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Best Banks and Credit Unions in California 2018

Oct. 29, 2018
best-banks
NerdWallet adheres to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Some of the products we feature are from partners. Here’s how we make money.
We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

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.

Great choices in California
Alliant Credit Union

at Alliant Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Alliant Credit Union

4.5 NerdWallet rating

Ally Bank

4.5 NerdWallet rating

Capital One 360

4.5 NerdWallet rating
Chase

at Chase,

Member, FDIC

Chase Bank

3.5 NerdWallet rating
Discover

at Discover,

Member, FDIC

Discover Bank

4.5 NerdWallet rating
Golden 1 Credit Union

at Golden 1 Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Golden 1

4.0 NerdWallet rating

Alliant Credit Union

4.5 NerdWallet rating

Alliant Credit Union

at Alliant Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Accounts: Alliant has a free checking account, but if you’re willing to meet a couple of qualifications, you can sign up for High-Rate Checking and earn 0.65% APY. Neither account has a minimum balance requirement or a monthly service fee, and both come with access to more than 80,000 free ATMs. Alliant also offers a savings account that pays 2% APY, and the credit union will reimburse you for the $5 minimum deposit.

Access: Alliant has only one branch for the public, its Chicago headquarters, but its membership requirements are inclusive, whether you live in California or any other state. 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

4.5 NerdWallet rating

Accounts: Ally’s checking account pays interest, which is hard to find, 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.

Access: 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. Accountholders can also use 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.)

Capital One 360

4.5 NerdWallet rating

Accounts: Capital One 360’s 360 Checking is a free account that pays 0.2% APY on balances of less than $50,000 and also has multiple free overdraft management options. 360 Savings doesn’t charge monthly fees, either, and you can earn a healthy 1% APY on all balances. Its CD rates are even better — five-year certificates earn 3.1% APY, and unlike many banks, there’s no minimum deposit to open one.

Access: Capital One 360 is an online bank affiliated with Capital One. Capital One’s branches are farther east, but California customers can do their banking online and at five cafes in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas. (Read more at our Capital One 360 review.)

» See other banks with stellar checking options on our roundup of best checking accounts

Chase

3.5 NerdWallet rating

Chase

at Chase,

Member, FDIC

Accounts: Of all national banks, Chase has some of the best checking options. Chase Total Checking® is its most basic account, with a monthly fee that you can get waived in several ways, such as maintaining a certain minimum daily balance or receiving direct deposits. Like its premium, interest-bearing checking options, Chase’s savings accounts and certificates of deposit have low annual percentage yields. If you’re looking for maximum growth, you’ll be better served elsewhere, such as at an online bank or credit union.

Access: Chase has 1,000 branches in California, along with thousands of 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

4.5 NerdWallet rating

Discover

at Discover,

Member, FDIC

Accounts: 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.

Access: 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

4.0 NerdWallet rating

Golden 1 Credit Union

at Golden 1 Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Accounts: The California-based credit union has solid checking and savings offerings, especially for teens and college students. None of the checking accounts charge monthly fees or have minimum balance requirements, and one earns dividends, credit unions’ version of interest.

No regular savings accounts have monthly fees, but in some cases, there’s a $100 minimum to earn dividends. The rates for both savings and savings certificates beat those of the biggest banks, but they lag behind online banks’ yields.

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

Access: 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.)

» 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 with our reviews.

Best Banks and Credit Unions in California 2018

Financial institutionInterest on savingsMinimum deposit to open
Alliant Credit Union2%$5
Ally Bank2%$0
Capital One 3601%$0
Chase Bank0.01% (effective 9/14/18; rates are variable and subject to change)$25
Discover Bank2%$0
Golden 1 Credit Union0.15%$1

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.

Financial institutions surveyed include: Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, Alliant Credit Union, Ally Bank, America First Credit Union, American Express, Aspiration, Associated Bank, Axos BankBank5 Connect, Bank7, Bank of America, Bank of the West, Barclays, BB&T, BBVA Compass, Boeing Employees Credit Union, BMO Harris, Capital One 360, Charles Schwab Bank, Chase, Chime, CIT, Citibank, Citizens AccessCitizens Bank, Comerica Bank, Commerce Bank, Connexus Credit Union, Consumers Credit Union, Discover Bank, E-Trade, Fidelity, Fifth Third Bank, First National Bank, First Tech Federal Credit Union, GoBank, Golden 1 Credit Union, GS Bank, HSBC Bank USA, Huntington Bank, KeyBank, MetaBank, M&T Bank, MovenNavy Federal Credit Union, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, PNC, Popular Direct, PurePoint Financial, Radius Bank, Redneck Bank, Regions Bank, Sallie Mae Bank, Santander Bank, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, Security Service Federal Credit Union, Service Credit Union, SimpleState Employees’ Credit Union of North Carolina, State Farm Bank, Suncoast Credit Union, SunTrust Bank, Synchrony Bank, TCF Bank, TD Bank,  TIAA BankUnion Bank, UFB Direct, USAA, U.S. Bank, Varo, Wells Fargo and Zions Bank.

How we rate banks and credit unions

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