By Christina Lavingia, Editor
This is the fifth installment of GOBankingRates' third annual "Best Banks" series, connecting consumers with the best deposit accounts and banks of 2015. Come back each week of February for our rankings and reviews of this year's best institutions and bank products, including online banks, military financial institutions, certificates of deposit, checking accounts and savings accounts.
At the end of the day, you want to trust where you bank. Interest rates are near historic lows nearly anywhere you can deposit your funds or obtain a loan, making the difference between big banks, credit unions, local banks and online institutions relatively minimal in terms of dollars and cents on your account statements.
Whether because they have larger marketing budgets or a high volume of branches and ATMs, big banks still hold a huge portion of the market share for deposits and loans. In fact, their assets are growing. According to Fortune Magazine, assets for the six largest U.S. banks in September 2013 were 37 percent greater than they were five years earlier. It seems that, despite the Great Recession, big banks are still an attractive option for depositors and companies.
Fortune also reported that one-third of all business loans were made by Bank of America in 2013, while Wells Fargo financed almost a quarter of all mortgages. JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley owned 67 percent of U.S. financial assets.
Traditional banks do have their appeal: They offer convenience, access to funds and a wide variety of banking products, all of which are backed by the FDIC, meaning deposits up to $250,000 are insured against any losses.
Additionally, big banks serve an important function in the U.S. economy. GOBankingRates found that the 51 largest banks employ nearly one percent of the U.S. workforce (1.23 million people). These banks pay a few hundred million to a few billion dollars in corporate income taxes to their headquarter states each year and give away millions to charities and nonprofits.
For those who prefer to bank with an institution that has an outpost in nearly every city (and even, in some cases, internationally) GOBankingRates ranked the best banks of 2015. This study excluded online banks and military institutions, which were evaluated in separate rankings.
Review: 10 Best Banks of 2015
To determine the below rankings, GOBankingRates looked at the top 100 banks by assets, according to the FDIC, and evaluated each on the following criteria:
- BauerFinancial Star Ratings for overall financial strength
- Yields, fees or other terms on checking, savings and one-year CD accounts
- Whether the bank offers auto loans, mortgages, credit cards, investment services and/or insurance services
- Branch number and availability
1. Wells Fargo
Why: The most notable reason why Wells Fargo ranked No. 1 for brick-and-mortar banks was its branch availability: Wells Fargo offers the most branches of the 100 banks surveyed, at 6,353.
Review: Wells Fargo offers all five products GOBankingRates surveyed: auto loans, mortgages, credit cards, investment services and insurance, making it ideal for consumers looking to simplify their finances and bank all in one place. Wells Fargo boasts a BauerFinancial Star Rating of 4 out of 5, and is home to $1.7 trillion in assets, making it the fourth largest bank by asset size in the U.S.
In terms of social and economic impact, as an added bonus, Wells Fargo employs the most people of any big bank, at 265,000, and paid $1.9 billion in California state taxes in 2013. Additionally, in that year, Wells Fargo gave $275.5 million to 18,500 nonprofits.
How to join: Wells Fargo's pervasive branch accessibility makes it easy to open an account in person, as well as online. With dozens of accounts to choose from, opening any one of them takes no more than 10 minutes.
2. BBVA Compass Bank
Why: BBVA Compass Bank offers depositors higher interest rates than Wells Fargo and has a higher BauerFinancial Star Rating. However, BBVA Compass Bank has just a tenth of Wells Fargo's branch locations.
Review: The bank's more limited accessibility put it in the No. 2 spot. Like Wells Fargo, BBVA Compass Bank offered all five of the other products we surveyed, but has a higher BauerFinancial Star Rating of 5. BBVA Compass Bank offers its customers a high one-year CD rate of 0.45% APY. Additionally, its checking account comes with no fee and its savings yield beats the national average at brick-and-mortar banks, as well, at 0.15% APY.
Customers have access to four different credit cards with BBVA Compass Bank, as well as ample mortgage options, covering everything from a first home to a second refinance, renovations, new construction and equity.
How to join: You can become a customer of BBVA Compass Bank from the comfort of your home. Simply visit its website, peruse its many bank products and services, and apply for whichever accounts you want online.
3. Bank of America
Why: Bank of America's interest rates are on par with Wells Fargo, but it offers the same products, along with a BauerFinancial Star Rating of 4 and 5,101 branch locations.
Review: Bank of America is committed to empowering its customers -- and the public -- with the financial literacy needed to grow wealth. In partnership with Khan Academy, Bank of America produced a number of videos and tutorials through its Better Money Habits series to help people reach goals of tackling debt, saving, budgeting and establishing credit.
How to join: As one of the largest banks in the United States, Bank of America is accessible to most depositors. Requirements to open an account include a Social Security number, a current residential address, bank account number or debit card to fund your account, co-applicant information if applicable, and a valid email address.
Why: For checking and savings accounts, BankUnited offers higher yields than the three banks ranked above it, and boasts the highest BauerFinancial Star Rating available of 5. However, the bank offers far fewer branches to its customers -- just 106.
Review: For a major bank, BankUnited pays its customers yields that rival credit unions and community banks. Depositors earn above-average yields on savings and one-year CDs at BankUnited, at 0.25% APY and 0.55% APY, respectively. Despite offering its customers fewer branches for in-person banking, BankUnited has the same product offerings as the banks ranked above it.
With four checking account options alone to select from: Relationship Checking, Bonus Interest Checking, Signature Interest Checking and 50+ Signature Interest Checking, BankUnited provides a wide variety of bank products to meet varying needs.
How to join: Those who wish to join BankUnited can do so by opening an account, visiting a branch or calling 1-877-799-BANK.
5. First National Bank of Omaha
Why: First National Bank of Omaha's product offerings are broad and it boasts a BauerFinancial Star Rating of 5; however, the bank's more limited branch access places it in the fifth spot.
Review: First National Bank of Omaha offers all the same product offerings as the above banks, but with just 127 branches. Customers with a checking account from this bank enjoy paying no maintenance fees.
No matter your credit card preference, First National Bank of Omaha offers American Express, Discover, MasterCard and three Visa options to choose from. Wealth management services, from 529 savings plans for your toddler to tributary funds, are available as well.
How to join: This bank serves those residing in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Texas, with multiple branches in each state. Potential customers can apply online at the bank's website.
6. Zions Bank
Why: Zions Bank charges no maintenance fee on its checking account and offers high savings yields. However, the bank has under 150 branches for its customers.
Review: Zions Bank's savings account earns the highest yield of any bank on this list at 0.45% APY. Although Zions Bank offers auto and mortgage loans, credit cards, and investment services, it doesn't offer insurance. The bank boasts a BauerFinancial Star Rating of 5, but only offers 145 branches to its customers.
Zions offers rewards credit cards, along with an entire suite of bank products geared toward children and young adults, including student checking and savings, kid savings, and the Zion's Bank Pays for A's program.
How to join: Zion Bank has locations in many Western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington. Customers can apply online for credit cards and accounts with Zions Bank.
Why: With a BauerFinancial Star Rating of 5 and ample branch locations, BB&T ranked No. 7 among the best banks of 2015.
Review: Those who deposit their funds with BB&T get standard yields on their accounts when compared to other brick-and-mortar banks. BB&T offers all loan, credit, insurance and investment services GOBankingRates surveyed, and its customers have access to 1,852 branches to conduct their banking in person.
BB&T offers its customers ample resources on its website to tackle any financial issue you could imagine, from paying for college and managing life events to planning for retirement and investing.
How to join: Those looking to join BB&T can do so online, by visiting one of its financial centers or by phone at 888-BANK-BBT, where they can find answers to their banking questions and determine which products best meet their current needs.
8. Chase Bank
Why: Due to its relatively lower rates, Chase Bank fell to the No. 8 spot. However, branch access is a high selling point for banking here, with 5,710 branches available to Chase Bank customers.
Review: In terms of products, customers have access to auto loans, mortgage loans, credit cards and investment services with Chase Bank; however, insurance products are not available. The bank has a strong BauerFinancial Star Rating of 4 out of 5.
Chase Bank is one of the most recognizable names in banking, and you'll have ample access to your funds, both in-person and online. Services like Chase Quickpay make banking even more convenient on the go. When it comes to checking accounts alone, Chase Bank gives its customers plenty of options, with five products to choose from.
How to join: Joining Chase Bank is as simple as entering one of its nearly 6,000 branch locations across the U.S. Potential customers can also open an account online.
Why: With over 1,000 branch locations and no checking account maintenance fees, there's good reason to choose KeyBank for your deposit and loan needs.
Review: KeyBank's Hassle-Free account was ranked highest among the top 10 banks. Additionally, it offers all of the other banking products surveyed and boasts the highest BauerFinancial Star Rating possible of 5. There are 1,030 KeyBank branches to serve its customers' needs.
KeyBank also offers its customers a unique Financial Wellness Center, budgeting and debt consolidation calculators, as well as education planning and mutual fund options.
How to join: Those interested in joining KeyBank can do so by opening an account online or contacting the bank via telephone 800-KEY2YOU. The bank operates its branch locations in 14 different states.
10. U.S. Bank
Why: U.S. Bank boasts ample branch locations and comprehensive product offerings, though its slightly lower rates knocked in down in the rankings.
Review: U.S. Bank customers get to take advantage of a slew of services and products, from loans and credit cards to investment and insurance options. With 3,239 branches and a BauerFinancial Star Rating of 4, customers of U.S. Bank enjoy ease of access and peace of mind.
GOBankingRates has previously recognized U.S. Bank as the best bank for getting your first bank account. Its Student Checking account has a low threshold to open -- just $25 -- and is one of two accounts from the bank geared toward minors (those 17 and under can obtain a Star Savers Club Account as well).
How to join: U.S. Bank offers its applicants "instant decision" within two to three minutes when they apply for a checking account or credit card from the bank. Applications can be submitted online or at any bank branch.
Institution selection: In order to determine its "Best Brick-and-Mortar Bank" rankings, GOBankingRates examined the top 100 banks by asset size according to the FDIC, excluding non-active institutions, those with less than $1 billion in assets, investment banks and any institutions that require customers to use investment services to access commercial bank accounts.
Criteria for rankings: Banks were scored from most to least favorable in the following categories: (1) BauerFinancial Star Ratings for overall financial strength, and the rankings previously assigned through our survey of (2) checking accounts, (3) savings accounts, and (4) one-year certificates of deposit. Each criterion was individually scored from most to least favorable in comparison to the category average (weighted equally). Banks were then scored according to whether they offered each of the following services, all of which contributed to a single weighting: (5) auto loans, (6) mortgage loans, (7) credit cards, (8) investment services and (9) insurance services. The final criteria was the (10) number of bank branches, as reported by the FDIC. Banks were then ranked according to overall score. Data was compiled via the GOBankingRates interest rate database and verified against the individual institutions' websites.
GOBankingRates is a personal finance and consumer interest rate website owned by ConsumerTrack, Inc., an online marketing company serving top-tier banks, credit unions and other financial services organizations. Some banks mentioned in this ranking are clients of ConsumerTrack, Inc., which serves more than 100 national, local and online financial institutions. Rankings are 100 percent objective and no institution, client or otherwise, paid for inclusion or specific placement.