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Best Banks in California

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by Derek Silva Updated

Finding the Best Banks in California

California is one of the largest states in the country. Residents in the Golden State have a lot of options to consider when looking for the best bank. That’s why SmartAsset put in the work to narrow down the best banks in the state. Keep reading to find the banks with the top savings and checking accounts, as well as the most accessible banks in California.

Bank APY Minimum Deposit Highlights
Wells Fargo Wells Fargo logo Read More 0.01% $25
  • Best national bank
  • 1,000+ branches
Bank of the West Bank of the West logo Read More 0.01% $25
  • Best regional bank
U.S. Bank U.S. Bank logo Read More 0.01% $25
  • Best customer service
  • Great banking experience
Union Bank Union Bank logo Read More 0.01% $50
  • Best high yield checking accounts
Zions Bank Zions Bank logo Read More 0.10% $25
  • Best savings account
East West Bank East West Bank logo Read More 0.01% $1
  • Best bank for students
  • Both checking and savings offers

How We Determine the Best Banks in California

SmartAsset’s banking experts found the 15 most popular banks in California by number of branches available in the state.  Among those, we then selected the best national and regional banks and chose the best savings and checking accounts based on their minimum balance requirements, annual percentage yields (APYs), fee structures and overall ease of accessibility.

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.

Best National Bank: Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo has more than 1,000 branch locations in California. That’s about 60 more branches than the bank with the second-most locations, Chase. However, the advantage of working with a national bank is that it also has branches across the country. Frequent travelers will find locations in 40 states (plus Washington, D.C.).

No matter what kind of kind of account you’re looking for, Wells Fargo likely has it. There are multiple savings and checking accounts, some of which are specialized for specific customers. For example, there is a checking account that is only available to teens. You can also find retirement accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs) from Wells Fargo.

Beyond bank accounts, there are also services like credit cards and auto loans. If you need more comprehensive help with your finances, Wells Fargo offers the ability to talk with a financial advisor.

Wells Fargo’s mobile and online services are also robust. Whether you want to open an account, find a loan, search mortgages or learn more about wealth management services, you can find it online.

Runner-up: Chase Bank

Best Regional Bank: Bank of the West

Bank of the West

Bank of the West was founded in California in 1874. While it now has locations in about two dozen states, most of its branches are in the Golden State. The bank can be a good option for multiple account types: savings, checking, money market or CD accounts. It also has rewards, cash back and secured credit cards. If you need a loan for your car, RV, boat or home loans, Bank of the West can help you with that as well.

Savings accounts require a $25 minimum to open and come with a monthly fee of $5. It isn’t very difficult to waive that fee, though. The downside to the savings accounts is the relatively low interest rates. Checking accounts don’t have a minimum deposit and come with a $10 fee that you can avoid simply by making a deposit during a statement cycle. You won’t earn interest in a checking account. Money market accounts will earn you more interest than a savings account but have a higher fee (which you can also get waived). The highest interest rates come with CDs, which range in term length from 32 days up to five years.

Customers will also enjoy Bank of the West’s online and mobile banking. You can track your spending, budget, pay bills, transfer money and handle most of your finances without needing to call or visit a branch. J.D. Power also recognized Bank of the West for having the fourth highest-rated customer service in California.

Best Customer Service: U.S. Bank

U.S. Bank

With about 650 branches in California, U.S. Bank has a large presence in the state. You can also feel confident that you will receive good customer service.

According to J.D. Power’s U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study in 2017, U.S. Bank ranked second. This study takes a number of factors into account, including a bank's ability to handle customer issues, the frequency of its branches, its fee schedules and its product offerings. The rating provides good insight into how a bank deals with customers.

You can also feel confident banking with U.S. Bank because it has a wide range of financial products. In addition to standard savings and checking accounts, you can open money market accounts, credit cards and a number of loans.

Best High Yield Checking Accounts: Union Bank

Union Bank

If you open a Union Bank Priority Banking® Checking Account, your money will earn interest at a rate of 0.01%. This rate is available no matter your account balance. Many banks offer checking accounts only to customers with high balances, or they offer accounts that don’t earn interest at all. You can also raise that interest rate significantly - to 0.05% -  if you maintain a balance of at least $2,500.

This checking account gives you free and unlimited access to Union Bank’s ATMs across the world. You also get free checks and unlimited incoming wires for free.

There is a $30 monthly fee that you can waive if you have at least $50,000 with Union Bank (combined across all your accounts) or if you have a mortgage with Union Bank. Even if you can’t waive the fee, having the Priority account will allow you to waive the service charges for two personal deposit accounts, one business checking account and one IRA. So if you plan to open multiple accounts with Union Bank, a checking account could help save you money overall.

Best Savings Accounts: Zions Bank

Zions Bank

In general, interest rates for savings accounts are slightly higher than other large banks in the area. Accounts require just $50 to open and come with a $3 monthly service fee. However, Zions Bank will waive that fee if you maintain a balance of at least $200 or if you transfer at least $25 from a Zions Bank checking account at least once per month.

There is also a Young Savers account available for adolescents and for parents who want to start saving for their children. This account has higher interest rates than standard savings account. It also has a lower minimum for opening ($5) and no monthly fee.

Another type of savings account to consider from Zions bank is its money market account. The money market accounts have no monthly fee and higher interest rates than standard savings accounts. Accounts with at least $25,000 earn even higher rates. The catch is that you need at least $500 to open an account. It is also possible to open an online money market account. This will come with a significantly higher rate than the standard money market accounts but it managing your account is limited to online and mobile banking.

Best for Students: East West Bank

East West Bank

New college students can can get off on the right foot financially by working with East West Bank. With just a $100 minimum deposit, you can open a Student Plus Savings account that earns interest at 0.05%. There is a $3 monthly fee, but East West Bank will waive the fee if you have at least one direct deposit sent into the account each month.

The Student Plus Checking account also has features that help make it easier to handle your money. For example, it has no monthly maintenance fee. When you open an account you will also get a Visa® debit card. As long as you use that debit card for ATM withdrawals, East West Bank will reimburse you each month for all out-of-network ATM fees. The downside with the Student Plus Checking account is that it doesn’t earn interest. That means it may be a good idea to couple it with the savings account to better meet your banking needs.

Tips for Finding the Best Bank Accounts

  • You should choose a bank and account type based on your savings goals. For example, you might not want to open a checking account if your goal is just to save as much as possible. In that case, you may want to consider onr of these high-interest savings accounts
  • If you are unsure of your saving goals or need help staying on track, consider talking with a financial advisor. An advisor is an expert who can help you based on your specific financial situation.
Save more with these rates that beat the National Average
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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