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Best Banks and Credit Unions

Profile picture of Barbara Friedberg
by Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance Contributing Editor

There are hundreds of options when it comes to banking, and the choices can feel overwhelming. First, you have to know if you want a checking or savings account, a line of credit or something else entirely. Then you must choose a bank or a credit union and decide if you want to bank completely online or work with a brick and mortar location.

LabelCompany nameLogoContactSummary
Best bank to build creditRead Reviews
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Best for small businessesRead Reviews
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Best bank with no feesRead Reviews

Top 3 Best National Banks and Credit Unions

To narrow down to our top three picks, we looked for excellent customer service, online banking options, an extensive ATM network, mobile app options, high interest rates on savings accounts, low interest rates on loans, investment opportunities and opportunities to build credit. We only considered banks or credit unions that are financially stable and backed by either the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or the National Credit Union Administration.

Best bank to build credit
Merrick Bank

Company nameContact
Merrick Bank

Merrick Bank is best for those with low credit who are looking to rebuild their credit scores and prefer an online banking experience.

LogoSummary
PROS
  • Credit cards for low credit applicants
  • Excellent customer service
CONS
  • No traditional checking or savings accounts
  • No physical branches

What we like: Customers praise Merrick Bank’s customer service and their ability to help build credit. Merrick’s high-yield certificate of deposit (CD) comes on a 12-month term with a 2.84 percent APY. A minimum deposit of $25,000 is required. Merrick also specializes in boat, RV and horse trailer loans.

Merrick specifically designed their credit cards for people looking to rebuild their credit. Offers for their platinum and secured Visa cards are extended to qualifying candidates. Existing Merrick customers can also recommend candidates. Both Merrick cards come with several perks, including a monthly credit score check for free, account alerts and mobile access.

What to consider: If you prefer a brick-and-mortar bank or speaking to someone face-to-face, an online-only bank like Merrick Bank might not be the best option for you.

Best bank for small businesses
Wells Fargo

Company nameContact
Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo is best for small businesses looking to take out loans, but it’s also a safe choice for anyone opening a new account.

LogoSummary
PROS
  • Experienced SBA lender
  • Additional business services
CONS
  • Short maximum loan length
  • Savings accounts have low interest

What we like: Wells Fargo offers short- and medium-term loans, lines of credit, equipment finance and Small Business Administration (SBA) loans. Wells Fargo is the largest SBA lender in the country. Loan sizes range from $10,000 to $100,000, with an initial interest rate of 6.75 percent. Terms are one to six years.

You can also choose from four different checking accounts depending on your small business’ needs. These accounts have monthly fees that can be avoided by maintaining a minimum balance. With the Business Choice Checking account, you can make deposits of up to $7,500 without incurring a fee. You can also enroll in HR, business tax services and payroll for your business. Wells Fargo also has an extensive network of ATMs.

What to consider: The maximum term length for a loan is only six years, much shorter than some other banks. Their checking accounts have fees if you don’t maintain the minimum balance requirement.

Best bank with no fees
Ally Bank

Company nameContact
Ally Bank

The lack of fees and minimum balance requirements make Ally best for college students looking for hassle-free banking.

LogoSummary
PROS
  • No maintenance fees
  • Extensive ATM network
CONS
  • No physical locations
  • Only loans offered are auto loans

What we like: The best thing about Ally Bank is that there are no maintenance fees and no minimum balances for any of their customers. They have also partnered with the Allpoint ATM network, which has 55,000 ATMs in its network. Ally will even reimburse customers up to $10 per statement on ATM fees that come from ATMs outside their network.

The Ally CashBack Credit Card has no annual fee, 2 percent back on gas stations and groceries and 1 percent back everywhere else. Users can earn a $100 bonus after spending $500 within three months of opening their account. If you deposit your bonus or cash back into an Ally account, you’ll receive a 10 percent bonus.

What to consider: If you are looking to take out a loan with your bank, it’s important to keep in mind that Ally only offers auto loans. Also, if you use an out-of-network ATM, you’ll be charged a fee, but Ally does provide $10 in ATM reimbursements per statement.

Compare Top Banks and Credit Unions

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Merrick Bank
Read 1,715 Reviews

Merrick Bank was originally founded in 1997 in South Jordan, Utah. The company is FDIC insured, and specializes in settling credit card transactions and clearing payments for consumers looking to improve their credit rating.

Wells Fargo
Read 2,870 Reviews

Wells Fargo offers many financial services that help make banking easier. Wells Fargo Conversations magazine helps users learn about investing and other financial topics. The company's credit cards include a variety of perks.

Bank of America
Read 4,455 Reviews

Bank of America offers banking options, mortgages loans, consumer loans and credit card services. Many of their cards have special features such as cash back rewards, travel rewards and zero percent introductory interest rates.

Ally Bank
Read 1,071 Reviews

Ally Bank offers online checking and savings accounts, CDs, IRAs and other financial services. While the bank has no branches, customers can use the Ally website, Mobile Banking App and 24/7 phone service.

Chase Bank
Read 3,431 Reviews

Chase Bank offers a variety of financial services, including specialized business and personal credit cards. Their Slate card includes a free monthly FICO score, and the Freedom card earns one percent cash-back on all purchases.

Citibank
Read 1,555 Reviews

Citibank offers several credit card options, including the new Double Cash Card, which gives customers one percent after a purchase and another one percent when they pay their balance. Cards are also compatible with Apple Pay.

Credit One Bank
Read 2,585 Reviews

Credit One Bank is one of the leading issuers of VISA cards in America. They are located in Las Vegas, NV and focus on working with people who have been overlooked by other credit companies because of less-than-perfect credit.

Suntrust
Read 863 Reviews

SunTrust, headquartered in Atlanta, provides more than 2,200 ATMs and more than 1,500 locations in the South. It focuses on three sectors: consumer banking and private wealth management, wholesale banking and mortgage banking.

US Bank
Read 1,602 Reviews

U.S. Bank offers online banking services with bill payment and mobile deposit options. They also offer checking accounts, savings accounts, traditional loans, investing options, credit cards, credit lines and home mortgages.

USAA Banking
Read 535 Reviews

USAA serves former and current members of the military, as well as their families. The company offers insurance services, investments and tax help for qualified customers, in addition to banking, credit cards and mortgages.

How to choose a bank

If you know what to look for in a bank, choosing a bank doesn’t have to be hard. The most important things to know are the types of account or financial services you want and if you prefer a traditional bank, online-only bank or a credit union. From there, it’s a matter of finding the bank or credit union that most closely fits your needs. Follow these steps to find out which bank is best for you:

  1. Look at your spending habits
    The best way to know what type of financial institution is right for you is to look at your current spending and saving habits. When you know how much money you currently have saved, it will be easier for you to choose a savings account with a maintainable account balance minimum.
  2. Consider a credit union or online bank
    Traditional brick-and-mortar banks with physical bank branches aren’t the only types of banks out there. Credit unions are nonprofit institutions that often have higher interest rates on savings accounts and lower interest rates on loans. If your lifestyle is cashless, online banks could be good banks for you because you’ll get higher interest rates on your savings account.
  3. Decide what types of accounts and financial services you want
    In addition to opening a savings account or checking account, decide whether you are also interested in loans or credit cards. Most banks offer a range of credit card options from debit to secured credit and everything in between.
  4. Examine fees
    Hidden bank fees can make for nasty surprises on a monthly statement. Some accounts require customers to maintain a minimum balance at all times to avoid a monthly surcharge. Others waive these fees for those with direct deposit or student accounts. Withdrawal fees can be another issue. Some types of accounts limit the number of free withdrawals. Once you meet that minimum, future transactions can carry a small fee.
  5. Look at interest rates
    Bank interest rates vary widely. When opening a savings account, customers can request the interest rate structure in advance. Credit unions sometimes offer higher saving and lower lending rates.
  6. Find the local ATMs
    If you use cash often and like the convenience of withdrawing money from an ATM, check to see if your chosen bank has a wide array of ATM locations and what sorts of fees they carry, if any. Most banks and credit unions allow customers free ATM use, but some charge a few dollars per transaction when using an out-of-network ATM. Out-of-network ATMs may result in dual charges: one from the customer’s bank and one from the ATM owner.
  7. Consider the financial stability of the bank
    Make sure your bank of choice is backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The FDIC typically insures accounts up to $250,000. For credit unions, look for backing by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), which is the credit unions’ equivalent of the FDIC. The NCUA regulates credit unions and protects consumers with insurance that typically covers balances up to $250,000 per share owner.
  8. Look at investment options
    If you’re looking to invest in a retirement account or a mutual fund, it’s convenient to have your investment accounts at the same bank as your checking and savings accounts. You can also look into a Certificate of Deposit (CD). CDs are temporary savings accounts with a high interest rate.
  9. Decide if online banking is important to you
    At the bare minimum, you should look for a financial institution that allows you to review your accounts, order checks and transfer money between accounts online. Consumers with a smartphone may want to take advantage of the mobile banking apps for check deposit, bill pay, money transfer and general account access on the go. Online bill pay is another essential feature if you want the convenience of paying bills online quickly with the touch of a keystroke.
  10. Visit a local bank branch or call customer service to ask questions
    If you’re looking to join a local bank, it’s a great idea to visit the bank in person to see if you receive friendly customer service and if all your questions are adequately answered. Conversely, if you're interested in an online bank, you can call to ask whatever questions you may have. You can also go online to see if the bank’s site has a chat where you can speak to an online representative.

The different types of banks

Retail banks

Also known as consumer banks, these are what most people think of when they picture a bank. Retail banks’ services and products focus on the individual consumer with local branches, ATM access, auto and home loans and more. Unlike investment banks, retail banks do not work with large corporations. Retail banks deal directly with retail customers. Most banks today are broader in scope, with several divisions representing their client base.

Commercial banks

A commercial bank accepts deposits, provides loans and offers investment products for a range of clientele. Historically, a commercial bank is a brick-and-mortar operation, however, today there are online commercial banks as well. Commercials banks’ chief source of income comes from collecting interest on loans.

Online banks

Traditionally, banks have had physical locations, and you had to visit them to do business with them. Now, most major banks have online capabilities, and some banks are exclusively online. Consumers can sign up for accounts, access these accounts and tend to all their financial needs online. Online banks are also known as direct banks, virtual banks or branchless banks.

Investment banks

Investment banks are typically business to business banks. These institutions specialize in large and complicated financial transactions such as underwriting a new stock issue. Some investment banks also have retail arms that cater to the public.

Credit unions

Credit unions are not-for-profit financial institutions created to serve their members. They typically offer the same products and services found at a bank. Benefits often include higher interest rates on savings accounts and lower interest rates on loans. Credit unions typically have membership requirements like working for a particular company or industry, attending a specific church or living in a specific area of town.

Savings and loan associations

A savings and loan association (S&L) is a financial institution, similar to a bank, that specializes in helping people secure mortgages for their homes. They allow members to pool money to be able to purchase a home. Members have voting rights and are allowed to direct the management of the organization. Savings and loan associations are also known as thrifts.

Mutual banks

A mutual bank is a financial institution that is chartered by a national or regional government and owned by its members. Members can save and invest in loans, stocks, mortgages and bonds. They collectively bear the resulting losses or reap the rewards.

Shadow banks

“Shadow banking” is a pejorative term used to describe financial institutions that provide services similar to those offered by traditional banks, but not subject to typical regulatory oversight. A more neutral term is “market-based finance.” One example of shadow banking is hedge funds.

Central banks

A central bank is a monetary authority that controls the production and distribution of currency. The director of the central bank is appointed by the most senior member of the executive branch (in the United States, the president), and the legislature must vote to approve them. In the U.S., the Federal Reserve System serves as the central bank.

Credit union vs. bank

Credit unions and banks are both financial institutions that offer checking and savings accounts. They do, however, have some important differences.

Credit unions typically have higher interest rates on savings accounts and lower interest rates on loans. Due to their local nature, and because they are nonprofits, they are also known for emphasizing customer service. Credit unions are designed to benefit their members rather than earn profits for a corporation. For this reason, they are an attractive option for many consumers. When you join a credit union, it’s similar to buying stock in a company. Members vote for who will join the board of directors and ultimately make the decisions affecting the credit union.

Traditional banks have more branches throughout a region or an entire country, so they are easier to access. They are also typically more up-to-date when it comes to the latest technology and can offer a more extensive array of financial services than credit unions do.

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Credit union and bank reviews

Chase Bank

Chase is the consumer and commercial banking business of JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), a major global financial services firm. Almost half of America’s households use Chase Bank’s services.

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Bank of America

For 200 years, Bank of America has helped their customers, client’s and the community meet their financial goals. Bank of America prides itself in its competitive financial offerings and strong investment in the community.

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Citibank

Founded in 1812, Citi is a leading global bank with approximately 20 million customer accounts in more than 160 countries and jurisdictions. Citibank works to provide consumers, corporations, governments and institutions with a broad range of financial services and products.

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Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo was founded in 1852 in New York City. The bank is known for its financial services throughout the western part of the country during the gold rush. Today, Wells Fargo serves both U.S. and international customers at physical locations and online.

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Pentagon Federal Credit Union

PenFed Credit Union provides financial services and quality customer care to military members, government employees and their families. Established in 1935, PenFed has over 1.4 million members and more than $20 billion in assets.  Their members span the United States and military bases in Puerto Rico, Guam and Okinawa.

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TD Bank

TD Bank is one of the 10 largest U.S. banks. The bank offers retail, small business and commercial banking products and services to more than 8.5 million customers through its approximate 1,300 locations in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Metro D.C., the Carolinas and Florida.  TD Bank belongs to TD Bank Group, a subsidiary of The Toronto-Dominion Bank of Toronto.

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PNC Bank

PNC bank serves individuals, small businesses, corporations and government entities. Their banking division has over 6 million customers across 19 states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, PNC has 2,600 branches and 9,000 ATMs, along with online and mobile services.

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Compare Top Banks and Credit Unions

Navy Federal Credit Union
Read 532 Reviews

Navy Federal Credit Union offers financial services to members of the Armed Forces, Coast Guard, National Guard and DoD, as well as their families and households. They offer perks like mortgages with 100 percent financing.

Comenity
Read 551 Reviews

Comenity has over 34 million customers around the world, and boasts an A+ Better Business Bureau rating. They manage credit programs for top retailers in the US, helping them create the best options for their customers.

TD Bank
Read 907 Reviews

TD Ameritrade is one of America's leading financial companies, and it is based in Omaha, Nebraska. Today, the company offers customers advice about stock trading, investing, retirement planning and more.

PNC Bank
Read 1,141 Reviews

PNC Bank offers banking, investing and borrowing options to individuals and businesses. Their Virtual Wallet tool lets users keep track of their financial situation more easily by giving you an instant snapshot of your accounts.

Fifth Third Bank
Read 971 Reviews

Fifth Third Bank was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1858, and it is a company focused on branch banking. The company also offers unique services like payment processing and title insurance, in addition to investment advice.

Flagstar Bank
Read 414 Reviews

Flagstar Bank offers both personal and business banking services, including checking accounts, savings accounts, loans and a variety of other options. Their home equity lines and mortgage loans offer competitive interest rates.

BB&T
Read 830 Reviews

BB&T, headquartered in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, offers products in six areas: community banking, residential mortgage banking, dealer financial services, specialized lending, insurance services and financial services.

Regions Bank
Read 700 Reviews

Regions Bank offers traditional banking, and its Smart Option Student Loan program features repayment options such as deferred and fixed. Participants in the program get free quarterly credit score reports and 24/7 management.

President's Choice Financial
Read 150 Reviews

Presidents Choice Financial, headquartered in Scarborough, Canada, features mobile check deposit, telephone banking and online banking. Its bank machines facilitate bill payments, account transfers and MasterCard cash advances.

Citizens Bank
Read 447 Reviews

Based in Rhode Island, Citizen Bank is one of the country's biggest and most popular banks. With convenient locations in stores and retail locations, they offer a range of financial services to more than five million customers.

Huntington Bank
Read 198 Reviews

Huntington Bank was founded in 1866 in Columbus, Ohio. Today, it has over 750 branches and twice as many ATMs. Full-service branches are located across Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky.

HSBC
Read 852 Reviews

HSBC services include checking and savings accounts, loans and mortgages, investment and retirement accounts and insurance options for individuals and families. They also offer business services to small and large companies.

Bank of the West
Read 301 Reviews

Bank of the West, headquartered in San Francisco, has a scan-to-pay feature; customers pay bills with the click of a camera button. The bank serves customers in all states and has more than 700 locations in the West and Midwest.

M&T Bank
Read 367 Reviews

M&T Bank is a bank and financial services company that specializes in providing investment management and global wealth management. The company offers online and mobile banking services, as well as savings accounts and CDs.

Royal Bank of Canada
Read 325 Reviews

Royal Bank of Canada is one of the most popular banks chosen by Canadian customers. Headquartered in Toronto and Montreal, the company offers banking services such as checking, credit cards, mortgages, investments and advice.

Key Bank
Read 517 Reviews

Key Bank is one of America's larges banks, and it is the only bank still headquartered in Cleveland. Nearly 200 years old, they provide personal banking, investment management, retail banking, commercial banking services and more.

First National Bank of Omaha
Read 147 Reviews

First National Bank of Omaha is the largest privately held bank in the U.S. The company offers a range of financial services, such as checking and mobile banking. In addition, they have lending services and wealth management.

Voya Financial
Read 170 Reviews

Founded in 1991 as a subsidiary of ING and established as a standalone company in 2013, Voya Financial is a New York-based financial, investment and retirement company. Voya manages over $500 billion in client assets.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union
Read 139 Reviews

Pentagon Federal Credit Union offers membership to military personnel, members of certain organizations, government employees and more. They offer numerous benefits to members, including insurance policies and real estate rewards.

Compass Bank
Read 382 Reviews

BBVA Compass Bank has many services available for individuals, small businesses and large companies. These services include options for checking and savings accounts, personal and mortgage loans, credit cards, investing and more.

TCF Bank
Read 325 Reviews

TCF Bank, headquartered in Wayzata, Minnesota, allows customers to start banking online as soon as their enrollment is complete. It has 380 locations in the Midwest and various personal banking and loan products.

Arvest Bank
Read 34 Reviews

Arvest offers a variety of financial services to individuals, businesses and investors. Sam Walton’s, the Walmart founder, heirs own a majority share of the bank. Arvest has locations in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Comerica Bank
Read 176 Reviews

Comerica Bank mainly serves the Detroit, Michigan and Dallas, Texas areas. Headquartered in Dallas, the bank is the biggest bank in Texas, and it specializes retail and commercial banking, as well as wealth management.

State Farm Bank
Read 122 Reviews

State Farm Bank is a financial and insurance services company founded in 1922, and the company does not have its own branch locations. Customers can only bank with State Farm over the Internet or through the telephone.

First Citizens Bank
Read 81 Reviews

First Citizens Bank has been in business for over 100 years, offering customers a range of options from checking accounts, savings accounts, loans and more. Their services cover everything from everyday to long-term needs.

Santa Barbara Bank & Trust
Read 70 Reviews

MUFG Union Bank has locations across the U.S. and the world. They are focused on becoming a global bank, and they offer customers in the U.S., Asia, Canada and Latin America a full range of banking and investment services.

Crescent Bank & Trust
Read 155 Reviews

Crescent Bank, formerly Crescent Bank & Trust, offers traditional banking and has a niche for automobile loans to high-risk customers in more than 12 states. The bank operates nationwide, but with a focus on Louisiana.

Armed Forces Bank
Read 79 Reviews

Armed Forces bank has been serving active and retired military members and families since 1907. The bank provides a range of services for military customers, including checking and savings accounts, loans, and financial education.

Union Bank
Read 124 Reviews

Union Bank of California is a nationwide bank that allows customers to manage their accounts with text commands. Its youth banking program features options for various age groups with low minimum deposits and no monthly charges.

Associated Bank
Read 82 Reviews

Associated Bank, founded in 1861, is headquartered in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The company is focused on banking for mid-size companies in the bank's regions. These includes Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and the surrounding Midwest.

Arrowhead Credit Union
Read 16 Reviews

Arrowhead Credit Union serves San Bernardino and Riverside counties in California. Members enjoy discounts at national retailers, personalized service and the convenience of mobile apps and online banking.

Bank of America Gift Cards
Read 12 Reviews

Bank of America gift cards come in the form of prepaid Visa cards that customers can register online or by calling a toll-free number. Customers can use the cards at gas stations, restaurants and at other merchants.

Ledyard Bank
Read 6 Reviews

Ledyard National Bank is a full-service financial institution for personal and business banking. They also offer investment and wealth management services. Ledyard has locations in New Hampshire and Vermont.

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Profile picture of Barbara Friedberg
Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance Contributing Editor

Barbara Friedberg, MBA, MS is a former investment portfolio manager with decades of financial experience. Friedberg taught Finance and Investments at several universities. Her work has been featured in U.S. News & World Report, Investopedia, Yahoo!Finance and many more publications.