Of the dozens of consumer banks doing business in North Carolina, only a handful of institutions provide superior products and accessible locations. To find the best banks in the state, we looked at branch accessibility, checking account fees and savings interest rates. The recommendations compiled below cover a range of needs for North Carolina residents from Asheville to Wilmington.
Best for Checking Accounts
If you're looking for a new bank, you should start by comparing checking accounts. The best checking accounts typically come with no monthly maintenance fees or have minimal requirements to waive the charge. If you like to make your withdrawals and deposits with a teller, you should also consider the accessibility of a bank's branches.
Best for Free Checking: First Citizens Bank
First Citizens Bank is a midsize consumer bank with nearly 250 branches in North Carolina and more than 300 other locations scattered across the South, Midwest and West. The bank's free checking account can be opened with an initial deposit of $50, after which no minimum balance is required. Other features of the account include free mobile and tablet banking, online bill pay and optional overdraft protection.
As the third-largest bank in North Carolina, First Citizens provides accessible service to consumers who value brick-and-mortar banking. However, the majority of First Citizens locations are concentrated in the South, and other locations are mainly in big cities across the Midwest and West. If you frequently travel outside of the state and make ATM withdrawals, you may want to consider opening an account with a larger national institution like Bank of America—which has 153 branches in North Carolina but more than 4,500 other locations.
Best Access to Branches: BB&T Bank
Branch Banking and Trust Company, otherwise known as BB&T, is the largest major bank in North Carolina, with 342 branches in the state. If you're looking for a simple checking account and easy branch accessibility, BB&T's Fundamentals Checking is a great option. You can open an account with as little as $50, but you'll pay a $5 monthly maintenance fee.
One downside of the BB&T Fundamentals Checking account is that the monthly fee cannot be avoided. While most other banks will waive the maintenance fee so long as you meet certain requirements, BB&T doesn't offer this feature. BB&T also charges $3 for each transaction you make at a non-BB&T ATM—and doesn't provide any free withdrawals from non-network ATMs. However, these fees shouldn't pose an issue if you're located close to BB&T branches and ATMs.
Best Checking for Students: PNC Bank
For North Carolina students, PNC Bank's Virtual Wallet Student combines widespread brick-and-mortar access with sophisticated online banking tools. The bank has 142 branches in the state, with several located in popular college towns—20 in Raleigh, 11 in Charlotte and 9 in Chapel Hill. With the Virtual Wallet Student, students who apply online can open a free checking account with a $0 initial deposit.
The Virtual Wallet Student includes three individual accounts—Spend, for checking; Reserve, for short-term savings; and Growth, for long-term savings. The user-friendly design of this setup, with three accounts in a single place, makes it an excellent option for students who are beginning their financial journeys. Both savings accounts earn interest on balances over $1, and the checking account provides two reimbursable withdrawals from non-PNC ATMs.
Best for Savings Rates: Woodforest National Bank
Woodforest National Bank offers the best savings account for North Carolina residents who typically carry a low to average savings account balance. The Woodforest National Bank Savings Account comes with a 0.05% APY on balances under $10,000 and a 0.10% APY on higher balances. This account also charges no monthly fee as long as you maintain a daily minimum balance of $200—which is a much lower balance requirement than similar accounts.
With around 90 branches in North Carolina, Woodforest has decent accessibility for consumers who prefer brick-and-mortar banking. While Woodforest has significantly fewer branches than BB&T or First Citizens, the account's APY and low balance requirement make this a competitive option for those who are starting to build a savings foundation. Consumers further on their financial journeys may want to consider opening a money market account, as they provide stronger returns.
Best for Small Business: Fifth Third Bank
When searching for a business checking account, the goal is to find the account that allows the highest number of transactions for the lowest monthly fee. While Fifth Third has fewer North Carolina branches than the other banks on this list—with 55 across the state—it offers three business checking accounts with decent transaction allowances for an affordable price.
Fifth Third's basic account, the Business Standard, charges a monthly fee of $11 in exchange for 250 transactions—which include checks, debit charges and deposits. This fee is waived if you maintain a balance of at least $3,500 in the account. For business owners who require a high monthly transaction allowance, the Fifth Third Business Elite account allots 650 transactions for a monthly fee of $35, which can be waived with a balance of $25,000. On all Fifth Third business accounts, a penalty fee of $0.50 is charged for each extra transaction.
Fifth Third Business Checking Accounts
|Business Standard||Business Premium||Business Elite|
|Min. Balance to Waive Fee||$3,500||$10,000||$25,000|
|Monthly Transaction Limit||250||450||650|
|Monthly Deposit Limit||$5,000||$10,000||$25,000|
Summary of the Best Banks in North Carolina 2018
As you continue to research accounts, you should think about the features that are most important to you. You may have to make a trade-off between your checking account's accessibility and its affordability, or your savings account's APY and its monthly fee. When comparing banks, you can use this guide and the table below as a reference point.
|Best For…||Bank Name||Monthly Fee|
|Free Checking||First Citizens Bank||$0.00|
|Checking & Branch Access||BB&T Bank||$5.00|
|Student Checking||PNC Bank||$0.00|
|Small Business Checking||Fifth Third Bank||$11.00|