The best bank or credit union offers features that make it easy to save and spend money. They’re transparent and don’t try to bury unnecessary fees in pages of fine print. We researched more than 130 financial institutions based on criteria like accessibility, fees, account type offerings, interest rates, and special features. If any banks had associated monthly fees, we made sure there were reasonable ways to waive them.
What’s changed in 2021? We broke up our recommendations by category, so you can clearly see the top institutions for checking accounts, savings accounts and overall. We focused on banks with high interest rates, low fees and plenty of accessibility so you can take charge of your money without worrying about pesky fees and requirements getting in the way.
10 best banks and credit unions
Use this table to compare the 10 best banks and credit unions and see why they made our list.
Axos Bank is a digital institution with low overhead costs and almost nonexistent account fees. It offers many interest-bearing checking account options with special perks like unlimited domestic ATM refunds.
No fees. Most accounts don’t have overdrafts, insufficient funds or monthly fees.
Unlimited ATM reimbursements. Axos Bank reimburses any and all domestic ATM fees you incur.
Interest-bearing accounts. Every Axos Bank checking account earns interest or cash back except for the Essential Checking account.
Opening deposit. Most accounts require a minimum $50 opening deposit to get started.
Limited customer service. Axos Bank is almost entirely online, so you can only reach customer service by phone or live chat.
TIAA Bank offers a suite of business banking products for commercial, nonprofit and small business use. These accounts go beyond simple cash management with tools that help you stay organized.
Large ATM network. TIAA Bank has over 80,000 free ATMs through the Allpoint and MoneyPass networks.
Low fees. Some accounts don’t have associated monthly fees. Others have fees you can avoid by maintaining a certain account balance.
Earns interest. The only two accounts that aren’t interest bearing are the TIAA Bank Business Checking and Business Analysis accounts.
$1,500 to open. Every TIAA Bank business account has a minimum $1,500 opening deposit.
Limited free transactions. There’s a cap on how many free transactions come with each checking account. Once you hit that limit, you’ll pay a small fee for each deposit.
How do I find the best bank for me?
Ideally, you want to be able to manage all of your finances through one bank. This can simplify your life and increase the likelihood you’ll qualify for loyalty rewards and discounts. To find the best bank for you consider the following:
Products and services. Start by comparing the products and services offered by the institutions you’re considering. Most major banks offer online banking services, but some smaller establishments have yet to catch up. If you’ll be depending on online banking, be sure it’s available.
Accessibility. Ease of application is one of the biggest points of accessibility, but it’s not the only one. If you’re set on being able to talk to a banker in person, having access to branch locations is going to be a strong influencer. You might also want to check the ATM network to see if you’ll be struggling to find a surcharge-free machine. Some banks will even let you use out-of-network ATMs without tacking on an extra fee.
Fee structure. If you’re primarily interested in keeping your fees to a minimum, the best bank might be a credit union. Credit unions don’t need to charge fees for everything, largely because they don’t have the costs of keeping shareholders happy like bigger banks do. Many banks also provide low- or zero-fee accounts — but the requirements tend to be more specific, while credit unions typically offer them more broadly.
Rewards. Being rewarded for credit card purchases is fairly common, but cashback deals when you swipe your debit card are much more rare. Check out the types of deals being offered by banks, and consider whether they fit into your normal spending habits.
Reputation. Check customer reviews and ratings to get a sense of a bank’s reputation. Ask friends and family if they’ve used the bank before and be mindful of any red flags.
If you’re trying to get away from traditional banks and credit unions, here are some alternatives to consider:
Digital banks. These institutions offer fully digital bank accounts on the cutting edge of technology. Most come with budgeting tools, early direct deposits and ways to automate your savings.
Cash management accounts. Accounts like Betterment Cash Reserve and SoFi Money are offered by brokerage firms and integrate seamlessly with your investment account. They’re typically FDIC insured through a partner bank.
Prepaid cards. With a prepaid card, you can spend money in real-time without having to worry about overdrawing your account or racking up credit card interest. They’re also a good option for those with no credit or bad credit.
Top 11 banks in the US
Traditional banks offer a wide variety of products, including savings and checking accounts, mortgages, personal loans and credit cards. The table below shows the top 11 banks in the US, along with the location of each institution. The list is ranked by asset size according to the Federal Reserve’s latest findings.
Credit unions are focused on community because they’re owned by their members rather than a group of shareholders. Here are the top 11 credit unions by asset size, along with the number of branch locations owned by each institution.
Online-only banks generally offer a better mobile-banking experience and they can afford to offer more attractive interest rates because they have lower operating expenses than brick-and-mortar banks. On the other hand, physical banks make it easier to deposit cash and access ATMs. Plus, they allow you to meet with bank tellers and bank managers face-to-face.
Ultimately, online banks and brick-and-mortar banks each have appealing features and choosing between them boils down to your specific needs and expectations. But if you want the best of both, look for an online bank that offers many ways for you to get a hold of customer service and allows you to deposit cash and offers mobile check deposits.
Should I use a major bank or a smaller one?
It’s all about finding the one that’s best for you. Consider these pros and cons of big banks when making a decision.
It depends what your top priority is. An effective place to start is often by looking at available checking and savings accounts, because these are often a core component of banking services, and you may be required to open one in order to use other products.
Pay attention to the factors that are most important to your financial health when comparing top banks. If you’re still not sure where to get started, use our guide to bank accounts to figure out differences between accounts so you can understand what will work best for your situation.
Cassidy Horton is a writer for Finder, specializing in banking and investments. She has a Bachelor of Science in Public Relations and a Master of Business Administration from Georgia Southern University. Cassidy enjoys educating people about financial services, exploring the Pacific Northwest and watching endless reruns of The Office.
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