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Best National Banks 2019

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man-with-bank-tellerOnly a few banks can truly claim to be national in scope. Is one of these the best bank for your needs?

There are over 5,000 FDIC-insured institutions. Yet only nine of them meet the fairly basic standard of a national bank: locations in at least a third of the 50 states and at least $15 billion in deposits (enough to meet the MoneyRates definition of a large bank).

Nine may seem like a limited number, but these national banks are so much bigger than the typical institution that, together, they hold over a third of all U.S. bank deposits.

So what exactly do these nationwide banks have to offer? Since the best bank to use depends on what your needs are, MoneyRates.com has highlighted the best national bank in five different categories:

  • Best National Bank for Savings Rates
  • Best National Bank for Checking Accounts
  • Best National Bank for Frequent Overdrafters
  • Best National Bank for Students
  • Best National Bank for Extensive Branch Network

The following are descriptions of the winners in each category, plus a discussion of national bank characteristics that may help you choose the best bank for your needs.

[Note: Rates and other account terms are subject to change at any time. Location statistics are based on FDIC information as of 9/3/2019.]


Best Bank for Savings Rates

First Citizens Bank Select Checking

Number of Locations: 557

Number of States: 19

Savings Account Rate: 0.03%

Savings Account Monthly Fee: $5

Balance Required to Waive Monthly Fee: $300

Comments: One drawback of national banks is that they generally do not offer very competitive interest rates. Of all the banks studied, only two offered a savings account rate as high as this one.

First Citizens Bank was chosen because, of the two, it had a lower monthly fee and a lower balance requirement to qualify for a fee waiver.


Best National Bank for Checking Accounts

PNC Bank Standard Checking

Number of Locations: 2407

Number of States: 22

Monthly Maintenance Fee: $9 with paper statements

Overdraft Fee: $36

Minimum Balance to Open: $25

Balance Required to Qualify for a Fee Waiver: $500

Comments: Banks offer a variety of tiers of checking accounts, including premium services for depositors with very large balances. The comparisons for this study were based on standard, branch-based checking accounts with balance requirements accessible to most depositors.

This PNC account came within 5 cents of having the lowest monthly maintenance fee when paper statements are considered. What gave it the edge was a relatively low balance requirement to qualify for a monthly fee waiver.


Best National Bank for Frequent Overdrafts

Chase Bank Total Checking

Number of Locations: 5054

Number of States: 33

Overdraft Fee: $34

Maximum Number of Overdraft Fees per Day: 3

Comments: This was a fairly easy choice. Of the national banks studied, not only did this account have the lowest overdraft fee, but it also had the lowest cap on the number of overdraft charges you could incur in one day.


Best National Bank for Students

Chase Bank College Checking

Number of Locations: 5054

Number of States: 33

Monthly Service Fee: $0

Minimum Balance to Open: $25

Overdraft Fee: $34

Maximum Number of Overdraft Fees per Day: 3

Comments: A few of the banks in this study offered identical terms for college students: no monthly fees and a $25 minimum to open.

What tipped the balance in favor of this account is that it had the lowest overdraft fee and the lowest cap on the number of overdraft fees that could be assessed per day - features that could come in handy for someone who is just learning how to manage a checking account.


Best Bank for Extensive Branch Network

Wells Fargo Bank

Number of Locations: 5578

Number of States: 42

Comments: If all that matters to you in picking a bank is having an extensive network of locations, this is a no-brainer. Out of all the national banks, Wells Fargo has both the most total locations and a presence in the most states.


How We Picked the Best National Bank in Each Category

The following is a summary of how the best bank in each of the above categories was selected:

Best bank for savings rates

This category was decided primarily on the APY of each bank's standard savings account, but the monthly service fee for savings accounts and the balance required to waive that fee were factored in as a tie-breaker for the top spot.

Best bank for checking accounts

The monthly fees were the primary criteria used for this category. However, since two banks had virtually identical monthly fees, the balance required to qualify for a fee waiver was used as a tie-breaker.

Best bank for frequent overdrafts

This selection was based on both the size of the overdraft fee and the cap on the number of such fees that could be incurred per day.

Best bank for students

Monthly fees and the minimum to open were the starting point for this selection. Since multiple banks offered essentially the same terms for those criteria, overdraft fees were used as a tie-breaker.

Best bank for extensive branch network

This was based on both the total number of branches and the number of states each bank is in.

What We Compared - National Bank Features

The features compared depended on the category, but overall the features that factored into this study included:

  • Number of locations
  • Number of states
  • Savings account rates
  • Monthly fees
  • Fee waiver requirements
  • Balance requirements
  • Overdraft fees
  • Overdraft fee caps

Financial Institutions We Compared

Here is a list of the financial institutions that qualified as national banks and some of their characteristics:

BankLocationsStatesSavings Account RateChecking Account Monthly Fee (w/paper statements)Overdraft FeeCap on Daily Overdraft Fees
Bank of America4,323370.03%$12$354
Bank of the West554200.01%$13$354
BNY Mellon3518N/AN/AN/AN/A
Chase Bank5,054330.01$12$343
First Citizens Bank557190.03%$12$364
Northern Trust6318N/AN/AN/AN/A
PNC Bank2,407220.01%$9$364
US Bank2,979260.01%$8.95$364
Wells Fargo5,578420.01%$10$353

Benefits of National Banks

Why should you consider a national bank? After all, as a group they don't tend to have the most competitive savings account rates, nor do they offer the cheapest checking accounts except on those for special groups like students and seniors.

On the other hand, a broad geographic presence can be a real benefit. Knowing that there is likely to be a branch or an ATM of your bank nearby when you go out of town can save you the cost and inconvenience of having to do your business through another bank.

This can be very helpful to people who travel a lot. Also, as the baby boom generation ages there are more and more snowbirds, retirees who spend their summer months up north and winter in the south. It is helpful for those snowbirds to be able to work with the same bank in both locations.

At the other end of the age spectrum are students who may work in their hometowns during the summer then go to school out of state. It can be similarly helpful to them to have access to the same bank in both locations.

You might also find that a large national bank has a broader range of product offerings than a small local institution, from loans to investment management services. This can be convenient if you like the idea of one-stop shopping for your financial needs.

How to Find a Bank that Works for You

In evaluating the field of national banks, MoneyRates picked the best bank in five different categories. That shows how the definition of "best bank" can vary depending on your needs.

If you want to choose the best national bank for your needs, here are some things to consider:

  1. Where will you be banking?

    Even the largest banks don't have locations in all 50 states. Choose a bank with branch and ATM locations where you are likely to need them, including your home town, where you travel for business and where you regularly vacation or go to college.

  2. How large will your savings account be?

    National banks offer savings account rates that are so low that, for small balances, the differences are negligible. However, if you expect to have a large savings account, these differences may become more meaningful.

    Also large balances may qualify you for more favorable fee tiers, or they might also make it worth considering an alternative to the national banks for your savings.

  3. Will you qualify for a checking-account-fee waiver?

    The size of your account also comes into play on the checking side. If you expect to have a balance of just a few hundred dollars, then you should pay close attention to the monthly maintenance fee when choosing a checking account.

    However, if you expect your balance to regularly be in the thousands, then you may well qualify for a fee waiver that makes these maintenance fees a non-issue. You might also qualify for a fee waiver for special groups, such as students or seniors.

  4. Do you tend to overdraft your account very often?

    If so, then pay close attention to overdraft fees - and in particular, to policies for capping the number of overdraft fees that can be charged in a single day.

  5. Do you prefer to bank at a branch or online?

    Banking is evolving, with people increasingly relying on online tools and electronic alternatives to cash.

    If you find you rarely need to access a branch, having a bank with a large geographic footprint might be less of a benefit than in years past. This opens you up to consider other possibilities.

Online Alternatives to National Banks

You might want to consider an alternative to a national bank - an online account. These can make branch locations a non-issue, and many online banks are part of extensive ATM networks that offer you the same convenience as a national bank.

In particular, banks that have concentrated primarily on online offerings can give you access to additional banking options no matter where in the country you live. This gives you more opportunities to find better terms on your checking and savings accounts, as well as for other products like money market accounts and CDs.

As a group, online accounts offer savings account rates that average more than 15 times what traditional, branch-based savings accounts pay on average. Online accounts are also more than twice as likely to offer free checking.

If having access to an extensive branch network is important to you, a national bank may be the right choice. As the table above shows, their branch networks span large sections of the country, and most of them have deposit products suited to ordinary consumers.

On the other hand, if a branch network is less important to you than competitive account terms, online banking may be worth a closer look.

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