When it comes to choosing which bank to use, you have many choices, such as big national banks, smaller regional banks, online banks, and even credit unions. Even within each of those categories, your mind can spin from all the options. Fortunately, there are folks who regularly review and rate banks, and they can help us zero in on the best banks for us.
The MyBankTracker.com website, for example, offers quarterly ratings of all kinds of banks. Let's review their findings for national banks for the third quarter of 2015. The site explains that it's looking for great interest rates and low fees, noting that, "These award-winning banks deliver the best in service, convenience, and value."
Top-rated: Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE:WFC) gets the top ranking. That's good news for many Americans, since the bank has more than 6,000 locations in 39 states -- more locations than any other bank. (JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, when it comes to number of branches.)
A big plus for the bank is its versatility, as it offers a huge range of products and services, such as bank accounts, mobile banking, credit cards, loans, mortgages, insurance, investment services, and even wealth management and financial advising. On the other hand, its fees are higher than those of many others, such as credit unions and online banks, and the interest rates it offers won't always be the best you can find, either. Still, depending on your needs, its convenience and offerings may make it a good match for you.
It's also worth noting that Wells Fargo has an overall rating of B from MyBankTracker, with high marks for its financial health, mobile banking, mobile deposits, and number of locations. It gets low marks for its fees and its customer ratings, and reviews are not impressive, either.
If you wonder why a bank with a B rating tops a list of the best banks, remember that the ranking are within the category of large, national banks. Also, as MyBankTracker's CEO and co-founder Alex Matjanec explains:
Our core rating looks at the bank as a whole, through a mix of hard facts (number of locations, fees vs. national average) and soft facts (customer reviews). In preparing our awards, our internal analyst team not only considered these factors but also took a deeper dive in the quality of these services from usability of the institutions' digital offerings to variety of product offerings.
Honorable mention: TD Bank
Toronto-Dominion Bank (NYSE:TD), also known as TD Bank, has more than 1,300 branches, making it the seventh-largest bank in North America by number of branches. It serves more than 24 million customers with a wide range of products and aims to live up to its slogan, "America's Most Convenient Bank," with long hours, including being open on Sundays. MyBankTracker notes, "TD bank is great if you need to do in-person banking."
On the other hand, though, TD Bank's C+ rating draws attention to the fact that it gets low marks for bank fees, number of locations, and customer satisfaction -- which are partly offset by high marks for its financial health and mobile banking services. (Ironically, high fees can help boost a bank's financial health.)
Honorable mention: PNC Bank
Also praised in this category was PNC Financial Services Group Inc's (NYSE:PNC) PNC Bank, which offers higher-than-average CD interest rates and more than 2,500 locations. It offers some innovative products for its individual and small-business customers, too, such as its Virtual Wallet account, which is free as long as you meet requirements such as conducting your business electronically.
PNC Bank's rating is a B+, better than Wells Fargo or TD Bank, but it too gets low marks for its fees and customer satisfaction.
Choosing the best banks
The banks above are worth considering, but they're not your only options. The best banks for you are the ones that offer what you need from a financial services company.
You might actually end up using several -- one bank for one purpose (such as savings) and another for another purpose (such as checking, or getting a mortgage). Think about what your needs actually are. If you plan to use ATMs a lot, you might want a bank with ATMs all over, or at least in places you frequent. If you'd like to use your mobile device for banking purposes, see what apps and services any contender bank offers, and how well rated and easy to use they are. Some banks will let you pay bills electronically with your device, and others may even let you deposit checks by taking a photo of a check's front and back with your smartphone or tablet.
Remember that you need an emergency fund (which might take the form of a bank savings account or some short-term CDs) with at least several months' worth of living expenses in it -- even eight or more months' worth, to be very conservative. Aim to get good interest rates for such an account.
Know, too, that if you want to build a big nest egg for retirement over many years, you should be thinking about opening retirement accounts, or regular taxable brokerage accounts, and investing in stocks and funds for the long term. Many big banks these days offer investment services, so you can keep IRAs and/or regular brokerage accounts with stocks and mutual funds at such banks, should you choose to.
Cast a wide net when you shop for the best banks, considering credit unions, smaller regional banks, and online banks in addition to big, national ones. The best banks for you might not be the ones you expected.