Best Free Checking: BBVA Compass Bank
Founded in Alabama by Alabamians, Compass Bank's low account fees and nationwide reach make it the best place to find free and convenient checking in the state. The ClearConnect Checking account only requires $25.00 to open and has no monthly fee or minimum balance. This makes Compass more affordable than competing banks, such as Regions Bank, which has a $50 opening deposit requirement and an $8 monthly fee.
Not only is Compass ClearConnect Checking free, its features also compare well with more expensive account options at other banks. With Compass, you'll have convenient free withdrawals via Allpoint ATMs, which are present in pharmacies, supermarkets and convenience stores. You also receive cash back on debit card purchases—a rare benefit for a checking account, especially one that's free.
Best Branch Access: Regions Bank
Regions Bank is the best option for Alabamians who like to handle their banking in person. With 220 branches from Mobile to Huntsville, Regions operates twice as many branches as any other Alabama bank. Nationwide, Regions Bank has a total of 1,500 branches covering 15 states in the South and Midwest, making it a convenient choice for frequent travelers as well.
Getting a checking account at Regions will cost you less per month than at other banks, but you will need slightly more money to get started. The LifeGreen Checking Account requires $25.00 to open and has a monthly fee of $10.00, which is waived when you keep a $1,500 average monthly balance. While the fee is relatively low and the waiver requirement is standard, the $25.00 opening requirement is twice that of many competitors.
Best for Students: BB&T
BB&T's Student Checking account offers the best set of terms and features for students at colleges like University of Alabama and Auburn. This account does not have a minimum opening deposit, monthly maintenance fee or minimum balance requirement, which makes it an affordable pick for student budgets. In addition, BB&T has a customizable online and mobile banking experience that lets students bank according to their needs.
One potential drawback for graduate students is BB&T's low age maximum: You must be 23 or younger to open a student account. Most major banks allow students to maintain a student checking account up to age 25. For older students, we advise going with a standard free checking account from Compass or a Regions Bank account for better branch access.
Best for Savings: CIT Bank
When we researched savings account rates in Alabama, we found that brick-and-mortar banks offer far lower rates than you can obtain via online-only savings accounts. That's why we recommend CIT Bank, a nationally available online bank whose money market account earns 1.85% with no monthly fee. Requiring $100.00 to open, this account offers the best savings rate in Alabama—so long as you're willing to bank without branch access.
Choosing an online bank like CIT means that you give up in-person services in exchange for fewer fees and higher interest rates. Another drawback at CIT Bank is the lack of a checking account option, which can be inconvenient if you prefer keeping your accounts together in one bank. If you prefer banking in person, you can always combine this account with a regular checking account at a local institution.
Best for Small Businesses: Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo offers three different types of business checking accounts and many different types of loans and services to small businesses throughout Alabama. We recognize that Wells Fargo has recently faced scandal after scandal, but believe that the massive internal changes the bank has made in response will likely prevent further abuse. The current scrutiny Wells Fargo is facing should be a strong incentive for the bank to stop similar situations from arising in the future.
In terms of fees and features, Wells Fargo's Simple Business Checking account has easy opening requirements and relatively low fee waivers. The account is further supported by a large variety of loans and Wells Fargo's extensive branch presence, which gives small-business owners convenient access to cash deposits and in-person service. This account includes 50 free transactions and $3,000.00 of cash deposits each month. Other major banks, such as Regions Bank, offer a similar amount of free transactions and maximum cash deposit, but require much higher account balance to waive the monthly fee.
Finding the Best Bank for You
Deciding on a bank account is difficult with the many banks and account options out there. If you can't find a bank that fits your banking preferences above, use our criteria as a baseline to compare any other competitive accounts you may find. Remember that fees aren't the only thing to consider. So long as you can meet the requirements to waive a monthly account fee, you'll want to look closely at the features you'll receive.
If banking with a national brand isn't a high priority for you, then you may want to check out your local credit unions or online bank options, which usually offer better terms but fewer branches nationwide. Finally, be sure to read the fine print of your account agreement in order to avoid being ambushed by account usage fees. Depending on your banking needs, it may make more sense to pay for a premium account in order to access free features that you'd otherwise pay for.