Best Banks of 2018
As with many financial decisions, choosing the "best" bank depends on understanding your individual needs. With dozens of banks and hundreds of deposit account types to choose from, it can also 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 situations.
Best Bank for Checking Accounts: Chase Bank
We found that Chase Bank delivers the ideal combination of accessibility and value for a checking account. As one of the nation's three largest banks, Chase maintains a wide network of physical branches and ATMs that give you convenient access to your account. If you prefer mobile banking, Chase also offers a robust app and online interface which let you deposit checks, make payments and view your balance from anywhere. Finally, the bank's high signup bonus and comprehensive selection of other financial products make it a great all-around banking option.
Chase's checking accounts are fairly average in terms of fees, but it's relatively easy to waive most of the bank's recurring service charges. You can avoid the $12.00 monthly fee for the standard Chase Total Checking Account by getting $500.00 in direct deposits each month, or with a daily minimum balance of $1,500. Monthly fees at Wells Fargo and Bank of America are roughly similar to this, but Chase's $200 signup bonus for new checking accounts gives Chase Total Checking the edge in terms of value.
Chase also carries a range of other 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 balance. 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.
Best Bank for Savings Accounts: CIT Bank
CIT Bank is the leading choice for consumers who want to maximize their interest rates for savings accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs). Although CIT Bank operates as an online-only business in most states, its mobile app and website allow users to manage their deposits without having to visit a branch office. In addition, CIT Bank's lower operating costs mean that it doesn't charge any monthly account fees. This ensures that your savings won't be reduced by any extra maintenance charges.
|CIT Premier High Yield Savings|
|Term CDs||6-Month to 5-Year|
|RampUp™ Plus CDs|
|Jumbo CDs||2-Year to 5-Year|
The wide range of high-rate options at CIT Bank include a number of CD accounts which help customers avoid common problems such as early withdrawal penalties and the risk of missing out on future rate increases. For instance, the bank's RampUp™ CDs give you one opportunity to adjust the interest rate for your deposit if CIT raises its own interest rates some time after you open the CD. Combined with the competitive APY on each deposit product, this variety of options makes CIT Bank a flexible choice for your savings plan.
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 other online banks may have individual products that are slightly better than either Ally Online Savings or Ally Interest Checking, very few offer both checking and savings accounts in one place. Ally Bank not only provides both sets of accounts, it also connects them to a user-friendly mobile app which takes this advantage even further.
|Ally Bank Accounts||Monthly Fee||APY||Balance for APY|
|Ally Interest Checking||$0.00||0.10% - 0.60%||$0.00|
|Ally Online Savings||$0.00||1.50%||$0.00|
|Ally Money Market||$0.00||0.90%||$0.00|
The 1.50% APY you get with Ally Online Savings may not be the highest available rate among online banks, but it comes very close. In addition, you won't need to meet any balance or deposit minimums to earn the full rate, as you do at most of the bank's competitors. Finally, the Ally Interest Checking Account not only earns 0.10% to 0.60% APY, but also comes with no monthly fees or ATM fees.
Ally Bank's ATM services are provided through Allpoint, a third-party network with 55,000 ATM machines worldwide. While they aren't as clearly marked as ATMs owned 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 $10.00 each month in fees you pay to other ATM operators.
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 small businesses. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), 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 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.
As far as business checking accounts go, Wells Fargo Business Choice Checking is unique among major bank offerings thanks to an easy fee waiver. Making ten debit card purchases allows you to avoid the $14.00 monthly fee. Signing up for Wells Fargo Merchant Services or Payroll Services will also eliminate the checking account fee. These bonuses, together with Wells Fargo's diverse loan options, make the bank a convenient one-stop shop for small business owners.
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 United States.
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.
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
- Paper Statement Fee: $5/month ($0 for electronic statements)
- 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.
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
- Paper Statement Fee: $3/month ($0 for electronic statements)
- Daily ATM Withdrawal Limit: $1,000
- Daily Debit Purchase Limit: $5,000
Summary of the Best Banks in 2018
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.
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. For instance, even Chase Bank can be hard to find outside major cities.
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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