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banking

Best National Banks, 2020

In addition to having more brick-and-mortar locations, big financial institutions offer a variety of perks and services you may not find at smaller banks.

These big institutions have branches that stretch into various regions of the country, and they offer plenty of online and mobile tools, too. They also provide wealth-management and advisory services.

GOLD: TD Bank

Courtesy of TD Bank

  • Why it won: Whether you're looking for a basic, low-minimum account or one to suit students, seniors or travelers, TD Bank has you covered.  
  • Standout account: Beyond Checking comes with an alluring collection of perks, and it offers three ways to avoid the monthly fee.
  • Where it is: More than 1,200 branches in 15 states (and Washington, D.C.), stretching down the east side of the country from Maine to Florida. (Terms and rates listed here are for customers in Cherry Hill, N.J.)
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Year after year, TD Bank tops our list of the best national banks. Along with a strong selection of deposit accounts, TD offers extra touches that make the banking experience more inviting. Normally, most branches are open on Saturdays and Sundays and into the evening on weekdays, although hours have been reduced because of COVID-19 recently. The free lollipops and pens typically offered in the lobby may not appeal during a pandemic, but branches are putting out hand sanitizer and accommodating social distancing by offering virtual check-ins (allowing customers to wait in their cars until a bank representative is available) and installing plexiglass screens at teller stands and desks. 

With TD's basic Convenience Checking account, you need to have a minimum balance of $100—a low threshold compared with those of many other major banks—to avoid a $15 monthly fee. For those age 17 to 23, the Convenience account is free, and so is the Simple Savings account.

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If you can keep a checking balance of at least $2,500, you have monthly direct deposits of at least $5,000 or you maintain a $25,000 minimum balance for all your TD deposit accounts and loans (excluding credit cards), scale up to the Beyond Checking account. Perks include free standard checks, cashier's checks, money orders, stop payments, paper statements and transfers from a linked savings account to cover overdrafts. If you elect to have the bank pay overdrafts for you, you'll be reimbursed two overdraft fees ($35 each) per year, and you'll be refunded all fees for rush bill payments ($2 each) and one fee monthly for an outgoing domestic or international wire transfer ($30 and $50 each, respectively). 

Beyond Checking is a good choice for travelers, too: If you keep a $2,500 checking balance, you'll be reimbursed for withdrawal fees charged by operators of out-of-network ATMs—both in the U.S. and in foreign countries. Plus, TD charges no foreign-transaction fee to Beyond account holders who use their debit card abroad. TD also recently launched an online platform on which everyone (even noncustomers) can order more than 60 foreign currencies for pickup at bank locations, and some currencies are available for immediate exchange. 

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The basic Simple Savings account recently yielded 0.05%, and you have multiple ways to avoid the $5 monthly fee—one is to keep a $300 minimum balance. The Beyond Savings account rate ranges from 0.1% to 0.75%, depending on the balance, if you link it to an eligible TD active checking account or loan. Maintain a $20,000 minimum balance or link an eligible checking account (including Beyond Checking) to avoid a $15 monthly fee. 

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For information on TD's checking account for those 60 and older, as well as the bank's other savings and wealth-management options, see the Best Banks for Retirees winner.

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SILVER: PNC Bank

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  • Why it won: Even PNC's basic checking account provides some perks, and the bank ties together checking and savings accounts with a program to help customers budget and save. 
  • Standout account: The basic Virtual Wallet account package comes with ATM fee reimbursements (up to certain limits) and offers relatively easy ways to avoid the monthly fee.
  • Where it is: About 2,400 branches in 21 states in the Midwest, South and Mid Atlantic, plus Washington, D.C. (Terms and rates listed here are for customers in Pittsburgh.)
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If you're looking for a big institution that integrates money-management tools into everyday banking, PNC is a good place to go. With its Virtual Wallet program, you get a primary “Spend” checking account for most of your transactions, a secondary “Reserve” checking account to hold money for short-term goals, and a “Growth” savings account for long-term goals. You can set up rules to have money automatically transferred from your Spend account to Reserve or Growth—say, each time you receive a paycheck. Other tools help you to see how much money you have left to spend after accounting for scheduled bills and to create budgets to track spending. If you open an account with PNC online, you're directed to the Virtual Wallet offerings. But to open a single checking account without the extras, you'll have to visit a branch. 

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The basic Virtual Wallet package waives the $7 monthly fee if you have a $500 average monthly minimum in your Spend and Reserve accounts or $500 in monthly direct deposits to Spend, and it's free for those 62 or older. Each month, the account reimburses up to two fees charged by PNC for using out-of-network ATMs and up to $5 in fees that other ATM operators charge to use their machines. The Performance Spend and Performance Select account packages through Virtual Wallet have bigger minimums to avoid monthly fees but offer more perks, such as higher ATM fee reimbursements, free cashier's checks and discounts on a safe-deposit box. College students can use a free Virtual Wallet account package, which comes with limited ATM fee reimbursements and a refund of the first overdraft or returned-item fee associated with the account. 

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Interest rates on PNC’s savings accounts vary depending on the account package you have and whether you meet certain requirements. For example, with the Virtual Wallet With Performance Select package, you'll get a rate of 0.1% to 0.35% (depending on the balance) on your Growth savings account if you have $5,000 in monthly direct deposits to your Spend account or use your PNC debit or credit card for purchases at least five times monthly. Fixed Rate CDs require a $1,000 minimum deposit, and you could recently earn as much as 0.35% with a $25,000 deposit in a 13-month promotional CD. 

PNC’s wealth-management arm includes retirement, tax and other personal financial planning; investment management; and trust and estate services. Wealth-management clients get access to a personal banking adviser and other financial professionals. 

BRONZE: KeyBank

Courtesy of KeyBank

  • Why it won: KeyBank covers the spectrum, offering a free checking account—a rare find among large institutions—and a broad selection of accounts for those who can keep bigger balances. 
  • Standout accounts: The Hassle-Free checking account has no monthly fee. For those who can keep big balances in linked accounts, Privilege Select checking is packed with perks.
  • Where it is: More than 1,100 branches in 15 states, sprinkled in the Northeast, Midwest and West. (Terms and rates are for customers in Cleveland.)
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No matter what size your bank account, you'll likely find a fit with KeyBank. The Hassle-Free checking account lives up to its name—it charges no monthly fee and no overdraft or non-sufficient funds fees. Check-writing is not available, but you can use the bill-payment feature to send money to almost anyone you'd typically pay by check. If you want more benefits, choose among several other checking options, which require varying account minimums to waive the monthly fee. At the high end, you'll typically need a minimum $100,000 balance in KeyBank deposit and investment accounts to avoid a $50 monthly fee, but you'll enjoy unlimited rebates of out-of-network ATM fees; free standard checks, cashier's checks and money orders; daily automatic sweeps of extra cash from checking into a savings account to maximize interest earnings; and access to financial-management services. 

KeyBank’s Active Saver account is free if you have a personal checking account with the bank, but the yield is a paltry 0.01%. You can get better rates with a money market deposit account. The Gold Money Market account, for example, waives the $18 monthly fee and offers a 0.25% rate if you have a balance of $25,000 or more and an active personal checking account with the bank. Among CDs, the 14-month promotional CD recently yielded 0.25% on up to $500,000 ($10,000 minimum deposit) for those who use certain eligible checking accounts. KeyBank’s private bank, which requires a $1 million asset minimum, offers investment and financial-planning services and a checking account with premium benefits.

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