The MONEY magazine published its annual analysis of the best banks in America, and I count at least one surprise among the list of 15 categories. Just last month, personal finance bloggers voted on their favorite banks in the Fourth Annual Plutus Awards, and came up with a list with some notable differences, although the categories are somewhat different.
In the case of the Plutus Awards, financial bloggers placed their votes for the best banks across several categories, considering rates, fees, usability, features, and customer service. A committee tallied these votes, and the institutions with the top number of votes won the awards. MONEY had a slightly different methodology that favored the opinions of the magazine’s editors:
MONEY looked at the 40 biggest retail banks by consumer deposits and number of branches, plus the 15 biggest online banks and three biggest credit unions by deposits, according to financial services consulting firm Novantas…
The top consideration for checking picks was maintenance fees and ease of waiving them, followed by other charges, restrictions, and perks, like interest. For savings and CDs, MONEY weighted rates first, followed by fees, minimums and other rules. For customer experience, we looked at the availability of service; for mobile, breadth of features and ease of use. As a tiebreaker, MONEY used data from independent customer service studies.
Here’s how the MONEY editors compare with the financial experts in the blogging community. I would love to hear your experiences with these banks, particularly if you think the choices don’t ring true for you.
MONEY’s best online bank. The MONEY editors chose Ally Bank. There is no surprise here. Among expert bloggers, Ally Bank was chosen as the winner for Best Savings or Money Market Account and Best Checking Account. If you are interested, apply for an Ally Bank savings account here
As it happens, I have recent experiences with both these banks, although GE Capital Bank rejected my application without explanation. And according to Consumerism Commentary readers and visitors from all over the United States, I am not alone, despite my excellent credit score and spotless Chex Systems report.
Both accounts offer top-of-the-line interest rates on your savings accounts.
Bloggers chose Capital One 360 for the Best Banking Website and Best Overall Bank. Capital One 360, formerly ING Direct, made no appearance in MONEY’s survey, and I thought this was surprising, considering how many people still see Capital One 360 as the model for modern online banking.
MONEY’s best big bank. The purpose of having a category for big bank seems to be to offer an option for a household who could be banking from anywhere in the country. This isn’t a necessity with the ease of online and mobile banking, including remote deposits using mobile phones. Perhaps there are some people who are just happy with a big bank; after all, I still use my Wells Fargo account as my primary checking and savings and for my business banking.
There’s no corresponding category for big banks in the Plutus Awards because size is not an issue of concern. MONEY prefers to split the industry between banks with at least 1,000 branches and those with less. The MONEY editors chose TD Bank to lead the big bank category. I’m comfortable with this choice. I have a checking account at TD because the branch, particularly the branch’s hours, are so convenient. With generous weekend hours, when I had a day job, I was still able to get into the bank on my time to see a teller.
MONEY’s best customer service. In addition to the editors’ opinions, MONEY judged this category by reviewing independent customer surveys. The resulting winner in this category is Citizens Bank. Good customer service comes with a price. The bank offers low interest rates on savings, and no free checking account. With the checking account options, there are opportunities to waive a maintenance fee that’s as high as $20 a month.
The highest interest rate on savings at Citizens Bank, for college students or home buyers, is currently 0.1% APY. That means you need to keep $100,000 on deposit to earn just $100 in interest a year.
MONEY’s best mobile app. Capital One 360′s mobile application was a finalist in the Plutus Awards, the only app from a bank to make the list, but MONEY’s editors chose the mobile app from Chase Bank as the favorite. Chase’s app has been available for a while; we tried the remote (mobile) deposit feature in 2010.
The app has matured since it was introduced and is now fully-featured software that includes mobile payments to and from anyone in your phone’s contact list. Chase has a drawback in that the accounts available do not offer great rates or easy methods of avoiding fees. It’s a wonder to me why Capital One 360′s app, which combines the same features with better account choices, wouldn’t beat Chase’s app in this category.
MONEY’s best midsize banks. Midsize banks according to the MONEY editors are those with fewer than 1,000 branches, not including online-only banks. The editors chose four banks to spread the selections across regions of the United States.
The four selections are Capital One Bank (not Capital One 360), Susquehanna Bank, Zions Bank, and Bank of the West. Of these, I only have experience with Zions Bank, where I opened a savings account online. My review contains my thoughts on this bank.
MONEY’s best military bank. The choice for the best military bank isn’t a bank at all, it’s a credit union. The MONEY editors chose
the Navy Federal Credit Union, which you can join only if you are in active military duty, work for the Department of Defense or the Coast Guard, or live in the same household as an NFCU member.
The credit union’s interest checking account carries a fee, and for most people, fees negate the interest. Expert bloggers kept USAA among the finalists for several banking categories in the Fourth Annual Plutus Awards, indicating it’s likely USAA would have been chosen by the financial blogging community if there had been a category for military bank.
MONEY’s best checking account. The magazine’s editors sides with the personal financial bloggers for this category, selecting Ally Bank’s checking account as the best in the country. Depositors can earn interest within this checking account, yet Ally does not charge a maintenance fee.
As the editors point out, the interest rate Ally offers on checking accounts can far exceed the interest rates offered by other banks on their savings accounts; savings interest rates are traditionally much higher than rates on checking accounts, but Ally has been working hard to attract depositors since its branding break-up with its former parent, GMAC. It may also be worth noting that Ally Bank was a Plutus Award finalist for best social media, which means the company is putting an effort into reaching out to customers using state-of-the-art communication techniques — like Twitter and Facebook.
MONEY’s best teen and college checking. As I’ve pointed out in the past, sometimes it’s good to use a national bank for a teen who will be or is traveling outside of the home area for college. A large number of branches ensures that the kids and parents can both conveniently access the account — typically with deposits for parents and withdrawals for students. The MONEY editors chose one of my personal picks for best student checking accounts, at Citibank, and also chose another, U.S. Bank, in a tie.
Typically, student checking accounts are free, and the accounts often include features that allow parents who co-sign the accounts keep tabs on their kids’ use of the account.
MONEY’s best account for 12-month CDs. The editors of the magazine give the top props to GE Capital Retail Bank — a different entity than the GE Capital Bank awarded above — and perennial favorite Ally Bank. Ally offers its no-penalty CD for someone who thinks there’s a chance of withdrawing the deposit before the 11-month maturity term with an interest rate of 0.85% APY, but if you’re willing to risk an early withdrawal penalty of 60-days’ interest, you can claim a higher interest rate of 0.94% APY on a 12-month term.
GE Capital Retail Bank’s interest rates for a 12-month CD are tiered. Always check the banks’ websites for the current rates.
MONEY’s best banks for businesses. For established businesses, MONEY recommends Capital One Bank for offering the best checking account. One thing businesses need to be concerned about is the cash deposit limit. Companies that do a lot of business might have deposits that require a level of banking service not typically afforded through retail channels. Large banks usually have enterprise divisions to satisfy those customers. Banks often delineate the level of service based on total cash deposits in a month — and a “cash deposit” includes paper checks — any deposit that is not an ACH or wire. Capital One has a relatively large threshold of $40,000 for its basic business checking.
For startups and side businesses, the MONEY editors point to PNC Bank. PNC’s business banking offers no fees, but has a low $5,000 cash deposit limit.
The slideshow at CNNMoney offers some additional information, but I’m more interested in readers’ experiences with these banks. What is your favorite bank in the United States today? Do you think the MONEY editors are off the mark in their evaluations?
Updated March 7, 2014 and originally published November 13, 2013. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.