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2018's Best Banks in America

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by Chris Thompson Updated

Finding the Best Banks in 2018

At SmartAsset, we poured over the bank options across the country to determine which were the best in America for 2018. We chose banks that make it easy to access your money, do not charge you to maintain your account and have good interest rates. Below, we breakdown which are the best banks in six categories: online bank, major bank, credit union, small business, students and savings account.

Bank APY Minimum Deposit Highlights
Capital One Capital One logo Read More 1.00% $0
  • Best Online Bank
  • Variety of bank account options
Chase Bank Chase Bank logo Read More 0.01% $25
  • Best Major Bank
  • Mobile friendly
Alliant Credit Union Alliant Credit Union logo Read More 1.60% $5
  • Best Credit Union
  • No monthly fee
Wells Fargo Wells Fargo logo Read More 0.05% $25
  • Best Bank for Small Business
  • Thorough online and mobile features 
PNC Bank PNC Bank logo Read More 0.01% $25
  • Best Bank for Students
  • No monthly fee
Synchrony Synchrony logo Read More 2.05% $0
  • Best Bank for Savings
  • No monthly fee

How We Determine the Best Banks

SmartAsset’s team of personal finance experts rounded up an exhaustive list of the banks most available to you. We scored each according to their account access, charges for maintaining your account, interest rates, customer support, product offerings and customer experience.

If you're interested in saving money, consider opening up a CIT Savings Account. Earn over 8 times the national average with a 2.25% APY on balances of at least $25,000 OR monthly deposits of $100 or more with an initial $100 minimum deposit.

The Best Online Bank: Capital One

Capital One 360

Capital One is the best online bank in the U.S. The 360 suite provides checking, savings, CD and money market accounts at competitive rates with no fees. The accounts can also be conveniently interconnected. Customers with more than $50,000 to deposit will likely get the most out of the Capital One accounts since interest rates are higher for larger deposits. The low monetary threshold to open these accounts, however, makes Capital One a good option for students, young professionals and people in the middle and late stages of their careers.

Capital One provides a simple banking experience. It makes it easy to transfer funds between accounts, set up alerts to track spending and withdraw your money. The Capital One mobile app is also highly rated, garnering 4.5 stars on the iOS app store. It’s intuitive and allows to monitor all of your accounts under one convenient location. Other features include the ability to see your credit score and pay off your bills within the app.

On the negative side, Capital One’s interest rates for its savings account is lower than what you can find at other strong institutions. For example, the current interest rate for a Capital One 360 savings account is 1.00%, compared to 2.00% for Ally and 2.05% for Synchrony. If you are just looking to maximize your savings account interest rate, you should scroll down to the best bank for savings account section.

The Best Major Bank: Chase

Chase

Chase bank offers the most exhaustive banking experience in America for those who prefer in-person banking. You can find Chase in 33 states, with more than 5,100 branches and 16,000 free ATMs. The only comparable bank is Wells Fargo (which has the most branches). Chase has a slight edge, however, for several reasons. 

For one, even though it has fewer branches, Chase has more ATMs. Being able to access your money easily is an important consideration when choosing a bank. You’ll have more opportunity for free withdrawals with Chase - especially if you live in New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles. Another reason is the mobile app. Chase’s app has 4.5 stars on the app store and is arguably the most intuitive and easy to use banking app available. You can manage every one of your accounts on the go - including savings accounts, checking accounts, credit cards and even your mortgage.

Furthermore, if you’ve never banked with Chase before, you are also eligible for a $200 bonus when you make a qualifying deposit in a basic checking account. For that reason, we recommend you consider Chase if you have less than $2,000 to deposit. Even at a 1.30% APY, it would take almost eight years to make more than $200 in interest at another bank. The only downside to Chase is the $12 monthly fee. Therefore, we would not recommend Chase if you have less than $1,500 to deposit since that is the threshold to avoid the fee ($500 monthly deposits also waive the fee).

If You Live Outside of Chase’s Area 

Chase serves a majority of Americans, but there are regions where branches are sparse or non-existent. If you live in the Midwest (beside Chicago) or the South (beside Atlanta and Florida) Wells Fargo does end up being the best option. New England has a dearth of both Wells Fargo and Chase branches, making T.D. Bank the best option there. 

Best Credit Union: Alliant Credit Union

Alliant Credit Union

Alliant is the best credit union in the U.S. The rates and fee structures equal, and in some instances even surpass, what other banks we list offer. You’ll find a 1.30% APY on the savings account and a 0.60% on the checking account (both higher than Capital One). Both of those accounts also come with no minimum balances or monthly maintenance fees. 

Alliant also provides the flexibility big banks offer, despite only having branches in five states. Alliant not only has an ATM network of 80,000 - five times greater than that of Chase - but also reimburses you up to $20 for out-of-network ATM fees. For the most part though, Alliant will be an online institution for the majority of members.

Furthermore, unlike most other credit unions, Alliant makes it easy to become a member. Alliant has a list of organizations and communities you can be a part of to become a member. However, if you do not qualify through those means, you can still join by just donating $10 to the Foster Care to Success organization. Lastly, given that credit unions are non-profits, they tend to have stronger customer service than some banks. Credit unions tend to emphasize the community aspect of their organization and strive to create a positive banking experience for all customers. 

While Alliant stands as the best, SmartAsset's banking experts have further detailed the other top credit unions based on specific account holder needs.

Best Bank for Small Business: Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo Business Savings

Wells Fargo excels at the main bank needs for small businesses: lending, banking accounts and merchant services. In terms of lending, no bank is more active with SBA loans than Wells Fargo. Since 2010, it has issued 37,700 SBA 7(a) loans at an average amount of $322,000. That’s by far the most in the country and 22% more than closest competitor, Chase. 

In terms of deposit accounts, we do think the Chase small business checking accounts are slightly better, but you’ll still get a good product with Wells Fargo business checking. You have the choice between four types of accounts: Business Choice Checking, Platinum Business Checking, Simple Business Checking and Analyzed Business Checking. Each one is tailored for small businesses of different sizes and markets. The barrier to waive the $14 monthly fee is low, so it is essentially a free account. 

The final piece that makes Wells Fargo the best bank  for small business is its merchant services, which integrate seamlessly with the checking accounts. Wells Fargo will set you up with a system to monitor your incoming cash flow, as well as access to Clover to accept credit and debit cards. You can connect it with your business checking account so you can easily monitor your inflow and outflow of funds.

Best Bank for Students: PNC Bank

PNC Bank

PNC is the best bank in terms of dedication to students. It offers the Virtual Wallet Student, which is built to help students manage their finances while juggling their busy lives. Potential first-time savers will have access to numerous educational resources on saving. Account holders can also set up alerts when they come close to a preset spending threshold or have an important bill coming up - features that can help students experiencing financial independence for the first time. 

There are three account options: a checking account, a basic savings account and a growth savings account. All are free for six years as long as you can prove you’re a student. You will get a debit card that will be branded in your school’s design if you go to one of the 50 schools that partner with PNC. You will also get free ATM access at those partnered schools. The Virtual Wallet is also great if you’re an international student, as you can get your account in several common languages. PNC also allows one free international wire transfer per month. 

Overall, PNC meets the needs of students. There is nothing extraordinary about any of the three accounts, and the interest rates on the savings accounts (even the growth one) are well below the national average. If you are a student and feel you don’t need the resources that PNC provides, you may do well to consider Capital One or Ally Bank.

The Best Bank for Savings: Synchrony Bank

Synchrony Bank
CIT Savings 2.25% APY
Our Rating: 5/5
How we calculated this rating

Synchrony is best for people looking for just a savings account. The high-yield savings account from Synchrony offers one of the highest available interests rates. With no monthly maintenance fees or minimum balances, it’s a great place for any level of saver to stash money and accrue interest. Monitoring your account is made easy with the Synchrony mobile app, which allows you to transfer funds to external accounts. If you often find yourself managing checks, the app has a mobile checking deposit feature that lets you cash checks on the fly. 

We would say to avoid Synchrony, however, if you were looking to be fluid with your savings account. Synchrony does not offer a checking account, which means you cannot make quick internal transfers with your funds. Rather, you have to wait one to three days for your funds to change accounts. If you would feel more comfortable with being able make transactions from your savings account quickly, Ally Bank or Capital One may be a better fit, as both offer checking accounts. Ally’s savings account has a higher interest rate than Capital One’s.

How to Find the Best Bank for You 

Choosing the best bank often comes down to your specific life circumstances, knowledge of savings and geography. If none of the banks we discuss above seem right to you, we would suggest you take the following  into consideration: 

  • What are my financial goals?
  • Do I want to bank online or in-person?
  • Which banks are in my area?

You need to be honest about your financial standing. Do you have a large sum of money you want to store and accrue a small amount of interest, or are you just starting to build wealth? If you are in the former scenario, you should consider a bank with a high interest rate. If you are the latter, you may want to consider a bank that offers educational and planning tools to keep track of your funds. 

Deciding to bank in-person or online is another consideration you need to make. Online banks offer advantages that brick-and-mortar banks cannot - namely high interest rates and no fees. That being said, it is normal to feel uncomfortable with storing your funds with an institution you cannot physically visit. The online banks recommended above have a history of stellar customer service and are all FDIC insured, so the risk is minimal if you choose one of them. 

Ultimately, location may dictate your decision. Access to bank branches or in-network ATMs may be more convenient for you and help you avoid pesky fees. Make sure you check out your local bank and credit unions or the large national banks with branches in your area.

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Best Places to Save

SmartAsset’s interactive map highlights the places in the country where people have the opportunity to save money. Zoom between states and the national map to see the best places to save.

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Rank County Median Household Income Cost of Living Purchasing Power Estimated Tax Rate

Methodology Where you live can have a big impact on how easy it is to save money based on several regional factors. Our study aims to find the most suitable places for people to save based on median household income, average living expenses and income tax burden.

First, we calculated the average cost of living in each county for a household with two adults (one working). We then created a purchasing power index for each county. This reflects the counties with the highest ratio of household income to cost of living.

To better compare income tax burdens across counties, we applied relevant deductions and exemptions before calculating federal, state and local income taxes for a family making $50,000 annual income in each location. Next, we created an effective tax rate index for each county, which reflects the counties with the lowest ratio of income taxes to the assumed $50,000 annual income.

Finally, we calculated the weighted average of the indices to yield an overall best places to save score. We used a three-fourths weighting for purchasing power and a one-fourth weighting for tax rates. We indexed the final number so higher values reflect places that are better to save.

Sources: US Census Bureau 2016 5-Year American Community Survey, MIT Living Wage Study