Banks are on a mission to cut costs and raise revenues, and customers are getting caught in the cross fire. Fees on basic checking and the requirements to avoid them have been steadily increasing, and interest-bearing checking accounts tend to load on so many fees that the paltry rates they pay hardly matter. In the 2016 Bankrate survey of checking accounts, the average yield ticked up to 0.06%, and the average balance required to avoid a monthly fee surged to $7,037.
But some institutions are making all the right moves to win satisfied customers. To identify the crème de la crème, Kiplinger is introducing its list of best banks and credit unions. We’ve picked a first-place winner and runner-up (except in the case of a tie) among national banks, nationally available credit unions and internet banks, plus the best bank in each of four regions. To make our choices more personal, we’ve also named a top institution and runner-up for each of six wide-ranging profiles: high-net-worth families, retirees, frequent travelers, millennials, students and military service members.
To gather the thousands of bits of data necessary to rank the winners, Kiplinger turned to Moebs Services, an economic research firm in Lake Forest, Ill., that advises financial institutions. The top institutions on our list have a mix of no-fee and low-fee basic and interest checking, plus competitive yields on savings, money market deposit accounts and certificates of deposit. They often reimburse ATM fees, and some offer special perks for students and seniors. And they tend to do digital well, with easy-to-navigate websites and responsive social media teams.
Technology that allows you to bank with your smartphone has made banking services more convenient. It’s also disrupting the traditional (and high-cost) brick-and-mortar-branch model. So it’s no surprise that a number of our top picks for the profiles are internet banks or credit unions that have harnessed technology most effectively. Branches are closing at a rapid pace, and of the nearly 12,000 banks, thrifts and credit unions in the U.S., only half will remain a decade from now, says Mike Moebs, CEO of Moebs Services. The institutions that can hold down expenses while attracting depositors will be the winners. “The best banks are going to be the ones that can handle as much information as possible and clearly present it to their customers,” says Moebs.
Click Read More for a complete list of the best banks.