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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Lisa Gerstner, Contributing Editor
Miriam Cross, Associate Editor
| From Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2017
Some regional banks rival national ones in size and reach, and they offer their customers similar resources. But many also strive to invest in the communities they serve.
Here we highlight the top banks in four major regions in the U.S.
People's United Bank was founded in Connecticut in 1842 as a bank for the middle class. The bank's first employees worked for no pay -- perhaps not surprising for a bank with a populist-sounding name. Nearly 175 years and several mergers and acquisitions later, People's United operates nearly 400 branches in six northeastern states.
The bank's menu of checking accounts includes the basic Plus Checking account, which requires a direct deposit or a $1,000 daily balance to avoid a monthly fee; the ePlus Checking account, which waives the monthly fee if you receive e-statements and make at least 10 electronic bill payments monthly; and Advantage Checking, which requires a combined balance of at least $7,500 in deposit, retirement, investment and loan accounts to waive monthly fees but reimburses out-of-network ATM fees in the U.S. and offers free standard checks and credit-report monitoring.
People's United has some handy features on its mobile app: You can switch your debit card on and off, for one. The bank's debit cards are compatible with mobile wallets Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. The bank also offers wealth-management and investing services.
Flagstar Bank has earned a national reputation as a mortgage lender, but its home base is Troy, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, and it has 99 branches throughout mid Michigan. Its no-frills and interest-bearing accounts offer flexible ways to avoid monthly fees, especially if you hold money in more than one account.
For checking, you can choose the free basic account or one that offers additional perks and earns a bit of interest. For example, SimplyPlus+ Checking earns an unspectacular 0.03% to 0.05%, depending on your balance, but it eliminates monthly fees for those 50 and older and waives two out-of-network ATM fees per cycle. (If you're younger than 50, you can avoid the $10 fee if you maintain an average daily balance of $1,000 -- or $5,000 in a combination of Flagstar deposit accounts.)
Savings and money market deposit accounts aren't super generous, either, but they're fee-free as long as you have a checking account at Flagstar. The basic savings option earns 0.1% on all balances, and the money market account pays 0.15% for balances of $10,000 and above. Michigan-based customers can qualify for preferred rates on CDs ($500 to open). For example, when you hold more than $5,000 in checking, savings and money market accounts, you receive a rate of 0.95% on a 12-month CD -- a 0.65 point bonus. Customers also get a 0.25-percentage-point rate reduction on personal and home-equity loans or lines of credit.
Trustmark has 200 branches in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. The bank sealed its reputation as a community builder after Hurricane Katrina, when it waived late-payment fees and offered special rates on loans and deposit accounts in areas impacted by the hurricane. It later opened more branches on the Mississippi coast.
Trustmark offers six checking accounts that cater to a wide spectrum of customers, from students to the 50-plus set. The basic Smart Choice Banking account eliminates monthly fees if you keep $1,000 or more in the account, actively use your debit card or receive a direct deposit of at least $100 per cycle. If your combined balance for all Trustmark deposit accounts or loans exceeds $25,000, the $20 monthly fee is waived for Relationship Banking, and you earn 0.1% on your checking balance and up to 0.2% on a money market account, depending on where you live. Plus, the bank comps fees for overdraft transfers and out-of-network ATM withdrawals.
For customers with deeper pockets, Trustmark offers a suite of wealth-management services, including financial planning, retirement planning and investment advice.
Bank of the West got its start in 1874 as a San Jose, Calif., bank that issued paper currency backed by gold reserves. Today, the bank has more than 600 branches and offices spread throughout the western U.S. But, true to its ties to Silicon Valley, investing in technology is a key component of its mission. It was the first bank in the U.S. to offer the Quick Balance feature on its mobile app, which allows customers to see account balances and recent transactions without logging in. The bank's credit and debit cards work with several mobile wallets, including Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. Javelin Strategy & Research recognized Bank of the West in 2016 as an online banking leader for innovation and personalization.
The bank's basic Easy Checking account offers flexible options to avoid a monthly fee: maintain a $1,000 balance, receive a $250 monthly direct deposit per statement cycle or use your debit card for at least 10 purchases each statement cycle. If you can keep a higher balance in a checking account, choose one of the relationship accounts. Premier Checking provides reimbursement of out-of-network ATM fees worldwide, discounts on loans, free standard checks and no monthly fee if you keep at least $25,000 in deposit, retirement and investment accounts. Premier customers also get other perks, including 15 commission-free online stock trades per month and a free retirement-planning checkup (wealth-management services are available, too).
Choose from a number of savings accounts and CDs, including a money market deposit account that recently yielded up to 0.25%, depending on your balance and relationship with the bank. (Account terms may vary by state; the ones listed here apply to California residents.)
If you live in Hawaii, consider First Hawaiian Bank, owned by Bank of the West's parent company, BancWest (a subsidiary of French banking company BNP Paribas). It offers a free basic checking account, as well as several attractive account packages.
These stellar banks and credit unions are making all the right moves to win satisfied customers: