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2021's Best Banks in America

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We maintain strict editorial integrity in our writing and assessments. This post contains links from our advertisers, and we may receive compensation when you click these links. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone. | Advertiser Disclosure
We maintain strict editorial integrity in our writing and assessments. This post contains links from our advertisers, and we may receive compensation when you click these links. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone. | Advertiser Disclosure

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.

Bank APY Minimum Deposit Highlights
Ally Bank Ally Bank logo Read More 0.50% $0
  • Best Online Bank
  • Plentiful account options and competitive interest rates
Chase Bank Chase Bank logo Read More 0.01% $25
  • Best Major Bank
  • Mobile-friendly institution
Alliant Credit Union Alliant Credit Union logo Read More 0.55% $5
  • Best Credit Union
  • Low fees throughout its accounts
Axos Bank Axos Bank logo Read More 0.61% $250
  • Best Bank for Savings
  • Good savings APY
Wells Fargo Wells Fargo logo Read More 0.01% $25
  • Best Bank for Small Business
  • One of the largest business loan lenders in the U.S.
Affirm Affirm logo Read More 0.65% $0
  • Best Bank for Students
  • Strong online interface and APY
Fidelity Fidelity logo Read More 0.01% $0
  • Best Bank for ATMs
  • Easy and free domestic ATM access

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 Online Savings Account

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 an average rating of about 4.2 stars out of 5 between the Apple and Android app stores, allows users to make transfers, deposit checks and much more.

Best Major Bank: Chase

Savings

Chase bank offers the most exhaustive banking experience in America for those who prefer in-person banking. You can find Chase all over the U.S., with thousands of branches and in-network, free ATMs. The only comparable bank is Wells Fargo, which technically 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 an average rating of 4.6 stars out of 5 between the Apple and Android stores 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.

Best Credit Union: Alliant Credit Union

Alliant Credit Union

Alliant Credit Union is the best credit union in the U.S. according to our rankings. Its 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 its High-Rate Savings account and a 0.25% on its High-Rate Checking account. Both of these accounts also come with no minimum balances or monthly maintenance fees. 

Alliant also provides the cash flexibility big banks offer, despite only having branches in five states. Alliant not only has an ATM network comprised of 80,000 machines - five times greater than that of Chase - but it also reimburses you up to $20 for out-of-network ATM costs. Alliant's services, however, will likely be used more online than anything else.

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.

Best Bank for Savings: Axos Bank

Axos High Yield Savings Account

Axos Bank is an online-only financial institution that gives customers access to a great savings rate, despite its lack of physical locations. The bank has a high-yield savings account that offers a 0.61% APY on all balances up to $24,999.99. Keep in mind that you'll need at least $250 to open an account, but you can start earning as soon as your account is open. What makes this account even better is the fact that you won't be on the hook for any monthly maintenance fees.

While Axos has a lot of positives, one drawback may be the fact that it has no physical locations. This might make it slightly harder for you to access your money or have your questions answered in a simple manner. However, the bank provides clients with 24/7 access to their accounts through its mobile apps and desktop website, which both have strong features. Axos also gives clients a free ATM card to provide easier access to their funds.

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. 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 three types of accounts: Initiate Business Checking, Navigate Business Checking and Optimize Business Checking. Each one is tailored for small businesses of different sizes and markets. While the monthly fees for these accounts can get hefty, the Initiate Business Checking and Navigate Business Checking accounts have ways to waive those costs. For the Optimize Business Checking account, though, you'll have an earnings allowance that you can use to pay your costs. 

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: Affirm

Affirm Savings Account

The Affirm Savings Account is one of the best on the market for students, making the bank itself our best bank for studnets looking to get started saving and managing their finances. The account offers a fantastic APY of 0.65% with no balance restrictions. This means that you'll earn this great APY no matter how much or how little you choose to save. There are no monthly fees and no minimum opening deposit requirements, which makes this a great account for anyone, especially students trying to save money.

Affirm exists entirely online. But as long as you're comfortable not being able to go into a branch, you won't have much to worry about. The bank's services mainly run through its mobile app, which is highly rated on both the Android and Apple app stores. You can use the app to check your balance, transfer money, deposit money and more. While Affirm is out best bank for students, you might remember that it didn't start that way. It's also a platform shoppers can use to pay for purchases over time.

Best Bank for ATMs: Fidelity

Checking

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.

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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