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Best Banks in San Francisco

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by Javier Simon Updated

Finding the Best Banks in San Francisco 

San Francisco has long been a home to strong banks. In fact, not one San Francisco-based bank failed during the Great Depression. And today, San Francisco is home to hundreds of banks for you to choose from. But in a city as rich in culture and history as this one, you probably have better things to do than dig into fine prints and rate sheets. That’s why the banking experts at SmartAsset have done all the hard work for you. Read on to learn more about what the best Banks in San Francisco have to offer, and which one is right for you.

Bank APY Minimum Deposit Highlights
Bank of America Bank of America logo Read More 0.03% $100
  • Best national bank
  • Serves about 76 million individual and small business customers
Bank of the West Bank of the West logo Read More 0.01% $25
  • Best regional bank
  • Established more than 130 years ago
U.S. Bank U.S. Bank logo Read More 0.01% $25
  • Best in customer service
  • Fifth largest bank in the country
Wells Fargo Wells Fargo logo Read More 0.01% $25
  • Best free checking accounts
  • World’s second largest bank by market capitilization
Chase Bank Chase Bank logo Read More 0% $25
  • Best bank for students
  • Operates more than 16,000 ATMs
Synchrony Synchrony logo Read More 2.05% $0
  • Best online savings account 
  • APY stands high above national average

How We Determine the Best Banks in San Francisco 

We started by fishing out data about the 15 largest banks in San Francisco. We then boiled the list down to six banks based on how they performed in different categories such as best savings accounts and customer service. Next, we homed in on crucial details like annual percentage yields on savings options, minimum balance requirements and overall fee structures. Of course, we also focused on overall accessibility and technological features.

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: Bank of America

Bank of America

Bank of America holds the strongest market share out of the best banks in San Francisco that we’ve examined. And it's no surprise. The city currently houses more than 100 branches. So you’d likely find a fee-free ATM or customer service representative no matter where San Francisco takes you. 

And its offerings are just as vast as its geographical footprint. The bank offers checking, savings and certificate of deposit (CD) accounts. You can also apply for a home or auto loan. And those planning for their golden years can open an individual retirement account (IRA). 

Plus, each product is geared toward a different type of customer. So if you’re looking for just the basics, you can open a Core Checking account. The bank will waive its $12 monthly service fee if you set up a direct deposit of at least $250 or if you keep a minimum balance of $1,500. If you have a more complex financial life, you can purchase a variety of investment products through the bank’s partnership with financial services giant Merrill Edge

And if you value the online and mobile experience, Bank of America offers a mobile banking app certified by J.D. Power. The firm lauded it for its user friendliness and access to vital information. It offers all the basic mobile features such mobile deposit and bill pay. In addition, you get access to Zelle. This app functions similarly to popular services like Venmo. All you need is a phone number and email to transfer money. No exchange of account information is required.

Best Regional Bank: Bank of the West

Bank of the West

Bank of the West runs more than 50 branches throughout its home city of San Francisco. It also extends its reach to more than 600 locations in the Midwest. But despite its regional commitment, the bank offers a versatile suite of products that can compete with similar options at some the major players in the banking game.  

For starters, Bank of the West offers one of the most affordable checking accounts we’ve examined. You can open an Any Deposit Checking account with as little or as much as you’d like. And the bank will waive the $10 monthly service fee if you make at least one deposit per statement cycle. That deposit can drop in the form of a paycheck, an ATM deposit, a mobile deposit and more. Account holders who are younger than 25-years-old face no monthly service fee at all. This is a great option for those opening their first checking account or customers who just like to keep it simple. 

However, the more affluent client may be interested in the Premier Checking account. The bank will waive the $25 monthly service fee as long as you keep a minimum balance of $25,000 across your Bank of the West deposit products including checking, savings, CD and IRA options. In addition, account holders have fee-free access to ATMs worldwide. The bank will also reimburse domestic ATM surcharges levied by other banks or machine owners. 

Furthermore, Bank of the West offers money market accounts (MMAs) and various CD options. A 16-month Premium Money Market CD currently generates an APY of 1.00%, which ranks high above the national average for savings accounts today. 

In addition, the bank’s mobile app goes a step beyond the basic digital features flooding the market today. For instance, you can pay a bill by snapping a photo of it and then selecting a recipient through your phone. You can also review your account balance with the swipe of a finger instead of logging in.

Best for Customer Service: U.S. Bank

U.S. Bank

According to a 2018 U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study conducted by J.D. Power, U.S. Bank topped the ranks for banks in California. The study analyzed customer responses about communication, problem resolution, products and fees. And among the hundreds of banks scattered across the state, U.S. Bank scored big on all of these criteria and more.  

U.S. Bank runs more than 80 branches in the San Francisco region alone. But its reach goes beyond thousands of locations. 

The bank also offers several personal banking products with distinct features. For example, its checking and savings accounts come in packages that offer different perks. For instance, the Package Money Market Savings account chagres no monthly service fee and you can open an account with $25 if you have a Gold or Silver package checking account. The bank will waive the latter’s monthly service fee if you set up direct deposit of at least $1,000 or maintain a combined minimum balance of $1,500 across your checking and money market account.

Best Free Checking Accounts: Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo stands as the largest bank in the San Francisco area with more than 150 offices. In addition to an array of savings products and credit cards, the bank offers five distinct checking options for different types of users. 

If you’re looking for a basic and affordable checking account, look no farther than the Wells Fargo Everyday Checking option. You can open one with $25. And you can avoid the $10 service fee if you engage in any one of the following during each statement period. 

  • Make at least 10 debit card payments 
  • Set up direct deposit of at least $500
  • Keep a $1,500 minimum daily balance

Furthermore, the bank will waive the fee for college students with a linked Wells Fargo Campus ATM or Campus Debit Card. And your fee will be slashed by $5 if you’re between the ages of 17 and 24. 

Everyday checking offers all the features you’d expect from a standard checking account issued by a major bank such as mobile banking with check deposit. However, the bank also extends its own digital budgeting and spending-monitoring tools. 

Those who have a Wells Fargo home mortgage or keep larger balances may be attracted to the Preferred Checking option. You can open this interest-bearing account with $25. Wells Fargo will eliminate the $15 monthly service fee if you have one of the following during each statement cycle. 

  • Linked Wells Fargo home mortgage
  • $10,000 combined minimum deposit balance
  • Direct deposits totalling at least $1,000

This account earns interest on balances of $500 or more. And even though its current APY isn’t the strongest at 0.01%, the account itself is easy to manage for the right user. And it offers descent features. 

The Portfolio by Wells Fargo account is best suited for customers who keep large balances and have several types of accounts opened with Wells Fargo. This interest-bearing account provides you with bonus interest rate bumps on certain accounts, interest-rate discounts on select loans and exclusive fee waivers. The bank will also waive all non-network ATM fees across the globe. 

In addition, the bank won’t charge you for the following. 

  • Cashier’s checks
  • Money orders
  • Personal wallet checks

However, you have to maintain at least $25,000 across your Wells Fargo deposit accounts to avoid the $30 monthly service fee. The bank will also waive the fee if you keep a minimum of $50,000 in linked bank, brokerage and credit balances.

Best for Students: Chase

Chase

With dozens of colleges sprinkled across San Francisco and surrounding areas, many students could be opening their first checking accounts soon. One of their best choices would be the Chase College Checking account. As long as you’re younger than 24-years old and can prove enrollment in a college, the bank charges no monthly service fees. This means you could potentially save hundreds over the course of up to five years. 

And to keep it simple, you don’t have to close the account when you turn 25. Chase would let you keep it, but will also start charging a $6 monthly fee. However, the bank will waive this fee if you set up direct deposit or if you keep an average balance of least $5,000.

Best Online Savings Account: Synchrony Bank

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

You won’t find a physical Synchrony Bank branch in San Francisco. But you can always stick to your local bank and open a high-yield savings account with Synchrony online. It currently generates an APY of 1.85%, which decimates the national average for savings accounts. 

Plus, the bank gives you easy access to your money by providing you with a debit card. You can use this card free of charge to make transactions at any ATM that has a Plus or ACCEL logo. However, the bank also gives you several other options to access your money. Below are the different ways you can move money around in your high-yield savings account. 

  • External electronic funds transfer
  • Transfer from another Synchrony Bank account 
  • Mobile check deposit
  • Wire transfers from a different bank

Tips for Smart Investing 

  • Several banks offer different securities and investment products such as mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). But anytime you’re making serious investment decisions, you should consult a financial advisor who can help you gauge your risk tolerance and options. To help you find the right one, we developed our SmartAdvisor platform. It asks you some simple questions in order to link you to local advisors based on your individual goals. 
  • Not all advisors are created equal. To help you vett one the right way, our experts suggest you ask these questions when choosing a financial advisor
  • You may want to gauge your risk tolerance before investing in bank securities. You can use our asset allocation calculator. It helps you visualize how you can break down your portfolio with stocks and bonds based on your risk tolerance.
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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