banking

Best National Banks

These large institutions have hundreds (or thousands) of branches in a number of states, making them good choices if you prefer in-person service. They also have robust mobile and digital tools, and all offer peer-to-peer payments with Zelle.

Gold: Chase Bank

www.chase.com

Why it won: From family-friendly checking accounts to premium perks for those who keep big balances, Chase provides options for a range of needs. A broad network of branches makes it easy for customers throughout the country to get in-person service.

Standout accounts: Sapphire Banking offers nice benefits for customers who keep a combined deposit and investment accounts balance of at least $75,000. The First Banking, High School Checking and College Checking accounts are free for qualifying children and students.

Where it is: Nearly 5,000 branches in 38 states and Washington, D.C. Terms and rates listed here are for customers in Columbus, Ohio.

Chase’s most popular checking account is Total Checking, which waives the $12 monthly fee if you have at least $500 of electronic deposits, keep a checking balance of at least $1,500 or have $5,000 or more in combined balances among Chase deposit and investment accounts. If you hold $15,000 or more in deposits and investments, have a linked Chase mortgage or are a military member, you won’t pay the $25 monthly fee for Premier Plus Checking, which provides free standard checks, money orders, cashier’s checks and access to a safe-deposit box, plus four monthly out-of-network ATM transactions with no fee from Chase (the ATM operator will likely charge you). Notably for a large bank, Chase charges no fee to have money automatically transferred from savings to checking if you overdraw your account.

Sapphire Banking takes it up a level. If you maintain a $75,000 balance in combined Chase deposit and investment accounts, you skip the $25 monthly fee and get ATM out-of-network fee reimbursements worldwide; waived overdraft fees (up to four in a 12-month span); no foreign-exchange fees; and free personal checks, cashier’s checks, money orders, stop payments, and incoming and outgoing wire transfers. Chase’s self-directed investment account requires no minimum investment, and online trades are free. The Automated Investing robo-adviser service has a $500 minimum and charges a 0.35% annual fee.

For certain events, Sapphire Banking customers can get early tickets and priority seating or access to Sapphire Lounges. (Such perks have been on hold during the pandemic, but Chase expects to reintroduce them later this year.) If you hold $150,000 or more in deposit and investment accounts, upgrade to Chase Private Client, which offers the same freebies as Sapphire Banking plus higher limits on Zelle transactions, dedicated banking and investment advisers, and other benefits.

If you have kids, check out Chase’s youth accounts, which offer strong digital tools and age-appropriate capabilities. The free First Banking account is available to children age 6 to 17 whose parents have a Chase checking account. High School Checking is free for teens age 13 to 17 whose parents have an eligible linked personal checking account, and it comes with a free savings account as well as the ability to write and deposit checks and send money with Zelle. College Checking is free for college students age 17 to 24 (for up to five years) and requires no linked parental account.

Chase Savings yields 0.01% (the $5 monthly fee is waived if you are younger than 18, have a balance of at least $300, set up a re­curring $25 transfer from a Chase checking account or link a qualifying Chase checking account). Premier Savings yields up to 0.05%, depending on the balance, for Premier Plus and Sapphire checking customers who have at least five customer-initiated checking transactions per month. (It’s free if you keep a $15,000 balance or link a Premier Plus or Sapphire checking account.) For those who have a checking account, certificates of deposit yield up to 0.05%.

Silver: TD Bank

www.td.com

Why it won: Compared with other banks of its size, TD requires low balance minimums to avoid monthly fees on its checking accounts. Plus, it offers student and senior accounts.

Standout account: Beyond Checking provides three ways to waive the $25 monthly fee and comes with a host of attractive benefits.

Where it is: More than 1,100 branches in 15 eastern states and Washington, D.C. Terms and rates are for Delaware.

Beyond Checking dangles a collection of benefits, including free standard checks, money orders, cashier’s checks, stop payments, paper statements, incoming wire transfers and overdraft transfers. Fees are reimbursed for one outgoing wire per month, two overdrafts per year and all rush bill payments. Out-of-network ATM fees are refunded both domestically and in­ternationally if you keep a $2,500 checking balance. No foreign-transaction fee applies when you use your debit card abroad. You’ll avoid the monthly fee if you have monthly direct deposits of at least $5,000, maintain a checking balance of at least $2,500 or have a combined balance of $25,000 or more in TD deposits, home equity loans or lines of credit, and mortgages. With the basic Convenience Checking, keep $100 in checking to avoid the $15 monthly fee. The account is free for those age 17 to 23, and overdraft-transfer fees are waived if you fall into that age group.

TD’s Simple Savings account yields 0.02% and waives the $5 monthly fee if you have a $300 minimum balance, you are 18 or younger or 62 or older, or you link it to an eligible checking account. (Or, for the first year, avoid the fee by having a monthly transfer of at least $25 into the account from a TD checking account.) Beyond Savings has a standard rate of 0.01%, but yields as much as 0.05% on a balance of $250,000 or more if you link an eligible TD mortgage, home equity loan or line of credit, credit card, or checking account. Keep a $20,000 balance or link an eligible checking account to waive the monthly $15 fee. For more on TD’s savings options and 60 Plus Checking account, see the “Best for Retirees” winner.

Bronze: PNC Bank

www.pnc.com

Why it won: Even PNC’s basic checking account comes with perks.

Standout account: Bypassing the monthly fee with the basic Virtual Wallet account package isn’t a heavy lift, and you get reimbursements for out-of-network ATM fees.

Where it is: Nearly 2,200 branches in 24 states—mostly in the eastern half of the country—and Washington, D.C. With its acquisition of BBVA USA, PNC gains hundreds of branches in the Sun Belt, too. Terms and rates are for Pittsburgh.

PNC integrates money-management tools into the structure of its accounts through the Virtual Wallet program. It combines a Spend checking account for everyday transactions, an additional Reserve checking account to put aside extra funds for short-term goals, and a Growth savings account for long-term goals. To further help you stay on top of spending, PNC offers digital tools that allow you to create budgeting categories, receive alerts to see whether you are staying on track, and set savings goals.

The standard Virtual Wallet package waives the $7 monthly fee if you have a $500 monthly direct deposit into Spend, a combined $500 balance in Spend and Reserve, or if you’re 62 or older. You can make two out-of-network ATM withdrawals monthly without charge from PNC, and PNC reimburses up to $5 a month in ATM fees from other financial institutions. Virtual Wallet With Performance Spend and Virtual Wallet With Performance Select impose higher minimums to waive the monthly fee, but they bump up the number of ATM fee waivers from PNC and provide higher fee reimbursements. They also include free paper statements and cashier’s checks. PNC offers a free Virtual Wallet Student package, too.

Qualifying for a relationship rate gets you the best yields on PNC’s savings options. If you have a Virtual Wallet With Performance Select Growth account and meet certain monthly requirements, you get a 0.05% rate on most balances instead of the standard 0.01%. CD rates recently topped out at 0.05% for a promotional nine-month term with a $25,000 minimum (0.04% with a $1,000 deposit). Clients who want wealth management can get help with financial planning, investments, and trusts and estates. The Private Client program (you must have $50,000 or more in PNC deposits) comes with a relationship management team, priority customer service and financial planning.

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