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We scoped out some of the best banks and credit unions in California.
Choosing a place to bank means finding the best combination of low account fees, convenience and features, as well as harder-to-measure factors such as customer service. California has no shortage of alternatives. We included online options with top interest rates to help you make the best choice.
» Check out some of NerdWallet’s best banks and credit unions nationwide
Here's a quick look at NerdWallet's best banks and credit unions in California:
Checking and savings options: Discover's Cashback Checking doesn't pay interest, but you do earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month, and there's no monthly fee. The bank's savings products earn impressive yields, and there's no required minimum deposit for savings. To open a CD, you'll have to deposit a relatively steep $2,500.
Eligibility, ATMs and branches: Discover is another all-online bank, but you can call a representative at any time of day. You can also get in touch via social media, and Discover users can withdraw cash at more than 60,000 ATMs in the U.S. (Get the details at our Discover review.)
» Renting in the Golden State? Check out the best cheap renters insurance in California
Alliant Credit Union
Checking and savings options: Alliant is among the best credit unions in California, and its free High-Rate Checking account offers 0.25% APY when you meet a couple of qualifications. There's no monthly service fee, and the account comes with access to more than 80,000 free ATMs. Alliant also offers a savings account that pays 0.60% APY, and the credit union will reimburse you for the $5 minimum deposit.
Eligibility, ATMs and branches: Alliant doesn’t have any branches, but if you’re OK with banking online, it’s an easy credit union to join. The easiest way for most people to become an Alliant member is to first become a member of the charity Foster Care to Success. There’s a $5 membership fee, but Alliant will pay that on your behalf. (See more details in our Alliant review.)
» Compare rates and features on our list of the best credit unions
Checking and savings options: Chase has some of the best checking options from a national bank. Chase Total Checking® is its basic but full-featured account, with a monthly fee that you can get waived in several ways, such as receiving direct deposits. Chase's savings accounts and certificates of deposit have low annual percentage yields, so if you're looking for maximum growth, you'll be better served elsewhere, such as at an online bank or credit union. But Chase's generous sign-up bonus can help make up some of the difference.
Eligibility, ATMs and branches: Chase has about 900 branches in California, along with about 16,000 ATMs scattered around the country. Even if you aren't near a branch, you can pay bills, send money to people and upload and deposit checks with Chase's mobile app. (For more details, see our Chase review.)
» Looking to insure your home? See the best homeowners insurance in California
Checking and savings options: Varo Bank’s offerings are simple — there’s one checking account and one savings account. The online bank’s checking account doesn’t offer interest, but it also doesn’t charge monthly fees or have a minimum balance requirement. The savings account offers tiered interest rates: 0.50% APY for any balance of at least $0.01, and 5.00% APY for balances of up to $5,000 for each month you receive direct deposits totaling at least $1,000. Varo doesn’t allow overdrafts; while it’s inconvenient that your purchase will likely be declined if you don’t have enough funds in your account, it also means you won’t be subject to any overdraft fees.
Varo says: "Annual Percentage Yield (APY) is accurate as of November 22, 2021. All Varo Savings Accounts earn 0.50% APY beginning on that date. APY is variable and is subject to change. No minimum balance required to open an account. Balance in Savings must be at least $0.01 to earn interest. To earn 3.00% APY, the Varo Savings Account must meet these requirements: Account Holder must 1) Receive total qualifying direct deposits of $1,000 or more to a Varo Bank Account or Varo Savings Account in the same qualifying period. 2) Maintain a daily balance in the Varo Savings Account that does not exceed $5,000. 3) Keep your Bank Account and Savings Account balances above or equal to $0.00 the entire calendar month. If these conditions are not met, you will earn 0.50% APY on the Savings Account balance for that period. The Qualifying Period is defined as the first day of the calendar month through the last business day of the calendar month."
Eligibility, ATMs and branches: As part of the Allpoint network, Varo offers over 55,000 fee-free ATMs with convenient retail locations. It’s an online-only bank, and doesn’t have any branches, but customers can get in touch with the bank via phone every day of the week, as well as by email and Twitter. You can only deposit cash via the over 90,000 retail locations that participate in the Green Dot network, such as 7-Eleven, CVS and Walgreens. You can deposit checks via the Varo app, which is highly rated. (Get more details from our Varo Bank review.)
Checking and savings options: Ally's checking account pays interest (the rate depends on your balance) and it doesn't charge a monthly fee. Its savings rates are among the best in the industry, and it offers a variety of CD types, including one that lets you withdraw early without a penalty.
Eligibility, ATMs and branches: Ally is an online bank without branches, but users can get customer support in multiple ways, including 24/7 phone line and live chat. Account holders can also use more than 43,000 Allpoint ATMs nationwide for free — and get $10 per month in ATM fee reimbursements for using out-of-network ATMs. (Find out if it's for you with our Ally review.)
» Learn more about your CD options with NerdWallet's list of best no-penalty CDs.
Capital One 360
Checking and savings options: Capital One 360's 360 Checking is a free account that pays 0.10% APY on all balances and also offers multiple free overdraft management options. 360 Performance Savings doesn’t charge monthly fees, either, and you can earn a healthy 0.60% APY on all balances. Its CD rates are also attractive — five-year certificates earn 2.25% APY, and unlike many banks, there’s no minimum deposit to open one.
Eligibility, ATMs and branches: Capital One 360 is an online bank affiliated with Capital One. Capital One’s branches are primarily on the east coast, but California customers can do their banking online and at nine cafes in the San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego areas. (Read more at our Capital One 360 review.)
» See other banks with stellar checking options on our list of best checking accounts
Golden 1 Credit Union
Checking and savings options: The California-based credit union has solid checking and savings offerings, especially for teens and college students. Most of the checking accounts don't charge monthly fees or have minimum balance requirements, and one earns dividends, credit unions’ version of interest, though not as much as other checking accounts on this list.
None of the savings accounts have monthly fees, and in almost all cases, you’ll earn interest on any balance of $0.01 or more. The rates for both savings and savings certificates (what credit unions call certificates of deposit) beat those of the biggest banks, but they lag behind many online banks' yields.
Eligibility, ATMs and branches: Golden 1 has its own ATMs and is part of the Co-op network, giving free access to thousands of ATMs, but the credit union's branches are only in California. Anyone who lives or works in the state can qualify for membership. (Read more about Golden One in our review.)
Best Banks and Credit Unions in California
Interest on savings
Minimum deposit to open
Alliant Credit Union
0.01% effective as of 12/14/2021. Interest rates are variable and subject to change.
Capital One 360
Golden 1 Credit Union
For this review, we only considered institutions with a retail presence in California and nationwide online institutions, taken from the same list in our standard methodology:
We took a close look at over 80 financial institutions and financial service providers, including the largest U.S. banks based on assets, internet search traffic and other factors; the nation’s largest credit unions, based on assets and membership; and other notable and/or emerging players in the industry. We rated them on criteria including annual percentage yields, minimum balances, fees, digital experience and more.
Financial institutions and providers surveyed are: Affirm, Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, Alliant Credit Union, Ally Bank, America First Credit Union, American Express National Bank, Axos Bank, Bank of America, Bank of the West, Bank5 Connect, Bank7, Barclays, BB&T (now Truist), BMO Harris, Boeing Employees Credit Union, BrioDirect, Capital One, Charles Schwab Bank, Chase, Chime, CIBC U.S., CIT Bank, Citibank, Citizens Access, Citizens Bank, Comenity Direct, ConnectOne Bank, Connexus Credit Union, Consumers Credit Union, Current, Discover Bank, E-Trade, Fifth Third Bank, First Foundation, First Tech Federal Credit Union, FNBO Direct, GO2bank, Golden 1 Credit Union, HSBC Bank, Huntington Bank, KeyBank, Lake Michigan Credit Union, LendingClub Bank, Live Oak Bank, M&T Bank, Marcus by Goldman Sachs, Monifi, Nationwide (by Axos), Navy Federal Credit Union, NBKC, One, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, PNC, Popular Direct, PurePoint Financial, Quontic Bank, Redneck Bank, Regions Bank, Revolut, Salem Five Direct, Sallie Mae Bank, Santander Bank, Scarlet, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, Security Service Federal Credit Union, Service Credit Union, State Employees’ Credit Union of North Carolina, Suncoast Credit Union, SunTrust Bank (now Truist), Synchrony Bank, TAB Bank, TCF Bank, TD Bank, TIAA Bank, U.S. Bank, UFB Direct, Union Bank, Upgrade, USAA Bank, Varo, Vio Bank, Wells Fargo and Zynlo Bank. How we rate banks and credit unions.