Finding the Best Banks in Chicago
As the third-largest city in America, Chicago and its surrounding area offer its residents a wide variety of banking options. With so many to choose from, it can be hard to know which are the best banks in Chicago. The guide below can help you find the right bank and the right accounts for your specific financial needs. These will be the ones that provide easy and convenient access, low fees and minimums and high interest rates to boost your savings.
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How We Determined the Best Banks in Chicago
To find the best banks in Chicago, SmartAsset rounded up the top 20 banks in Chicago’s metro area in order of branch access. The best national bank for Chicago residents offers the best access to bank branches, not only in the city but around the world, too. The best regional bank has the most branches after the big banks, offering a more local feel. Then to find the best checking, savings and student accounts, we looked at each bank’s interest rates, fees and features.
Best National Bank: Chase Bank
If having access to thousands of branches and ATMs is important to you, a big bank like Chase should do the trick. In Chicago and its surrounding areas, Chase customers can visit over 300 branches and over 400 ATMs. This makes accessing your money incredibly convenient, not only throughout the Windy City, but around the world, as well. Of course, you can also access your accounts with the bank’s website and mobile banking services. Chase makes it easy to check on your balances, transfer money and open accounts on the go.
Not sure what kind of account to open? Chase offers a variety of them, from a simple savings account to an interest-earning checking account to a long-term CD. Each account will require a minimum deposit to open, ranging from $25 to $1,000. You’ll also want to pay attention to monthly fees, which, depending on the account, you can often get waived.
Chase is also one of the best banks for students. The Chase High School Checking and Chase College Checking accounts are tailored for high school and college students, respectively, to help them manage their money in the most convenient way. Both accounts require a minimum deposit of at least $25. There is also a monthly fee of $6, although there are ways to get this waived. For example, you won’t have to worry about the College Checking fee for five years while you’re in college.
In terms of savings, Chase doesn’t offer the most favorable interest rates. This is the case with most big banks, since they have to keep up with the cost of having thousands of brick and mortar locations. Many Chase accounts do earn at tiered rates, though. This means you can secure better rates with higher account balances or by linking accounts. However, the only Chase account with an APY higher than 1% is its 120-month CD.
Best Regional Bank: BMO Harris Bank
For a more local feel, Chicagoans can turn to BMO Harris Bank, a subsidiary of our northern neighbor’s Bank of Montreal. Headquartered in Chicago, BMO Harris maintains 215 branches in Chicago’s metro area alone. Plus, you can access any of the 40,000+ Allpoint® ATMs in the country along with BMO Harris ATMs, for free. You can also find the bank online, on mobile and over the phone, so you can access your accounts and customer service wherever you are.
The bank’s wide reach extends to its bank accounts, as well. Here, you can find three checking accounts, a savings account, a money market account and CDs ranging from one month to five years. You even have the option of opening a Step Rate CD which gives you a rate boost at certain intervals determined by the bank. A downside of BMO Harris savings accounts, including the BMO Harris Select Money Market®, is that they require high minimum deposits. These range from $100 to $1,000. Even higher deposits can get you better interest rates, though, to boost your savings. On the other hand, BMO Harris checking accounts require only $25 to open an account.
Best Customer Service: Wintrust Bank
For a bank with prompt and thorough customer service, check out Wintrust Bank. The bank was voted top for overall satisfaction for banks in the Midwest in a customer satisfaction survey by J.D. Power. Wintrust brands itself as a community bank, one that works to build a community with its customers. The bank also prides itself on offering services that more and more banks are eliminating, like coin counting, safety deposit boxes, gift cards and currency exchange.
Despite being on a smaller scale than Chase or BMO Harris, Wintrust immediately answers your phone calls with a human representative. This eliminates the hassle of constantly pressing numbers on your keypad to get yourself through an automated phone tree. To make calling customer service easier, Wintrust offers different phone numbers for general support, online banking help, VISA Gift Card questions and more. That way, you know which number to call to be connected to the right person immediately. You can even choose to bank through the telebank number. On its Contact Us webpage, you can choose to Ask a Question or Provide Feedback. This makes it easier and more straightforward to voice your concerns or inquiries. The bank also provides links to its Facebook and Twitter pages as another form of open communication.
This convenient customer service also comes in handy since you cannot find all of the bank’s interest rates online. You will need to call to find out the rates in your area for accounts like its interest-earning checking accounts or savings accounts.
While a big plus, having good customer service doesn’t mean much if you’re not pleased with the bank accounts. Luckily, Wintrust Bank offers some great account options. To start, the bank offers four checking accounts, two of which have no monthly fee, while the other two earn interest. Wintrust checking accounts do require a high minimum deposit of $100, while its savings accounts don’t have any minimums. Most Wintrust bank accounts have a monthly fee, although you can usually have the fee waived with qualifying activity.
Best Free Checking Account: BMO Harris Smart Advantage™ & Fifth Third Bank Express Banking® Accounts
As the best regional bank for the Chicago area, BMO Harris Bank also offers one of the best free checking accounts. With the BMO Harris Smart Advantage™ Account, the bank’s most popular checking account, you’ll never have to worry about paying a monthly fee as long as you sign up for eStatements. This makes it easy and convenient to receive your statements and avoid a needless $2 fee for paper statements.
You have to open the account with at least $25, which is a standard amount for larger banks. There aren’t any fees for standard account activity like using a BMO Harris or Allpoint® network ATM. You just have to be careful to avoid more rare occurrences like using a non-BMO Harris ATM or overdrafting your account. Those kinds of actions can incur extra fees.
For a more bare-bones free checking account, Fifth Third Bank may have your solution. The Fifth Third Express Banking® account doesn’t charge a monthly fee or require any balance minimums. You won’t even be charged a fee for overdrafts. However, your activity with this account is pretty limited without the ability to write checks or even deposit checks at an ATM.
Best High-Yield Checking Account: MB Financial Bank Red Checking Account
The highest interest rates are often reserved for online banks or credit unions. That’s not the case, however, with MB Financial Bank and its Red Checking account. This high-yield checking account offers its Chicago customers the opportunity to grow their checking account balance at 1% APY. This applies to account balances of $10,000 and below. You must also, for each statement cycle, make at least 15 MB Debit Mastercard® transactions totaling at least $200 and have a direct deposit or auto-debit of at least $250. You have to meet these requirements when your balance is above $10,000, as well. In this circumstance, MB Financial blends the 1% APY with a 0.05% APY. If you don’t meet these requirements at all, your balance will grow according to a 0.05% APY.
Another perk of the Red Checking account is the ability to receive reimbursement for other banks’ fees when you use their ATMs. You’ll need at least $5,000 in your account each month to qualify. MB Financial caps their monthly reimbursements at $20 per account.
Best Savings Account: PNC Bank Standard Savings Account
Finally, Chicagoans can head to PNC Bank for the best savings account in the area. The bank has two savings accounts available, one made specifically for kids. It’s the PNC Standard Savings account that provides the best deal. For starters, the account’s standard rate lands at a low 0.01% APY. This aligns with even bigger banks like Chase or Wells Fargo. However, you can unlock better rates by either linking a PNC checking account to your Standard Savings or making at least five qualifying purchases each month with your debit card or PNC Visa® credit card. Meeting one of these requirements means you earn at a 0.05% APY on balances below $2,500 and at a 0.10% APY on balances above $2,500. This balance threshold is actually pretty low when compared to other banks that can require $250,000 or more to earn at this rate.
The account requires an opening deposit of at least $25. Once you’ve opened the account, you can set up automatic transfers from another account to keep your savings running.
Best for Students: Chase Bank
Chase Bank offers a great banking option for students for a few reasons. For one, it’s a big bank with thousands of branches and ATMs across the country. This makes it easier for students to access their accounts no matter where they live or go to school.
Chase also offers two types of student accounts: the Chase High School Checking and Chase College Checking accounts. To qualify for the Chase High School Checking account, you’ll need to be a student between the ages of 13 to 17 and have an adult co-signer. The College Checking account is made for college students ages 17 to 24.
Both accounts charge a monthly fee of $6. However, you can have the fee waived for both accounts. For the High School Checking fee to be waived, you must have a linked qualifying personal parent or guardian checking account, a direct deposit made to the account each statement cycle or an average daily balance of at least $5,000. The College Checking account fee will be waived for five years while the student is enrolled in college, or with a direct deposit each statement cycle or an average daily balance of at least $5,000.
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.
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.