Best for Branch Access: SunTrust
SunTrust operates 245 branches in Georgia, making it our first choice for brick-and-mortar banking in the state. Although Wells Fargo runs even more locations, SunTrust's branches are more widely distributed, allowing more people to access its services. Not only does SunTrust have hundreds of branches around Atlanta, it also has banks and ATMs available in the southern parts of the state, where other major banks may not be as common.
In addition, this bank charges one of the lowest monthly fees of any major bank available in Georgia, with the standard SunTrust Essential Checking account costing $7 a month. You can also avoid this fee completely by meeting several easy requirements: make 10 non-fee, non-overdraft transactions or keep $500 in your account as a daily minimum. However, you should be aware of SunTrust's $3 paper statement fee, which gets added to your monthly charges unless you sign up to receive paperless online statements.
Still, as long as you remember to make that switch right away, the Essential Checking account represents a great value compared to the standard options at other banks. Not many places will waive your monthly fee based on transaction activity, and since the average consumer uses a debit card around 20 times each month, most people won't have any issues keeping their SunTrust checking account free.
Best for Free Checking: Bank OZK
If your top priority is to find a free checking account, Bank OZK, formerly known as Bank of the Ozarks, is the largest bank in Georgia with a no-fee, no-minimum checking option. As a regional bank, Bank of the Ozarks mostly operates in Southern states, and its 71 Georgia branches serve most major cities and towns, including Atlanta, Savannah and Athens.
While the opening minimum of $100 is higher than the average required at other banks, the Free Checking account at Bank OZK should pay for itself in just a few months. While some people find it very easy to meet common requirements like direct deposit or daily minimum balance at competing banks, a significant number of consumers do fall short and end up owing maintenance fees. Being free of any minimums and rules is a big advantage when you don't know exactly where your finances will be by the end of the month.
Opening an account at this bank can also save you a substantial amount in other service fees. For example, Bank OZK charges just $1 when you use ATMs owned by other banks or companies, lower than the $2.50 you face at much larger banks. Likewise, depositing a check that "bounces" or gets returned costs you $1 at Bank of the Ozarks, while the typical return fee at big banks is closer to $12. While you should do your best not to pay such fees at all, having a bank that charges less in these areas can be a great help when you're already in a pinch.
Best for Higher Spenders: Bank of America
Bank of America is a national bank that combines fairly average levels of fees and service with surprisingly high daily spending limits. Although debit and ATM withdrawal limits aren't openly advertised at most banks, our research shows that Bank of America's standard limits are substantially higher than the limits set by other large banks like Chase or Wells Fargo.
With Bank of America Core Checking, you can withdraw up to $1,000 at ATMs in a single day. Compared to the ATM limit of $500 at Chase and $300 at Wells Fargo, this bank can be much more useful to people who occasionally need larger amounts of cash on hand. Similarly, Bank of America allows more debit spending —$5,000 per day, compared to $3,000 at Chase and $2,000 at Wells Fargo. While banks use these limits as a way to protect money from overspending or fraud, customers who prefer having free access to their money may appreciate Bank of America's more lenient policies in this area.
While Bank of America is usually one of the biggest banks in any state, it actually falls behind in branch coverage when it comes to Georgia, ranking behind both Wells Fargo and SunTrust. Still, its 172 locations reach customers in most parts of Atlanta and Savannah, as well as in smaller cities like Athens and Macon. Overall, we rate this bank as more convenient than average, thanks to its high spending limits and big network of ATMs. However, people looking for the best rates and fees can easily find better deals elsewhere.
Best for Students: PNC Bank
We chose PNC Bank as the best option for students because of its Virtual Wallet account package for students, which provides an easy way to keep track of your finances on a regular basis. With one checking account and two savings accounts for different financial goals, Virtual Wallet for Students can help you get in the habit of responsible money management.
PNC's student account package comes with several important advantages that most student banking options don't include. When you log into the bank's website, you're presented with a monthly calendar that highlights your upcoming expenses, like tuition or bills. Other features include the ability to track and categorize your spending, as well as an alert system that can let parents know when the account balance runs low. Virtual Wallet also provides good options for international students, allowing one free incoming wire transfer every month and providing web services in multiple languages.
PNC also makes the student option extremely affordable, waiving all monthly fees for six years once you show proof of enrollment in a qualifying university program. This is particularly impressive given that the Virtual Wallet comes with three separate accounts, each of which could cost you $5 to $10 per month at another institution. With branches near schools including Georgia State, Georgia Tech and Emory, PNC is more accessible, affordable and helpful to your financial health than most of its competitors.
Best for Small Business: Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo is the largest small business lender in Georgia, making it a strong choice for anyone interested in starting a small business. Its status as a massive national bank means that it can also offer business checking accounts, merchant services and investment opportunities, making it a convenient all-in-one solution for business owners.
Wells Fargo's position as a national leader in small business lending is reflected in Georgia as well. Between October 2016 and March 2017, the bank approved over $17 million in SBA 7(a) loans to 119 Georgia businesses, earning it the top spot in the Small Business Administration's list of 7(a) lenders for the state. Originating over twice as many loans as SunTrust in second place, Wells Fargo represents the best bet if you're interested in securing a favorable small business loan. The bank also offers several of its own loans for specific expenses, like equipment purchase or commercial real estate investment.
Wells Fargo also publishes the APR range for each loan on its website, something that its competitors won't divulge unless you meet with their staff in person. This makes it easier to compare Wells Fargo's loans against quotes from other banks. When you use Wells Fargo for your business checking account and merchant services, arranging payments and transfers related to the loan become easier as well. While Wells Fargo doesn't offer huge advantages in these areas relative to other banks, you may want to consider keeping all your finances in one place for better management.
Wells Fargo Business Loans
FastFlex Small Business Loan
Wells Fargo BusinessLoan® Term loan
Equipment Express® Loan
|Best For…||new inventory, repairs, temporary costs||expansion, remodeling, product development||financing/refinancing equipment or vehicles|
|Starting Rate||13.99%||6.25%||5.25% or 5.75%|
|Term Length||1 year, with weekly payments||2 or 5 years||2 or 6 years|
Summary of the Best Banks in Georgia
Use the following table as a basis for comparing the banks we've reviewed in this article. While each bank is strongest for a different type of customer, viewing these choices side by side can help inform your shopping as you look at other banks available in Georgia.
|Branch Access||SunTrust||$10||Fee waived with paperless statements and 10 non-fee, non-overdraft transactions|
|Free Checking||Bank of the Ozarks||$0||No monthly fee or required minimum balance|
|Higher Spending||Bank of America||$12||Higher daily limit on ATM withdrawal|
|Students||PNC Bank||$0||Three accounts with online management features|
|Small Businesses||Wells Fargo||-||Top SBA 7(a) lender in Georgia, 2016|
Finding the Best Bank for You
Finding the right bank isn't the fastest process, but knowing what to look for can help make your search more effective. When we looked for the best banks in Georgia, we considered availability as well as the cost of keeping an account open. We only moved on to look at specific fees and features after determining that a bank had enough branches and ATMs to make it a relevant option for a majority of consumers living in the state.
This means that when you look for banks on your own, you have the option of looking at much smaller local banks in your neighborhood. Community banks often lag behind big brands in their Internet-based services, but they often provide a more personalized level of service that you won't necessarily find at a national bank. If you're a small business owner, building a close relationship with your bank is even more critical: as with any part of doing business, securing loans and receiving services goes more smoothly when you can rely on a personal connection.