Best Banks for Checking Accounts
At their core, checking accounts need to be cheap to maintain and easy to access, regardless of time or place. Unlike many other cities, Chicago has more than one option for free checking, so we've evaluated the following banks based on their accessibility and special features.
Best Branch and ATM Access: Chase Bank
Chase has nearly 200 branches within the Chicago metro area, more than twice the number operated by the next-most common bank. With fairly average deposit accounts, consistent quality of service and a strong credit card rewards program, Chase represents your most convenient option among all banks.
Chase's massive resources enable it to cover everything from standard checking and savings accounts to credit cards, loans, investments and small business banking. Overall, Chase products usually deliver good quality and consistently meet expectations, especially when it comes to the credit cards rewards program. The Chase mobile app ties together all of a customer's active products in one place, making financial management much swifter and easier. Combined with a massive network of ATMs and local branch offices, Chase's online banking options make it an unbeatable choice in terms of accessibility.
However, people who want affordability won't really be impressed by the bank's fees and rates, which closely follow the average for any national brick-and-mortar bank. With Chase Total Checking, you pay a $12 monthly checking fee unless you have at least $1,500 in the account or $500 in direct deposits during the month. This pricing model for standard checking is more or less the same as what you'll find at competitors like Wells Fargo and Bank of America. Meanwhile, deposits at Chase won't earn more than 0.03% APY, making it less than ideal as a place to grow your savings.
Best for Free Checking: Byline Bank
In selecting Byline Bank as the best place in Chicago for free checking, we considered the typical needs of people who prioritize affordable banking. Byline doesn't match the brick-and-mortar coverage of a big bank like Chase, but its robust suite of online banking features may compensate for the difference if you prefer banking on your own schedule.
Some banks give customers free accounts when they meet a minimum balance or fulfill monthly activity requirements, but with Byline you receive free checking regardless of your balance or how many times you manage to use your debit card. The bank's app and online banking provides all the same major features as those at national banks like Chase, such as mobile check deposit and balance transfers. If you prefer traditional banking, Byline provides account-holders with unlimited check writing and a free book of standard checks.
People who rely heavily on cash withdrawals will also appreciate Byline Bank's partnership with Allpoint, a third-party ATM provider with 55,000 machines worldwide. Few other banks of Byline's size collaborate with Allpoint in this way, giving this bank a unique advantage in delivering fee-free ATM access to its customers in the city. Overall, we find that Byline's combination of local branch offices, ATM partnership and effective online platforms make its free checking account a reliable option.
Best Checking Interest Rate: Huntington National Bank
Smaller regional banks often provide better deals than national banks, with stronger rates for lower required balances. The Huntington National Bank, which only serves people in the Great Lakes region, earns our top spot for interest-bearing checking accounts in Chicago.
The Huntington National Bank offers an APY as high as 0.25% on interest checking, putting it far ahead of other banks in Chicago. Avoiding the monthly fee on the Huntington 25 checking account requires $25,000 in all your Huntington accounts, but people with lower balances can still access a competitive APY with Huntington 5, which earns 0.05% and comes fee-free when you have at least $5,000 in total deposits at the bank. These rates are much stronger than the typical rate earned by premium checking accounts at giants like Wells Fargo or Chase.
In addition, Huntington encourages customers to open savings accounts by providing 0.10% to 0.15% extra APY on those options when you link them to an interest checking account. This relationship rate isn't particularly exceptional, but linking accounts also waives all account fees on savings accounts and money market accounts, giving Huntington a real advantage over other banking options. Huntington also carries a reputation for good customer service, earning recognition in the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study.
Best Savings Rates: Wintrust Bank
Although savings account rates across the country have stayed at historic lows for almost a decade, Wintrust Bank in Chicago beats national rates by a significant margin. Its promotional rate of 0.65% APY lasts for one year, with a standard rate of 0.10% kicking in afterwards.
If you have at least $1,000 in savings, Wintrust currently offers the highest promotional APY of any bank in Chicago. New customers will receive 0.65% APY for the first 12 months after depositing $1,000 in a personal savings account. That's more than ten times the national average on savings accounts, as determined by the FDIC's weekly survey of insured institutions. After the promotion, Wintrust customers earn 0.10% APY on all savings balances of at least $200, although that rate is subject to change.
The account also costs $10 a month if your savings account balance happens to fall below $200, or if you exceed the monthly limit of six withdrawals. With just a few dozen branch locations scattered downtown and across the north side, Wintrust isn't the best choice for checking accounts, but people who live nearby should definitely consider its free checking option. If you prefer a higher interest rate but can't quite make the leap to a completely non-physical, online-only bank, Wintrust is currently your best option.
Best for Small Businesses: U.S. Bank
U.S. Bank is among our leading recommendations for small business banking in Chicago, thanks to its generous selection of commercial loans and the U.S. Bank Silver Business Checking Package, which comes with no monthly maintenance fee.
Almost every successful small business has a locally available bank that provides credit in addition to the usual deposit services. Having a nearby branch is critical to developing a personal relationship with your banker, and U.S. Bank's wide coverage of the Chicago area ensures that it can work closely with business owners across the city. Besides its participation in the government-sponsored SBA 7(a) loan program, US Bank offers a range of additional options for development, real estate and capital improvements.
U.S. Bank Business Term Loans
|Quick Loan for Vehicles||new/used vehicle financing||$5,000-$100,000||up to 6 years|
|Quick Loan for Equipment||equipment, business expansion||$5,000-$250,000||up to 5 years|
|Business Loan||vehicles, equipment, long-term financing||up to $2 million||up to 80 months|
|Equipment Finance||new/used equipment financing||$10,000-$500,000||up to 5 years|
U.S. Bank also provides superior value in its business-oriented checking accounts and small business services. Opening a checking account will grant you slightly better rates on any loans you take out with the bank as well as higher APY on business savings accounts. The free Silver Business Checking Package is an especially attractive value for businesses just starting out. Even though this account comes with just $2,500 in free cash deposits every month, it's rare for banks to offer business checking with no monthly fees or minimum balance requirements.
U.S. Bank Business Checking Packages
|Silver Business Package||Gold Business Package||Platinum Business Package|
|Balance to Waive Fee||-||$10,000||$25,000|
|Transaction Fee||$0.50 after 150 free||$0.45 after 300||$0.50 after 500|
|Free Cash Deposit Limit||$2,500||$10,000||$20,000|
Summary of the Best Banks in Chicago
While each of these banks stands out in a different category, we've put them together in a line-by-line comparison to help you compare them at a glance.
Finding the Best Bank for You
With close to three million people living in and around the city, there's certainly no shortage of banks to be found in Chicago. If you don't seem to live quite close enough to any of the banks we've covered here, it's best to continue your search based on the same criteria. For a good checking account, you should prioritize reliability and easy access to your balance —whether that means lots of ATMs and branches, or flexible mobile app features. Different people prefer different "channels" for banking, and not all banks perform well in every area.
For savings rates, understand that looking for strong rates among brick-and-mortar institutions is generally inefficient compared to looking at interest rates provided at their online competitors. The national average for all FDIC-insured savings accounts stands at 0.06% APY, a far cry from the 1.00% rates you'll easily find at newer banks operating through the web. Online savings accounts, which generally allow free electronic transfers to compensate for the lack of branches, can often work well when combined with a more traditional checking account.