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7 Best Banks and Credit Unions in California

Feb 9, 2022

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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.

Best banks and credit unions in California

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

  • Discover Bank: Online bank with solid CDs.

  • Alliant Credit Union: Online credit union with high rates, no overdraft fees.

  • Chase: Solid checking, national bank.

  • Varo Bank: Online bank with no fees.

  • Ally Bank: Online bank with market-leading rates, no overdraft fees.

  • Capital One 360: Online bank with great rates, forgiving overdraft policy.

  • Golden 1 Credit Union: Strong credit union.

» Check out some of NerdWallet’s best banks and credit unions nationwide

Why you can trust NerdWallet: Our writers and editors follow strict editorial guidelines to ensure fairness and accuracy in our coverage to help you choose the financial accounts that work best for you. See our criteria for evaluating banks and credit unions.

7 Best Banks and Credit Unions in California

Discover Bank

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Discover Bank

Why we like it

Checking and savings options: Discover's Cashback Debit isn't currently accepting new customers. When it's available, the account doesn't pay interest, but customers 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.

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Alliant Credit Union

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Alliant Credit Union

Why we like it

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 2.60% 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.

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Chase
Learn more

at Chase, Member FDIC

Chase

3.5

NerdWallet rating 
Chase
Learn more

at Chase, Member FDIC


Why we like it

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 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.

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Varo Bank
Learn more

at Varo Bank, Member FDIC

Varo Bank

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Varo Bank
Learn more

at Varo Bank, Member FDIC


Why we like it

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: 3.00% APY is the standard rate. You can earn 5.00% APY for balances of up to $5,000 for each month you receive direct deposits totaling at least $1,000 and maintain a positive checking and savings balance at the end of the month. 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.

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.

More information from Varo: Varo says: "Annual Percentage Yields (APY) are accurate as of December 1st, 2022. Rates may change at any time without prior notice, before or after the account is opened.

The requirements must be met within the Qualifying Period begins on the first calendar day of the month and ends at close of business (4:25 pm MST/ 3:25 pm MDT) on the last business day of the month. Meet the requirements in the current month to qualify to earn 5.00% APY for the following month.

Qualifying direct deposits are electronic deposits of your paycheck, pension or government benefits (such as Social Security or unemployment) from your employer or government agency. Tax refunds and government stimulus payments, Person-to-Person payments (such as Venmo), and funds deposited using a Varo routing number are not considered a direct deposit.

Be aware that interest is paid in whole cents only."

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Ally Bank

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Ally Bank

Why we like it

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.

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Capital One

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Capital One

Why we like it

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 3.00% APY on all balances. Its CD rates are also attractive — five-year certificates earn 4.25% 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.

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Golden 1 Credit Union

4.0

NerdWallet rating 
Golden 1 Credit Union

Why we like it

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.

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Savings info for the best banks and credit unions in California

Financial institution

Savings rate

Minimum deposit to open

Discover Bank

3.00%.

$0.

Alliant Credit Union

2.60%.

$5.

Chase Bank

0.01% (effective 8/6/2021; rates are variable and subject to change).

$0.

Varo Bank

3.00%.

$0.

Ally Bank

3.00%.

$0.

Capital One 360

3.00%.

$0.

Golden 1 Credit Union

0.05%.

$1.

Lower fees, better rates
Find out how much you could be earning with the best online savings accounts.

Last updated on February 9, 2022

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 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.

To recap our selections...

NerdWallet's 7 Best Banks and Credit Unions in California