7 Best Banks and Credit Unions in California

Alice HolbrookNov 19, 2020
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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:

Alliant Credit Union Overall Star Rating
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  • Online credit union that pays 0.25% APY on High-Rate Checking.

  • 0.55% APY on savings.

Ally Bank Overall Star Rating
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  • Online bank without monthly fees on checking.

  • 0.50% APY on savings.

Capital One Overall Star Rating
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  • Online bank with a forgiving overdraft policy.

  • 0.40% APY on savings.

Chase Overall Star Rating
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  • 1,000 branches in the state; 16,000 ATMs nationwide

  • Low rates on savings products.

Discover Bank Overall Star Rating
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  • Online bank that pays cash back on debit card purchases.

  • 0.40% APY on savings.

Golden 1 Credit Union Overall Bank Rating
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  • Offers a variety of accounts for kids and students.

  • Middling yields on savings products.

Varo Overall Star Rating
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  • No monthly fees or minimum balance requirements.

  • 0.20% APY on savings. See below for more information on Varo's APY.

Alliant Credit Union

Alliant Credit Union Overall Star Rating
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Checking and savings options: Alliant is among the best credit unions in California, and its free High-Interest 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 0.55% APY, and the credit union will reimburse you for the $5 minimum deposit.

Eligibility, ATMs and branches: Alliant doesn’t have any branches, but its membership requirements are inclusive. You can apply by indicating your support for the charity Foster Care to Success. Alliant will make a $5 donation on your behalf. (See more details in our Alliant review.)

» Compare rates and features on our list of the best credit unions

Ally Bank

Ally Bank Overall Star Rating
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Checking and savings options: Ally's checking account pays interest, which is somewhat rare, even among online banks, 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 in touch in multiple ways, including the 24/7 phone line and live chat. Account holders can also use 43,000+ Allpoint ATMs nationwide for free — and they're entitled to $10 per month in ATM fee reimbursements. (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

Capital One Overall Star Rating
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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 0.40% APY on all balances. Its CD rates are also attractive — five-year certificates earn 0.40% 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 primarily on the east coast, but California customers can do their banking online and at six 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 roundup of best checking accounts

Chase Bank

Chase Overall Star Rating
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Checking and savings options: Chase has some of the best checking options from a national bank. Chase Total Checking® is its most basic 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.

Eligibility, ATMs and branches: Chase has about 1,000 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.)

Discover Bank

Discover Bank Overall Star Rating
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Checking and savings options: Discover's Cashback Checking doesn't pay interest, but it does earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in monthly debit card spending, 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 two networks' ATMs — more than 60,000 in the U.S. (Get the details at our Discover review.)

Golden 1 Credit Union

Golden 1 Credit Union Overall Bank Rating
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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.

No regular 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 beat those of the biggest banks, but they lag behind many online banks' yields.

» Interested in top savings options? See our list of the best high-yield accounts

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.)

Varo Bank

Varo Overall Star Rating
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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: 0.20% APY for any balance, and 3.00% APY each month you make five or more qualifying purchases with your Varo debit card and 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: "Varo Annual Percentage Yield (APY) is accurate as of March 23, 2021. This rate is variable and may change. No minimum balance required to open account. Balance in Savings Account must be at least $0.01 to earn interest."

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.)

» Want more options? Californians have many other banks and credit unions to choose from. Check out our picks for best banks and credit unions and read more of our reviews.

Best Banks and Credit Unions in California

Financial institution

Interest on savings

Minimum deposit to open

Alliant Credit Union

0.55%

$5

Ally Bank

0.50%

$0

Capital One 360

0.40%

$0

Chase Bank

0.01% (effective 9/14/20; rates are variable and subject to change)

$0

Discover Bank

0.40%

$0

Golden 1 Credit Union

0.05%

$1

Varo Bank

0.20%

$0

Best banks and credit unions in California

Here's a rundown of the best credit unions and best banks in the state of California:


METHODOLOGY

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 70 financial institutions, including the largest U.S. banks based on assets, debit card volume, Internet search traffic and other factors; the nation's largest credit unions, based on deposits as well as broad-based membership requirements; 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.