Best for Checking
Broadly speaking, checking accounts are the best product offered by national banks. While their interest rates tend to fall below the APYs offered at smaller institutions and online-only banks, big banks are ideally suited to provide ATM and branch access in wide areas of the country.
Best National Bank for Checking Overall: Chase Bank
You should choose Chase Bank if you value accessibility, affordability and usability in your daily banking experience. While the Chase Total Checking account isn't free, the $12 maintenance fee is waived each month so long as you receive $500 in direct deposits or keep a daily minimum of at least $1,500 on your balance.
There are plenty of other banks that offer easier ways to get free checking accounts, but we recommend Chase as the best among national brands. If the key strengths of a big bank are big ATM networks and powerful mobile banking, Chase delivers the best of both worlds. Its branches and ATMs can be found in almost every major city, while the Chase mobile app and website work swiftly and reliably to link together all of your Chase checking, savings, loan and credit card accounts.
Bank account fees at Chase closely mirror the average at most other national banks, although Chase does leave out the irritating paper statement fee that competitors often charge. Overdrafts can end up costing you a significant amount, with a $35 charge for each time you go more than $5 in the red. Interest rates on Chase checking accounts leave a lot of room for improvement, with nothing higher than 0.03% APY available for any balance.
Most Branch Locations: Wells Fargo
In terms of sheer coverage, no other bank in the US can match Wells Fargo's 6,200 branches and 10,000 ATMs. If you're one of the millions of consumers that frequently rely on teller service and cash withdrawals from ATMs, it's more than likely that you live within range of at least one Wells Fargo branch. However, there are a few important points to consider with this particular national bank.
It's impossible to ignore the relevance of recent scandal at Wells Fargo. 2016 saw the revelation of widespread misconduct by bank employees, who tried to meet aggressive sales quotas by creating millions of fake accounts without telling customers. Although the bank has promised to reform policies and training in order to prevent future issues, this problem is certainly nothing to be taken lightly. If you do choose to bank with Wells Fargo, we recommend that you keep an eye on your statements to make sure that you aren't being billed for extra accounts.
In terms of features, Wells Fargo tracks pretty closely with what you'll find at Chase and Bank of America. Its mobile app and online banking options offer the same features, enabling users to make mobile check deposits, transfer money between accounts and make person-to-person payments. Unlike its two main rivals, Wells Fargo does allow you to avoid paying account fees if you manage to make ten debit card purchases each month, an important feature if you don't want to meet a minimum balance requirement.
Best National Bank for Students: Bank of America
With higher debit and ATM withdrawal limits for student accounts, Bank of America is our recommendation for student checking among national banks. Bank of America is the third-largest in the US, with 4,700 branches nationwide, so there's a decent chance that you'll find a branch wherever you happen to live or study.
While most banks will give students a specific college or high-school checking account, Bank of America gives you a standard Core Checking Account for free, as long as you're an active student under 23. Having a standard account as a student means that you’ll have more generous daily limits on your debit card and ATM withdrawals compared to the more restrictive student accounts at other banks. So long as you remember to opt out of paper statements, you can keep your Bank of America Core Checking Account free so long as you're enrolled and under the age limit.
Bank of America – Daily Account Limits
- ATM Withdrawal Limit: $1,000
- Debit Purchase Limit: $5,000
Best National Bank for Savings: TD Bank
National brick-and-mortar banks typically post very weak deposit interest rates, but TD Bank represents the best of a bad bunch. While most big banks never raise their savings rates past 0.01% APY, TD offers a slightly elevated 0.02% on all balances. In addition, its more expensive accounts benefit from relationship rates for customers who open both a checking and a savings account with the bank.
As with many national banks, the interest rate you get on your savings account at TD depends on your balance. At minimum, you'll need to maintain $300 to avoid paying the monthly maintenance fee. Alternately, you can get a free savings account if you also open a TD checking account. Although the bank doesn't require any minimum balance to earn interest, the monthly fee waiver minimums are basically the same thing: with rates so low, you don't want to have your meager earnings wiped out by account fees at the end of every month. While TD offers a better rate than any national bank, there are better rates to be found at smaller banks or credit unions.
TD Bank Savings Accounts
|TD Simple Savings|
|TD Select Savings|
|TD Growth Money Market|
Best National Bank for Small Business: PNC Bank
When it comes to business checking accounts and merchant services, PNC outdoes many of the larger banks we've covered. Compared to other banks, PNC grants higher limits on free business activity, which can significantly lower costs for businesses that deal with a high volume of transactions. The PNC Business Checking Preferred Account allows 1,500 free transactions and costs just $0.25 for each additional transaction, while the typical business checking account caps free transactions at 500 and charges $0.50 after that.
While the account does cost significantly more in monthly fees at $50, this fee only kicks in after the first three months. Even then, the PNC Business Checking Preferred Account provides multiple ways to avoid the fee. For example, you could avoid paying by subscribing to other PNC business services or by making $3,000 in purchases with a linked PNC business credit card. This adds to PNC's value as a one-stop shop for small businesses who need merchant services and receivable management that work alongside their bank accounts.
PNC Business Checking Accounts
Fee Waiver Options
|Business Checking Preferred||$250||$50|
|Business Checking Plus||$250||$20|
Summary of the Best National Banks
See our table below for a comparison of the different national banks we cover in this article. Each one is best-suited for a different type of user, but since every national bank tends to offer at least one version of each account type, we've included some general information as a basis for choosing between them.
Best National Bank For…
|Checking Accounts||Chase Bank||$12||balanced traditional and mobile banking|
|Branches and ATMs||Wells Fargo||$10||biggest US branch/ATM network|
|Student Checking||Bank of America||$0||no monthly fee and higher limits for students|
|Savings Rates||TD Bank||$6||relationship rates with linked checking|
|Small Businesses||PNC||$50||many fee waivers and high transaction limits|
How to Find a Bank That Works for You
National banks usually make it easy to compare their fees and services. Their websites tend to be well-maintained and easier to navigate than those of a credit union or smaller bank, and you may also notice that they often imitate one another in the way they design and describe their account products. This isn't coincidence: many of the biggest banks have collaborated with the Pew Charitable Trusts, a public policy research NGO, to create a standardized disclosure form, which allows consumers to make quick and easy comparisons of policies and prices at different banks.
If you don't see what you're looking for in websites or disclosure forms, you might have a better time looking at community banks or credit unions in your local area. Smaller institutions can't deliver the massive reach of a national bank's branch locations or ATM access, but they tend to develop closer relationships with their smaller customer base. While it's difficult to put a precise number on that kind of benefit, local banks do tend to give better rates to account holders and may be more responsive than a national bank when you happen to run into problems with your account.