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NerdWallet’s Best Banks and Credit Unions in the Southeast

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NerdWallet’s Best Banks in the Southeast

The Southeast has much to offer: sunshine, hospitality and plenty of great financial institutions to choose from.

Here are a few favorites:

Chase

3.5 stars out of 5

Chase
Learn more
at Chase Bank
When it comes to checking accounts, Chase gives customers plenty of options. You’ll probably gravitate toward Chase Total Checking, which has a $12 monthly fee that is fairly easy to avoid. Either receive direct deposits of at least $500 a month, keep a minimum daily balance of $1,500 or have a total of $5,000 across linked Chase accounts.

Chase’s two interest-bearing checking accounts have high fees that might be hard to avoid, and their rates don’t justify the extra effort: Chase Premier Plus earns an annual percentage yield of 0.01% (note that rates are effective 12/5/2016 and are variable and subject to change). The APYs on Chase’s savings accounts and certificates of deposit are similarly low.

Chase does, however, offer 16,000 ATMs and a mobile app that lets you pay bills and upload and deposit checks while you’re at home or on the go.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best national banks

First Citizens Bank

Not rated.

First+Citizens+Bank
Learn more
at First Citizens
If you’re in either of the Carolinas, you’ve likely noticed First Citizens Bank. It has an impressive number of offices in South Carolina and more in North Carolina than Charlotte-based juggernaut Bank of America.

What’s more, some of First Citizens’ checking accounts charge no fee when you use a third-party ATM to get cash, transfer money or check your balance. The owner of that ATM may hit you with a fee, but First Citizens won’t pile on.

First Citizens’ online banking might look slightly old-fashioned, but it’s easy to use. The mobile app lets you make check deposits and provides other money-management tools.

If you bank in the Carolinas and sometimes use ATMs farther afield, Raleigh-based First Citizens could be a great pick.

PNC Bank

3.5 stars out of 5

PNC
Read full review
on NerdWallet
PNC Bank is based in Pittsburgh, but its commitment to the South appears to be strong. The bank has a respectable branch and ATM footprint spanning Alabama, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida and Kentucky.

The bank offers an innovative combination of checking and savings accounts called Virtual Wallet, which we’ve highlighted before as an excellent mobile money-management tool. Across platforms, Virtual Wallet has one of the best-looking online banking interfaces around.

Virtual Wallet’s prepackaged configuration of Spend, Growth and Reserve accounts may not be a good fit for every customer’s way of thinking about money, however. PNC’s standard checking and savings accounts are comparable to what the biggest national banks offer: slightly higher-than-average fees and slightly more confusing account names than those at smaller banks.

In all, this bank from up north does a fine job treating Southern customers to a full-service banking experience.

Suncoast Credit Union

4.0 stars out of 5

Suncoast+Credit+Union
Read full review
on NerdWallet
Becoming a Suncoast customer isn’t quite as easy as opening an account at a traditional bank. You have to qualify for membership by meeting certain requirements, such as living in a Florida county near the state’s Gulf of Mexico shoreline, graduating from Florida College or being related to a Suncoast member.

For those who are accepted, Suncoast has over 50 offices in Florida and is a Co-Op credit union, meaning members have fee-free access to 30,000 ATMs. Suncoast also belongs to another cash-machine network, called Publix Presto, providing fee-free cash withdrawals at over 1,100 more ATMs in the Southeast.

Like many credit unions, which are not-for-profit cooperatives, Suncoast provides highly favorable terms compared with what banks typically offer. Suncoast’s Smart Checking doesn’t carry monthly fees and comes with a rewards program that benefits members and, through the organization’s associated charitable giving arm, local schools.

Suncoast’s other perks include:

  • An innovative and consumer-friendly alternative to prepaid debit cards called the Solar Account.
  • Competitive rates on savings certificates, and a Smart Start Certificate account that requires just $50 to open and gives you a way to add to it automatically each month.
  • User-friendly online and mobile banking tools.

If you’re in Florida, Suncoast is worth a look.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best credit unions

Devan Goldstein is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: dgoldstein@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @devan_.

Verified Jan. 10, 2017.


METHODOLOGY

For this review, the Southeast region was defined as Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Institutions surveyed included the 15 largest banks, ranked by deposits, and the five largest credit unions, based in the region. Also included were financial institutions from among the nation’s 10 largest retail banks that are based outside the region but that have a significant branch presence in the 10 states. All data compared came from company reports compiled by federal regulators.

The financial institutions surveyed included Arvest Bank, BancorpSouth Bank, Bank of America, Bank United, BB&T, BBVA Compass, Delta Community Credit Union, Fifth Third Bank, First Citizens Bank, First Tennessee Bank, Iberiabank, JPMorgan Chase Bank, PNC Bank, Redstone Federal Credit Union, Regions Bank, State Employees’ Credit Union, Suncoast Credit Union, SunTrust, Synovus Bank, VyStar Credit Union, Wells Fargo and Whitney Bank.

NerdWallet’s overall rating is a weighted average of each category: checking, savings, CDs, customer experience and overdraft fees. Factors we consider, depending on the category, include rates and fees, ATM and branch access, account features and limits, user-facing tech and customer service. Several Nerds contribute to each financial institution’s ratings to ensure consistency and accuracy.

What the ratings mean:
5 stars out of 5 — Among the very best
4.5 stars out of 5 — Very good; only minor caveats for most customers
4 stars out of 5 — Good; issues that might make a difference to some customers
3.5 stars out of 5 — Fair; make sure strengths and weaknesses are a good match for you
3 stars out of 5 — Poor; proceed with great caution
2.5 stars out of 5 (or below) — Best to avoid