Editor's Note
  • March 29, 2018 - We’ve surveyed the 2018 banking landscape and updated our review to stay current, with three new top picks (plus two runners-up) that offer competitive rates and outstanding service.

The Best Banks

Experts agree that the best bank maximizes the value of your money and won’t penalize you with fees every time you need to touch it. On a practical level, it should also be convenient and offer genuinely useful customer support.

APYAPY, (Annual Percentage Yield) is the amount you earn on your investments over the course of the year. Not to be confused with APR (Annual Percentage Rate), which is the interest you pay to take a loan from the bank.

Because we were looking for high returns and low fees, we focused on ‘direct’ or ‘online-only’ banks, which handle all business online or through mobile apps. Because they don’t have physical branch locations, they’ve got a leg up financially. According to GoBankingRates.com, the average savings account from a brick-and-mortar bank has a 0.06% annual percentage yield (APY); direct banks like Ally offer up to 1.45%. In addition, our top picks offer 24/7 customer support — which eliminates the hassle of making it to a branch during ‘banking hours.’

Ally and Discover both offer fee-free checking accounts with no minimum balance requirement, plus competitive rates on savings accounts — 1.45 and 1.55% respectively, as of March 2018. Our third pick, First Internet Bank, offers returns on CDs as high as 2.73% (although its checking and savings accounts include fees that Ally and Discover both skip).

"Because brick-and-mortar banks have to maintain their branches and branch employees they have to charge fees to customers in order to subsidize this cost. A digital bank, like BankMobile, can offer customers no to low fees and higher interest on savings since it doesn’t have these high overhead costs."

Luvleen SidhuCo-Founder, President and Chief Strategy Officer of BankMobile

Our Picks for Best Bank

Best
One-Stop Shop
Ally Bank
Ally
Outstanding customer support, minimal fees, and a wide range of financial products and services.

If you want to keep all your banking activity under one roof, then we recommend starting your search with Ally Bank. Opening a checking and savings account with Ally is simple: Like most of our top picks, it has no minimum balance requirements or monthly maintenance charges. That means you can start with whatever you have on hand and Ally won’t eat away at your balance with unnecessary fees. It also offers one of the highest-yield savings accounts we found, at 1.45% APY.

In addition to checking and savings, Ally offers a full suite of banking services. Customers can open up a credit card, take out an auto or home loan, invest in an IRA or CD, and more. Interest rates on Ally investments are well above average; with savings APY up to 1.35%, while the average across our contenders was only 1.06%. You might be able to garner slightly better returns by banking at multiple institutions — say, by opening a savings account with Alliant and a CD with First Internet Bank — but Ally affords you the simplicity of keeping all your finances in one place.

The other reason we love Ally (and what put it at the top of our list) is its excellent customer support. Among all our contenders, Ally’s resources came out on top. Its reps are available 24/7 through live chat and over the phone; including phone lines for international callers and the hard of hearing. Or, if you prefer, you can connect through email, Facebook, Google Plus, or Twitter. When we reached out with questions about opening an account, we were told exactly where we were in the queue (third) and had our answers within a couple minutes — no long holds, tinny elevator music, or being reassured that “our call was very important.”

Ally’s website also has a robust educational section that’s aimed at improving customers’ financial literacy. We like its Wallet Wise courses, which walk you through the basics of banking, budgeting, investing, and credit. When you’re ready to move beyond the basics, you can also check out Ally’s Do It Right Community. It’s chock-full of articles and discussion boards that share best financial practices for everything from college savings to estate planning. These tools let customers make smarter money decisions, and help them get the most value from their Ally accounts.

It’s worth noting that Ally doesn’t currently offer the highest interest rates of our top picks. APY can change as often as every month, and Discover and Synchrony offer slightly higher APYs as of March 2018. However, Ally has the staying power to remain a front-runner. DepositAccounts.com, which measures the stability and value of savings accounts nationwide, gives Ally an A+ financial rating and notes that Ally “regularly offers one of the highest interest rates in the country as far as savings accounts go.” This stability, combined with Ally’s robust offerings and resources, makes it our favorite for common banking needs.

Best for
Cash Deposits and CDs
First Internet Bank
First Internet
The widest network of ATMs among our finalists (450,000+), plus CD rates as high as 2.63%.

If you deal with cash frequently — cash tips, anyone? — then you might be worried about making the switch to an online bank. How are you supposed to deposit actual money without going into a branch? First Internet Bank has the answer. It’s part of the Visa PLUS ATM network, which includes 450,000 cash deposit-accepting ATMs across the United States. On a larger scale, the PLUS Network has more than two million ATMs in 200 countries, so you can access your accounts no matter where you go. To find deposit-friendly ATMs in your area, plug your zip code into First Internet Bank’s Global ATM Locator and filter for ‘Plus Shared Deposits.’ We found ten within just one mile of our Seattle office.

We also recommend First Internet Bank if you’re thinking about investing in a Certificate of Deposit (CD). First IB offers excellent returns on these fixed-term, high yield savings accounts: Up to 2.73% as of March 2018 — the highest we saw anywhere. CD rates, as with savings rates, can change, so it’s always worth double-checking close competitors like Alliant. But First IB also offers one of the best return-to-deposit ratios on the market; you can qualify for its highest rates with a deposit as low as $1,000. Other banks, like Ally and Alliant, require deposits as high as $25,000 to qualify for rates above two percent. We appreciate that First Internet Bank offers its highest yield accounts to people who may not have upwards of $20,000 to spare.

We were less impressed, however, with its checking and savings options. First Internet Bank requires a $25 minimum deposit to open a checking account, and may charge you up to $10 per month in maintenance fees. Its savings accounts don’t require a minimum balance, but had lower APY than our other contenders. We’ll admit: These fees are by no means outlandish. But with Ally, Alliant, and Discover offering no-minimum, fee-free checking and savings, they might be a better bet.

That said, if you know you’ll be depositing cash on a regular basis, then First Internet Bank is the vastly more convenient option — none of our other picks have nearly as many cash-accepting ATMs.

Best for
Travelers
Discover
Discover
A wide range of services, no international fees, and APY rates up to 1.55%.

Discover customers will enjoy the same perks as with any of our other top picks: The bank offers a range of services including credit cards, loans, and IRAs. Like Ally and Alliant, it has no minimum balance requirements for checking and savings accounts. It even rings in the second highest savings APY among our finalists, at up to 1.55%.

What we really love about Discover, though, is that it doesn’t charge international fees. By comparison, our other top picks will slap you with a surcharge of one or two percent for every card transaction on foreign soil. It may not sound like a lot, but if you’re a frequent traveler those charges can add up quickly. We recommend looking into a Discover account if you travel often for business, if you’re a student studying abroad, or if you simply vacation a lot. Avoiding that one or two percent charge could save you a lot in the long run.

The main reason Discover isn’t higher up on our list is that it has poorer customer support than our other top picks. We couldn’t find an email address listed on its site, and you have to be a member to use its live chat function — which meant we couldn’t easily reach a rep while we were comparing accounts. Discover does have 24/7 phone support, which we appreciate, but it lacks the variety of channels that JD Power revealed to be so important for customer satisfaction. Still, if you don’t mind using phone support over other methods, Discover has some good options and is worth a look.

Other Banks to Consider

Synchrony Bank and Alliant Credit Union didn’t impress us quite as much as our top picks in terms of customer support and product offerings. However, both are still strong contenders with competitive interest rates — and since APY can fluctuate frequently, it may be worth comparing these runners-up to our top picks.


Another to Consider
Synchrony
Synchrony
Competitive rates on savings accounts and CDs, but doesn't offer checking accounts.

Unlike our top picks, Synchrony doesn’t offer comprehensive banking options. Instead, it’s exclusive to savings products: Savings accounts, CDs, money markets, and IRAs. By focusing on these products, Synchrony is able to offer seriously high returns. As of March 2018, its savings APY tops out at 1.55% — the highest of the group.

Synchrony’s other unique offering is that, as opposed to banks like First Internet Bank, it doesn’t differentiate between deposit tiers. All accounts qualify for its highest return rate, regardless of your balance. There’s also no minimum balance required to open an account, which means you can start earning 1.55% with whatever you have on hand.

Because Synchrony only offers savings products, you’ll have to open accounts elsewhere for checking, loans, and other financial products, which means a little extra legwork on your part. They’re also the only one of our finalists to not offer 24/7 support or email support. You’ll have to call or chat them, during business hours, if you need help. But if you don’t mind working around these limitations, Synchrony’s savings accounts may be worth looking into.


Another to Consider
Alliant Credit Union
Alliant
A range of offerings similar to Ally, including 1.45% APY on savings accounts. But customer support is more limited.

Alliant Credit Union is quite similar to Ally Bank, even matching its savings APY of 1.45%. Also like Ally, Alliant offers fee-free checking, complete with a debit card and free checks, as well as a full roster of banking services. Customers have access to credit cards, loans, and IRA accounts. It also offers slightly higher CD rates than Ally: 2.5% versus Ally’s 2.0%.

The reason Alliant didn’t top our list? Its customer support left us lukewarm. Alliant doesn’t have live chat — a tool that we loved using with other contenders for quick, painless answers to our questions. Its online resources are also lacking: Its ‘Help’ tab takes you to a paltry five-question FAQ, and using the search bar left us with unsatisfactory answers to simple questions like: Can I deposit cash at an in-network ATM? (“Not all of them”). If you’re a first time account holder, or feel like you’ll want more personalized service, you’ll probably be better of with the more customer-friendly Ally.

Bank Like a Pro: Tips for Maximizing Value and Minimizing Costs.

You don’t have to keep all your eggs in one basket.

For brick-and-mortar banks, it makes sense to do all your banking in one place — traveling between different branches to manage separate accounts and investments can turn into a hassle. With direct banking, however, you can hand-select the best options from multiple institutions. Many experts even recommend it.

"Before you sign up for an account you should make sure you understand the fee structure. Hidden fees typically revolve around what your daily balance is, what ATM you use when you withdraw money, and whether or not you're overdrawn at any given time."

For example, you might open up a high-yield savings account at Alliant, but invest in a CD from First Internet Bank, or get a free checking account with Ally coupled with Discover checking for your annual vacations. This doesn’t mean you need to go overboard (most people would probably still find it a hassle to maintain four separate bank accounts), but be aware that online banking leaves you with many more options than you might typically have. You have the luxury of picking bank accounts based on what matters most to you.

Be sure to understand the fine print surrounding fees and penalties.

It’s important to understand your bank’s information in full before opening an account. Oftentimes, it’s the fine-print fees that can eat away at your balance; you’d hate to accidentally overdraw your Discover checking by $1 and be charged a $30 penalty. If you know about the fee ahead of time (and know that you tend to accidentally overdraw) then you can choose a bank like First Internet Bank instead — which offers free overdraft protection transfers in increments of $50. Here’s how a few common fees compare among our finalists:

Checking Maintenance Fee
Savings Maintenance Fee
Overdraft Fee
International Fee
Out-of-Network ATM Fee
Ally Bank
$0
$0
$25
1%
$0
Alliant Credit Union
$0
$0
$25
1%
$0
First Internet Bank
Up to $10 (varies by account tier)
$0
Free Overdraft Protection
2%
$0
Discover Bank
$0
$0
$30
0%
$0
Synchrony
N/A
$0
N/A
3%
$0

If you’re considering another bank, make sure to check for ‘hidden’ fees. These tend to be associated with your daily balance, ATM use, overdrawing, and monthly maintenance — you can usually find this information in the ‘Disclosures’ section of the website. And if a fee structure seems unclear, don’t hesitate to reach out for clarification. The best banks should be honest and transparent about their charges.

Our Bank Review: Summed Up

Bank
Best...
Ally
Checking &
Savings
First Internet Bank
Cash Access and CDs
Discover
Frequent Travelers
Alliant Credit Union
Runner-Up
Synchrony
Runner-Up