Ten Best Cities for Consumer Banking 2014

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by on January 27, 2014

As a new year commences and resolutions are at the forefront of many people’s thoughts, now is the perfect time to reflect on your financial standing. For some, this means rebalancing an investment portfolio or paying debt, but for others the goal is as simple as lowering your bank fees or boosting a savings account.

Though it’s a basic enough concept to want to get the most from your bank accounts, the reality is that some Americans have a distinct advantage over others, simply because of where they live. Bank rates, fees and even accessibility can vary significantly from one region to another.

To determine which cities are the best for basic consumer banking, NerdWallet compiled data on six different factors for the 100 most populated cities in the United States. These factors include:

  • Are local banks and credit unions stable? It’s important to know that you can rely on a local banking institution to be there day in and day out, but in an age of increasing bank consolidation, this isn’t always a given. NerdWallet calculated the number of bank failures and closed credit unions per capita in each city from 2009 through the present.
  • Is there a diverse range of banking options? As with any sector of the economy, more choice for banking consumers means more competition and therefore better deals and better service. NerdWallet sought variety in banking options by determining the number of unique banks and credit unions per capita operating in each city.
  • Do consumers have easy access to a local branch? Mobile and online banking is changing the landscape of how we bank, but physical branches are still highly valued, even among young adults. To approximate branch accessibility, NerdWallet calculated the total number of overall bank or credit union branch locations per capita within each city.
  • What will the average savings account earn in interest? With national average rates still lingering all-time lows, savers may feel like there’s little advantage to putting aside extra money. However, some banking institutions are helping to ease this concern. To determine where consumers are earning the highest interest, NerdWallet analyzed rate data collected from more than 7,000 banks and credit unions.
  • Do banks charge excessive fees? Checking account fees can hit Americans when they’re most vulnerable. Low balance charges, overdrafts, ATM fees, and others can have a tremendous impact for anyone without a large buffer in their account. NerdWallet calculated the average monthly fee for a basic checking account to estimate the severity of bank fees in each city.
  • What proportion of the population is “fully banked”? A high population of unbanked citizens in a region is a sure signal that local banks and credit unions are not meeting the basic needs of the community members. NerdWallet assessed the percentage of American households in each metro area that are fully banked – those that have a bank account of some kind and have not recently relied on alternative financial services (such as payday lenders, pawn shops, etc.).

Ten best cities for consumer banking

City Bank/CU Failures per 100,000 Residents Unique Banks/CUs per 100,000 Residents Branches per 100,000 Residents Average Savings Account APY Average Monthly Checking Account Fee % of Households Fully Banked Overall Consumer Banking Score
1 Cincinnati, Ohio 0 23 123 0.08% $8.24 68.6% 71.3
2 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 0.3 26 106 0.07% $8.14 74.1% 69.5
3 Washington, DC 0 17 60 0.13% $8.10 73.2% 65.7
4 Madison, Wisconsin 0 17 57 0.06% $8.24 85.5% 65.5
5 Tulsa, Oklahoma 0 17 53 0.17% $12.00 67.9% 64.5
6 Miami, Florida 0.7 19 99 0.14% $7.88 64.7% 62.2
7 Birmingham, Alabama 1.4 29 92 0.23% $7.00 52.3% 62.1
8 Omaha, Nebraska 0.2 14 59 0.1% $6.98 78.4% 61.4
9 Irvine, California 0.5 28 55 0.08% $8.16 69.3% 61.1
10 Rochester, New York 0 16 72 0.08% $8.24 68.5% 60.1
Average over 100 cities 0.2 11 39 0.1% $8.65 68.5% 51

1. Cincinnati, OH

As NerdWallet’s best city for consumer banking two years in a row, Cincinnati’s residents are able to consistently use local banking institutions to manage and improve their personal finances. Locals have access to more than 120 branch locations per 100,000 residents, the highest amount of any city included in our study. Plus, these locations belong to any of nearly 70 different banks and credit unions that operate in the area. Cincinnati’s average checking account fee weighs in just below the national average, at roughly $8.24, but many fee-free accounts are still available at local institutions such as North Side Bank and Trust Company or Cintel Credit Union

2. Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh maintained its top-tier position at No. 2 in NerdWallet’s ranking this year, primarily by being a leader across factors such as branch access, diversity of options, banking participation, and even bank fees. The region boasts a 74.1% banking participation rate, according to the FDIC, and residents have access to more than 25 different banks or credit unions per 100,000 residents, or almost 80 in total. This provides consumers the option of choosing either a large national bank such as PNC or one of many smaller institutions like West View Savings Bank or Riverset Credit Union. Meanwhile, many local organizations dedicated to financial education and counseling help Pittsburgh residents bounce back from tough situations and contribute to the vibrant economic environment, such as Advantage Credit Counseling Service and NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania.

3. Washington, D.C.

D.C. rose three spots in this year’s study thanks in part to a higher than average savings yield (0.13% APY) and lower than average fees ($8.10). Local institutions such as American Bank and DGEFCU helped to push Washington to the third position. Our nation’s capital also touts a respectable proportion of fully banked residents, at 73.2%.

4. Madison, WI

Madison’s financial institutions charge lower checking fees on average ($8.24), and there are still plenty of community options to completely eliminate a monthly fee such as with Home Savings Bank and WEA Credit Union. The city’s banking landscape is a also stable one, with no locally based bank or credit union closures in recent years. Finally, an astounding 85.5% of the population is fully banked.

5. Tulsa, OK

Tulsa’s higher than average checking account fee is counteracted by the lack of bank and credit union closures in the area, as well as a very favorable interest rate on basic savings accounts. At 0.17% APY, the average yield is driven by local institutions like Citizens Bank of Oklahoma (0.75% APY) and helps the city remain in the top five for consumer banking this year.

6. Miami, FL

Miami residents enjoy easy access and diversity across financial institutions in the area. The city offers nearly 100 bank or credit union branches per 100,000 residents, from any of more than 70 unique institutions like First National Bank of South Miami or Financial Federal Credit Union. To sweeten the deal for locals, the average monthly fee for a basic checking account in Florida comes in much lower than average, at $7.88.

7. Birmingham, AL

Birmingham’s financial institutions sport very friendly terms for area residents, including an average checking account fee of just $7 and the highest average savings yield among the cities included in the study. Institutions like Alabama Central Credit Union and National Bank of Commerce exemplify this commitment to consumer-friendly terms. The city is also home to the widest variety of different banks and credit unions per capita, giving locals a diverse selection of institutions to choose from. Despite these positive factors, Birmingham isn’t perfect. The proportion of the population that is fully banked is rock bottom, at just 52%.

8. Omaha, NE

In Omaha, consumers can rest assured that fees aren’t eating up too much of their savings. Nebraska’s average monthly checking fee is the lowest around, at just under $7, and there are plenty of Omaha institutions that offer fee-free options such as First National Bank, Premier Bank, and Neighborhood Community Federal Credit Union. The city can also boast that a high percentage (78%) of the population is fully banked, and just one local financial institution has failed in recent years. All of these factors have helped Omaha rise to a top 10 position in this year’s study.

9. Irvine, CA

Irvine’s residents have many banks and credit unions to choose from, including locally based institutions such as Sunwest Bank. In total, the city offers more than 27 different institutions operating within the city per 100,000 residents. Consumers are also lucky to avoid exorbitant fees, with an average monthly checking fee just over $8. Even those residents who have faced financial difficulty in the past can turn to a number of helpful non-profit organizations, such as the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Orange County.

10. Rochester, NY

Rochester makes its first appearance on this annual list in part by being home to a high number of bank and credit union branches. There are more than 70 branches per 100,000 residents operating within the city, meaning that residents have more ready access to in-person financial services. Even local institutions like Genesee Regional Bank offer a number of physical branches to help reach consumers. Rochester’s ranking is also helped by a lower than average monthly checking fee, at approximately $8.24.

Methodology

The overall score for each city was derived from the following measures:

  1. Bank failures via the FDIC and closed credit unions via the NCUA.
  2. Bank branch locations via the FDIC and credit union branch locations via the NCUA.
  3. Bank and credit union savings account rates from NerdWallet’s interest rates database – use our savings rates tool to research accounts in your own ZIP code.
  4. Average checking account fees calculated as the average of the monthly fee in each state for the most basic account at each of the top 10 largest U.S. banks by deposit size. Data via NerdWallet’s checking fee database – use our checking account comparison tool to research accounts in your own zip code.
  5. Household banking status (% fully banked) via the FDIC’s National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households.
  6. Population estimates as of 2011 via the United States Census Bureau.

Woman at ATM image via Shutterstock

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