique among major bank offerings thanks to an easy fee waiver. Making 10 debit card purchases from the account will allow you to avoid the $14 monthly fee. Signing up for Wells Fargo Merchant Services or Payroll Services —both potentially useful in their own right —will eliminate the checking account fee as well. These bonuses, together with Wells Fargo's diverse loan options, help situate this bank as a convenient one-stop shop for small business owners. Though the bank's reputation may have been tarnished by its recent scandal over extra account openings, Wells Fargo's heavy involvement in small business lending makes it worth considering.

Wells Fargo Business Banking – Key Figures

  • Business checking fees: $10-$40/month
  • Transaction processing fee: $0.50 after 50-500 free transactions
  • Cash deposit fee: $0.30 per $100 deposited over $3,000-$20,000
  • Unsecured loans: $10,000-$100,000
  • Starting rates on unsecured loans: 6.25% OR 13.99% fixed

Best Banks for Students

For college students, a good bank means low fees and convenient access to ATMs and branches on or near campus. International students must face the added question of how to fund their accounts from overseas, and how to minimize the extra fees associated with international transfers. We found banks that work well for both domestic and international students in the U.S.

Best for U.S. Students: Bank of America

While it doesn't provide a dedicated student checking account, Bank of America is one of the best options for a college student in the U.S. simply because of its sheer scale. With 4,700 branches nationwide, there's a decent chance that wherever you study, Bank of America will have branches and ATMs for you to use. With the bank's mobile app, you can also send and receive money through the clearXchange network, which allows person-to-person payments with almost any U.S. bank customer. There may be other large banks with better service coverage in your particular area, but Bank of America's policy towards student customers offers at least one unique benefit.

U.S. map of Bank of America branches, by county

What distinguishes Bank of America's student policy from Chase or Wells Fargo is that rather than offering a dedicated student account, the bank waives the fees on its Core Checking Account so long as you're an active student under 23. This means that students can enjoy much higher daily ATM and debit card limits with Bank of America compared to the student-specific restrictions used at other large banks. So long as you remember to opt out of paper statements, you can keep your Bank of America Core Checking Account free so long as you're enrolled and under the age limit.

Bank of America – Key Figures

  • Student Checking Fee: $12/month
  • Paper Statement Fee: $5/month ($0 for electronic statements)
  • Standard Savings APY: 0.01%
  • Daily ATM Withdrawal Limit: $1,000
  • Daily Debit Purchase Limit: $5,000

Best for International Students: Santander Bank

For students from abroad, it's crucial that their accounts have a way to receive money from back home. Santander Bank's Student Value Checking is the only student account we've found that charges no fees on incoming international wire transfers. With each incoming wire costing about $15 to receive, students who rely on regular financial support from home will see significant savings at Santander. This is especially relevant for international students, for whom wires may be the only transfer option available.

U.S. map of Santander Bank branches, by county

While the bank's physical branches have a limited geographic reach, it's the best bet for a cheap checking experience if you're an international student in the Northeast. While many U.S. banks waive their monthly maintenance fees based on enrollment status or minimum balance, Santander's Student Value Checking Account is one of the few that charges zero to begin with. The only fee you'll need to manage is the monthly $3 paper statement fee, which can easily be avoided by opting into paperless electronic statements.

One final advantage offered by Santander is the high daily limit it allows on both ATM cash withdrawals and debit card purchases. While most banks place lower limits on student accounts, the fact remains that student life can present unexpected spikes in spending, such as tuition payments or textbook purchases. Santander's daily cash and debit limits are nearly twice as high as the average for student checking accounts, making it the best option if you anticipate having at least one or two days of extreme spending.

Santander Bank – Key Figures

  • Student Checking Fee: $0/month
  • Paper Statement Fee: $3/month ($0 for electronic statements)
  • Incoming Wire Fee: $0
  • Daily ATM Withdrawal Limit: $1,000
  • Daily Debit Purchase Limit: $5,000

Summary of the Best Banks in 2017

The table below offers a side-by-side view of the banks we covered. While they're each considered "best" for different kinds of consumers, it may help you to compare their numbers and features directly.

Best For…Bank NameChecking Account FeeMax Savings APY
Checking AccountsChase Bank$120.08%
Savings AccountsSynchrony Bank-1.20%
Online-Only BankingAlly Bank$01.15%
Small Business BankingWells Fargo$140.10%
U.S. StudentsBank of America$00.01%
International StudentsSantander Bank$00.03%

Finding the Best Bank for You

Whether you're a regular consumer, a student or an aspiring business owner, the benefits and quality of your bank experience will depend heavily on your location. The list of banks we've provided represent the best available —but not all of them operate in every neighborhood. A student in Wyoming won't find any Santander branches and ATMs near their school, and entrepreneurs may find that small banks offer more favorable terms to local businesses than national giants like Chase. Even Chase Bank itself can be hard to find outside major urban areas.

Another thing to consider is that banks offer more than just deposit accounts. While you may be satisfied with just a simple checking account at the moment, you may need a loan or mortgage later on, and having an established relationship with the right bank can make it easier to obtain those products when the time comes. This is why it's important to keep your long-term goals in mind whenever you're confronted with bank promotions that offer a quick cash bonus in exchange for opening new accounts.

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