Finding the Best Banks in 2021
At SmartAsset, we pored over the various banking options throughout the country to determine which were the best for 2021. 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.
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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.
Best Online Bank: Ally Bank
Ally is an online-only bank offering an array of banking, auto, home loan and investing products. The company’s key products include savings accounts, checking accounts, individual retirement accounts (IRAs) certificates of deposit (CDs) and money market accounts.
Ally’s online savings account boasts a 0.50% APY that comes without monthly maintenance fees or minimum balance requirements. But this account comes with a $25 overdraft fee and an excessive transactions fee of $10. The bank’s website also shows it charges users for expedited delivery, outgoing domestic wires, account research and returned deposit items.
Ally makes up for its lack of physical presence through its mobile offerings, online banking tools and 24/7 customer service support. The bank’s mobile app, which has a 4.7 rating on the iOS app store, allows users to make transfers, deposit checks and much more.
Best Major Bank: Chase
Chase bank offers the most exhaustive banking experience in America for those who prefer in-person banking. You can find Chase in 28 states and the District of Columbia, with more than 5,100 branches and over 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 checking 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).
Best 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 0.55% APY on the savings account and a 0.25% on the checking account. 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 Savings: Tab Bank
TAB Bank is a solid all-around bank, but where it really stands out is with its online High-Yield Savings Account. This account receives a 0.50% APY, which is both well above the national average and one of the highest rates on the market. To make matters better, interest compounds daily with this savings account, making it so your money grows at as fast a rate as possible. You only need $1 to receive this rate, and there are no other minimums or monthly maintenance fees.
With TAB, you’ll manage your money either online or through the bank’s mobile app, which is highly rated on both the Apple and Android app stores. You can do everything you need to through the app or from your computer, from depositing and transferring funds to opening new accounts or contacting customer service.
Customers will also have access to a wide range of ATMs around the country. TAB has a variety of other banking products, including interest and rewards checking accounts, money market accounts, CDs and more.
Best Bank for Small Business: Wells Fargo
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. In fact, the bank's closest competitor in Chase has still only managed to give out around 20% less than what Wells Fargo has.
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 $15 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: Varo Bank
While Varo doesn’t technically feature any student-specific accounts, it’s loaded with features that make it a clear choice for students looking to get on top of their finances. The Varo Bank Account, which is the bank’s version of a checking account, doesn’t offer interest, but it’s virtually fee-free. You’ll also have access to a network of over 55,000 ATMs and you can get your paychecks up to two days early. Varo offers a savings account that earns interest at a rate of 0.20%, though you can upgrade that rate when you meet certain requirements. In order to earn an APY, you need to maintain at least a $0.01 balance in your account.
Varo also offers cash advances up to $100 for a fee. All you need to do is pay the loan back within 15 to 30 days through an automatic payment. Coming soon, the bank will also offer what it calls “Varo Believe,” a credit-building program perfect for students new to the world of credit cards. With Varo Believe, Varo will monitor your credit score and spending, helping you stay on top of things while building your credit.
Overall, Varo is a great bank for students. Not only is it loaded with features that you’d find at many larger institutions, but it also helps students who may not be super familiar with personal finance manage their money. Varo’s services are fully online, so you won’t have the option to visit a branch, but you will have access to great customer support online or through the Varo app.
Best Bank for ATMs: Fidelity
Fidelity isn’t a typical bank, as it has its hands in many areas within finance: investing, financial planning, college savings and more. However, Fidelity’s Cash Management Account is a great option for anyone that wants fantastically cheap access to ATMs. When you use your Fidelity debit card at any ATM with the Visa®, Plus® or Star® logos in the U.S., Fidelity will reimburse you for whatever fees you are charged by the ATM operator. Keep in mind that for debit transactions made outside of the country, there is a 1% foreign transaction fee. This also applies to ATM withdrawals, though Fidelity will still reimburse for any fees your incur.
The features of a Fidelity account don’t stop there. You’ll earn a 0.01% APY, which is standard for most interest checking accounts. You can open an account with no minimum balance and you won’t pay any monthly maintenance fees. There are also no overdraft fees.
Fidelity operates almost entirely online, so be sure you’re comfortable with that before opening an account. However, its online and mobile experiences are highly rated, so you shouldn’t have any trouble navigating your account after opening.