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NerdWallet’s Best Banks and Credit Unions in the Southwest

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NerdWallet’s Best Banks in the Southwest

Vast stretches of sparsely populated land between cities and towns make the Southwest a bit of a banking desert.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t options. We’ve uncovered some of the best, like an easy-to-join credit union and a big national bank with comparatively customer-friendly terms.

Chase

3.5 stars out of 5

Chase
Learn more
at Chase Bank
If the number of branches and ATMs in your area is one of your highest priorities, then Chase Bank would treat you well. Chase offers a good overall customer experience and checking accounts, although it doesn’t have any branches in New Mexico. If you’re ready to go the other way and avoid branches altogether, consider one of NerdWallet’s favorite online banks.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best national banks

National Bank of Arizona

Not rated.

National+Bank+of+Arizona
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at National Bank of AZ
National Bank of Arizona has offices and branches in more than 50 communities across the state, so it’s bound to serve most Arizonans well.

The bank’s products are just as likely to satisfy its customers. Among checking accounts, the Green Returns account stands out as especially consumer-friendly, with:

  • No minimum balance requirement. To avoid an $8 monthly service fee, make a monthly direct deposit of at least $100, make 10 debit card transactions each month and sign up for online statements.
  • Five refunds monthly of non-National Bank of Arizona ATM fees.
  • One free custom debit card using an image you upload.

The bank’s checking and savings interest rates, on the other hand, aren’t especially enticing for typical account balances. In all, though, National Bank is a solid choice for people in Arizona, even those who travel often enough to need access to ATMs other than those at their own bank.

Nevada State Bank

Not rated.

Nevada+State+Bank
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at Nevada State Bank
Because Nevada State Bank is owned by an umbrella company called Zions Bancorporation, its customers have fee-free access to certain other banks’ ATMs. And the bank’s account features are relatively consumer-friendly: for example, if you have both a Basic Checking account and a credit card with Nevada State, you’ll avoid your monthly checking account fee just by using your credit card once a month, among other options.

Similarly, some big banks charge a fee as high as $15 for each withdrawal from savings accounts in excess of the federal limit of six per month. Nevada State’s excess-withdrawal fee is just $2 on savings accounts. (It’s $25 per transaction on money market accounts, however.)

Although Nevada State’s public-facing website could use a refresh, it’s still fairly easy to get a good overview of the bank’s accounts and tools.

Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union

Not rated.

Sandia+Laboratory+Federal+Credit+Union
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at Sandia Laboratory FCU
Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union has just a handful of branches and ATMs of its own. But the Albuquerque, New Mexico, credit union belongs to the Co-op Network, which means that its members can use about 30,000 shared ATMs around the country.

Members can also use any of more than 5,000 Co-op branches free for up to two transactions per month, with a $2 charge for each additional transaction.

The two simplest ways to be eligible for Sandia membership are:

  • Being an employee, retiree or member of one of the credit union’s participating employers and nonprofits.
  • Having a family or household member with a Sandia membership.

But you can join the credit union no matter who you are: You simply have to become a member of the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, which costs $40 annually for most individuals and $75 for a family membership. That’s a steep price just to become eligible to join a credit union, but membership to the museum also gives you free access to more than 300 other science centers around the country.

There are, of course, benefits to joining Sandia beyond access to exhibits and lectures on science and technology. Notably:

  • Several fee-free checking accounts to choose from.
  • Full-featured online and text banking and easy-to-use mobile apps for iOS and Android, both including remote check deposit.

Sandia does have some fees to watch out for, like $25 nonsufficient funds fees — lower than the national median but still significant — and $5 or $10 fees for items you deposit (like checks) that bounce.

» 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 Southwest was defined as Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. Institutions surveyed included the 15 largest banks and five largest credit unions based in the region, by deposits. Institutions from that list without a significant retail presence were excluded. Also included were financial institutions from among the nation’s 10 largest retail banks that are based outside the region but which have a significant branch presence in the three states. All data compared came from company reports compiled by federal regulators.

The financial institutions surveyed include Arizona State Credit Union, Bank of America, Bank of the West, BBVA Compass, BMO Harris, Citizens Bank of Las Cruces, Comerica Bank, Desert Schools Federal Credit Union, Heritage Bank, JPMorgan Chase Bank, Los Alamos National Bank, National Bank of Arizona, Nevada State Bank, Nusenda Credit Union, Pioneer Bank, Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union, The First National Bank of Santa Fe, U.S. Bank, Vantage West Credit Union, Wells Fargo, Western Alliance Bank and Western Commerce 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