While its availability is limited, Santander Bank is one of the easiest places to get fee-free checking. Thanks to its lenient rules on waiving monthly fees, a standard checking account at Santander won't force you to track your activity or your minimum balance every month. The bank's standard interest rates aren't nearly as high as those you can find at online banks, but if you're a new customer with at least $10,000, Santander offers a strong promotional rate that may be worth consideration.
Review: Should You Open a Santander Account?
To most people, the biggest benefit of banking with Santander is how easily you can avoid monthly fees on both savings and checking accounts. Unfortunately, the bank's limited number of branches can only be found in a few parts of the country.
If you prefer to have all your bank accounts in one place, Santander makes it much easier than usual to maintain those accounts for free. Where most banks will charge up to $12 a month for standard checking accounts, Santander offers its customers an extremely simple fee waiver on its Simply Right Checking Account. The benefits extend to your savings options: any customer with a Santander checking account won't be charged monthly fees for a Santander Savings or Santander Money Market Savings Account.
On the other hand, people interested in finding the best deposit interest rates won't be impressed by Santander's selections. While its promotional rate on new Santander Money Market Savings Accounts can reach up to 1.30% APY depending on your location, you'll need at least $10,000 in your balance to qualify. Furthermore, you'll eventually be dropped to a permanent APY of 0.30%. Other options are lower still, with Santander Savings earning 0.03% APY and Premium Plus Checking at just 0.01%.
Finally, Santander has a few unusual fee policies that set it apart from other banks. The Student Value Checking Account won't charge the standard $15 fee on each incoming international wire transfer, making it particularly attractive to international students who receive financial support from overseas. However, most Santander customers have to watch out for the $3 paper statement fee, which can only be avoided by opting into electronic statement delivery. Using a non-Santander ATM in the US also costs account-holders $3 on every transaction, significantly more than the average $2.50.
Santander Checking Accounts
Both students and standard checking customers have good options available at Santander, but those with higher balances might find better premium checking at other places.
Monthly Fee Waivers
Minimum to Open
|Simply Right Checking||$10||Make 1 deposit, withdrawal, transfer or payment||$25|
|Student Value Checking||$0||-||$25|
|Santander Basic Checking||$3||Cannot waive fee||$25|
|Santander Premier Plus Checking||$35||$75,000 combined deposits and investments OR $6,000 direct deposits||$50|
Santander's Simply Right Checking Account delivers the standard set of features essentially for free, making it a great value compared to similar checking accounts elsewhere. Though it officially costs $10 per month, Simply Right Checking is free when you can make at least one deposit, withdrawal, transfer or payment within the calendar month. Compared to typical waiver requirements like a $1,500 daily average balance or $500 in direct deposits, this is practically a guaranteed way to keep a free checking account.
Students located close to Santander branches should consider this bank as well, particularly if they come from other countries. With none of the incoming international wire fees charged by other banks, Santander's Student Value Checking can end up saving $15 each time a student in the US receives money from back home. Additionally, the Student Value Checking account has no monthly maintenance fee, making it a strong candidate whether or not you hail from abroad.
At higher balances, Santander tends to ask for more than usual in return for the same or fewer benefits. For $35 a month, Santander Premier Plus Checking only earns 0.01% APY, the same earned on accounts costing just $25 monthly. Unless you receive $6,000 in direct deposits, avoiding the $35 fee will require a $75,000 daily average balance. That figure does include investment accounts and other deposit accounts at Santander, but it's still three times as much money as most banks expect from their high-balance customers.
Santander Savings Accounts
Savings accounts at Santander are free and convenient additions to your checking account, but their rates are somewhat below average. These accounts aren't an optimal choice unless you're trying to keep your checking and savings accounts together at one bank.
|Santander Money Market Savings||0.30%||$25|
|Santander Premier Plus Money Market Savings||0.30%||$25 AND a Premier Checking Account|
|Santander Youth Savings||0.03%||$10|
All of Santander's savings accounts can be held for free if you already own a Santander checking account, a fairly common offer at traditional banks. At higher balances, a Premier Checking Account is actually required in order to open a Santander Premier Plus Money Market Savings Account. Keeping your savings in the same place as your checking account brings several advantages, making it easier to manage the balances and automate transactions between them. However, this is no reason to limit your options: many online savings accounts offer far better rates for no monthly fee.
Santander's rates do stand out in one area. Depending on location, new customers bringing at least $10,000 to Santander can qualify for temporary rates as high as 1.30% APY on either of the bank's money market savings accounts. On the surface, that's one of the highest deposit rates available anywhere, online or in-branch. However, the relatively high balance required to achieve that rate makes it irrelevant for many consumers, and even those who do qualify won't have long before their rate drops to the standard 0.30%.
How Does Santander Compare to Other Banks?
Santander's reach is limited to just a few areas of the US, so we've focused our comparisons on banks that also operate in those places.
Santander vs. Chase Bank
The typical consumer will find that Chase Bank provides two big advantages over Santander: better credit cards and a broader network of ATMs and branches.
While their checking and savings accounts carry similar fees and rates, the two banks are separated by the sheer scale of Chase's US operations, which guarantee a level of accessibility and convenience that the smaller bank is hard-pressed to match. On the other hand, Santander does a better job at providing free checking at lower balances, and its student account is more affordable than Chase's own.
Santander vs. TD Bank
TD Bank is another regional competitor to Santander, and the two banks are closely matched in their deposit accounts. The most significant difference for most customers: free checking at TD requires a daily minimum of $100 in your balance. This is much lower than what's often required at other banks, but Santander's simple one-transaction fee waiver makes it one of the only banks that outdoes TD on this score.
The interest rates at TD are far more complex than at Santander, but for the majority of customers, there won't be any significant difference. Where you can often expect either 0.03% or 0.30% APY with Santander, TD's various Savings accounts yield anywhere from 0.05% on its basic Simple Savings to 0.55% APY with relationship rates and a high balance of $50,000 in TD Select Savings. Unlike Santander, TD doesn't allow you to waive monthly fees on savings just by keeping a checking account, so you'll need to ensure you can meet the minimum balance requirement specific to your TD savings account.
Santander vs. PNC Bank
PNC Bank has a much wider service area in the eastern US than Santander, but people who have the option of choosing between these two banks may find a better deal at Santander, where the Simply Right Checking Account makes free checking practically effortless. Seniors are the one possible exception, as PNC offers anyone 62 or older a free PNC Standard Checking Account.
Unless you have enough in the bank to justify a premium checking account at PNC, it's difficult to beat the 0.30% APY you can get at Santander in most areas. The relationship rate on PNC Premiere Money Market requires an active PNC Performance or Performance Select Checking Account, which "unlock" a money market rate of 0.25% and 0.60% respectively.
Santander vs. HSBC Bank
Unless you spend a lot of time in places like the UK or Hong Kong, where HSBC operates most heavily, there's little benefit to choosing this bank over Santander, whose free checking option is significantly more accessible than HSBC's Choice Checking Account. Like Santander, HSBC has its roots outside the US, and both banks have very few branches outside major cities like New York.
Interest rates aren't strong at HSBC, either. You'll earn a maximum of 0.15% APY with $100,000 in HSBC Premier Savings, hardly a favorable investment for that amount of money. Most customers can expect at most a rate of 0.01% or 0.05%, depending on the particular combination of HSBC checking and savings accounts they open. In every scenario, Santander's rates tend to outperform these levels.