Best Banks in Georgia 2019

There are at least 225 consumer banks in the state of Georgia, but that doesn't mean they're all available in every city and county. We've looked at the fees and rates available at the most common banks to find the best choice for checking and savings accounts in the state as a whole. While there isn't a single "best" bank in Georgia, we chose the following banks because they fit well with a range of different financial goals and situations.

Best for Branch Access: SunTrust

SunTrust Essential Checking
SunTrust Essential Checking

Consider this if you want to bank in person.

Monthly Fee $7.00
Balance to Waive Fee $500
Opening Deposit $100.00

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.

map of SunTrust branches in Georgia, by county

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{#best-free-checking}

Bank OZK Free Checking
Bank OZK Free Checking

Consider this if you want a bank without monthly maintenance fees.

Monthly Fee $0.00
Balance to Waive Fee $100.00
Opening Deposit $100.00

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.

map of Bank of the Ozarks branches in Georgia, by county

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 Core Checking
Bank of America Core Checking

Consider this if you want a higher daily spending limit.

Monthly Fee $12.00
Balance to Waive Fee $1,500
Opening Deposit $25.00

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.

map of Bank of America branches in Georgia, by county

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

PNC Virtual Wallet for Students
PNC Virtual Wallet for Students

Consider this if you want a good way to track your finances.

Monthly Fee $0.00
Balance to Waive Fee $0
Opening Deposit $25.00

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.

map of PNC branches in Georgia, by county

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

Consider this if you want access to a variety of loans.

Monthly Fee $14.00
Balance to Waive Fee $7,500.00
Free Monthly Transactions 200
Excess Transaction Fee $0.50 per transaction
Free Cash Deposit Limit $7,500.00
Excess Cash Deposit Fee $0.30 per $100 deposited

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.

map of Wells Fargo branches in Georgia, by county

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 LoanWells Fargo BusinessLoan® Term loanEquipment Express® Loan
Best For…new inventory, repairs, temporary costsexpansion, remodeling, product developmentfinancing/refinancing equipment or vehicles
Amount$10,000-$35,000$10,000-$100,000$10,000-$100,000
Starting Rate13.99%6.25%5.25% or 5.75%
Opening Fee$195$150$150
Term Length1 year, with weekly payments2 or 5 years2 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.

Best For…Bank NameMonthly FeeFeatures
Branch AccessSunTrust$10Fee waived with paperless statements and 10 non-fee, non-overdraft transactions
Free CheckingBank of the Ozarks$0No monthly fee or required minimum balance
Higher SpendingBank of America$12Higher daily limit on ATM withdrawal
StudentsPNC Bank$0Three accounts with online management features
Small BusinessesWells 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.

Sources:

Pulse 2015 Debit Issuer Study.

SBA Georgia District Office 7(a) Lender Ranking.

Chris Moon

Chris is a Senior Research Analyst at ValuePenguin who has covered deposit accounts and home loans since 2016. He has contributed insights and opinions to the New York Times and many other publications.

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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.