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Top Ten Best Cities for Consumer Banking

March 25, 2013
Banking, Banking News
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Easy access to stable banking options with consumer-friendly products and services is one of the most critical elements of maintaining financial security for households and communities as a whole. However, such qualities vary drastically across cities of the United States.

For instance, a Pew report revealed a median monthly fee for a checking account of $10 (with a $1,500 balance required to waive the fee) in states like Minnesota and Montana. However, Massachusetts residents pay a median of $15 per month and need $6,000 to waive it.

To determine which cities are the best for consumer banking, NerdWallet compiled data on 6 different factors for the 100 most populated cities in the United States. These factors include:

  • Are local banks and credit unions stable? While the FDIC or NCUA for insures balances up to $250,000 per depositor per institution, Americans still want to know that their bank or credit union is here to stay. NerdWallet calculated the number of bank failures and closed credit union per capita in each city from 2009 through the present.
  • Do consumers have access to a diverse range of banking options? A small handful of banks can dominate the landscape in some U.S. regions. In fact, it is not uncommon for just 2 banks to hold upwards of 60% of bank deposits in certain states. NerdWallet sought variety in banking options by determining the number of unique banks and credit unions per capita available in each city.
  • Do consumers have easy access to a local branch? A Federal Reserve consumer survey found that 46% of U.S. adults chose an institution for their primary checking account due to branch locations. To estimate the convenience, NerdWallet calculated the total number of overall bank or credit union branch locations per capita within each city.
  • What will the average savings account earn in interest? In efforts to revive the U.S. economy, the Federal Reserve has voiced intent to keep interest rates low until unemployment improves, but such a policy can have adverse effects on savers. To determine where consumers are earning the most interest on their deposits, NerdWallet analyzed rates data collected from over 3,600 banks and credit unions to determine the average savings account yield in each city.
  • Do banks charge excessive fees? As mentioned above, Americans are often faced with paying hefty fees for banking products and services. NerdWallet used Pew’s report on the median checking account fee in every state to proxy the severity of bank fees in each city.
  • What proportion of the population is “fully banked”? NerdWallet assessed the percentage of American households in each metro area that are fully banked – those that have a bank account of some kind and have not recently relied on alternative financial services (such as payday lenders, pawn shops, etc.). Such services are often laden with fees, charge exorbitant interest rates and generally offer unfriendly terms and conditions for consumers.

Ten best cities for banking

1. Cincinnati, OH

Cincinnati maintains the highest number of bank or credit union branches per capita, with over 120 branch locations for every 100,000 residents. Not surprisingly, the city also has a very diverse banking landscape. Consumers can choose to bank with anyone from the behemoth Chase to local institutions like First Safety Bank. Despite the variety of options, no banks or credit unions based in Cincinnati have failed since 2009. Finally, a median checking account fee of $10 in Ohio (compared to a national median of $12) suggests lower consumer costs for basic banking services.

2. Pittsburgh, PA

Consumers in Pittsburgh have the benefit of a broad selection when it comes to their primary financial institution. NerdWallet calculated 105 branch locations per 100,000 residents (from nearly 80 different banks or credit unions) within the “Steel City” limits. Unfortunately, the added banking industry competition has not helped to cap some fees. The median checking account fee in Pennsylvania, at $14 per month, was found to be one of the highest. However, institutions like Pittsburgh Central Federal Credit Union or United American Savings Bank are among the local options with free checking accounts. Pittsburgh can also claim an above average percentage of fully banked households, at 74.1%. 

3. Madison, WI

The capital of Wisconsin should be proud of the high rate of banking participation among its population. 85.5% of all metro area households are considered fully banked by the FDIC, making this city the most successful in that category.  The fact that Madison has often been named among the most educated cities is surely a large contributing factor. In fact, some institutions like UW Credit Union are dedicated to serving the highly educated population – membership is generally available to those associated with the University of Wisconsin system.  Furthermore, Madison has seen no bank or credit union failures since 2009, and consumers have the benefit of lower than average fees. The median checking account fee in Wisconsin, as measured by a Pew report is just $10 per month, compared to a national median of $12. 

4. Tulsa, OK

Diligent savers in Tulsa can be assured that banks and credit unions in their city tend to pay a much higher interest rate (an average of 0.18%) than in other regions of the United States. TTCU Credit Union, for example, offers their members an APY of 0.35% on basic savings accounts. The city also has a relatively high diversity of banking institutions and no bank or credit union failures since 2009.

5. Birmingham, AL

This city has the highest variety of banks and credit unions (almost 29 for every 100,000 people). Residents can also take advantage of the highest average savings account rate of any top 100 city, at 0.29% (roughly 4 times the national average). Employment-based banking institutions like Energen Credit Union help lead the high yield environment with a savings account rate (or dividend) of 0.75% APY.

Despite Birmingham’s great banking options, they are underutilized. Just 52.3% (compared to the highest reported 85.5%) of households in the area are considered “fully banked” by the FDIC.

6. Washington, D.C.

Our nation’s capital holds the sixth spot with respectable results in most of the categories included in our study. No banks or credit unions have failed since 2009, and the city is home to branches from over 17 unique financial institutions per 100,000 residents. Local options include the Bank of Georgetown and FedChoice Federal Credit Union. Finally, 73.2% of D.C.-area households are considered fully banked, beating the national rate of just 68.8%.

7. Miami, FL

Miami consumers can choose to bank at any of over 75 banks or credit unions, with a total of more than 400 branch locations (98 per 100,000 residents). As the financial hub of the Southeast with close ties to the Latin American community, Miami is unsurprisingly home to the country’s largest number of international banks, such as Espirito Santo Bank and Sabadell United Bank.

8. Irvine, CA

As the only west coast city in our top 10, Irvine is most notable for its diversity of banking options. The relatively young city offers its residents 60 different banks or credit unions (nearly 28 per 100,000 residents), with branches within the city limits, including California First National Bank.

9. Buffalo, NY

Buffalo is home to M&T Bank, one of the largest banks in the U.S. However, close to 40 other banks or credit unions like First Niagara Bank and Buffalo Community Federal Credit Union operate branches within the city as well. Furthermore, the Buffalo metro area touts a fully banked proportion of 79.8%, one of the highest reported by the FDIC. 

10. Orlando, FL

Orlando customers have access to a wide variety of banks and credit unions (almost 50 in total), which together operate a significant number of branches within the city. There are about 106 branch locations for every 100,000 residents, including locally based options like Orlando Federal Credit Union. Orlando savers are also rewarded with a relatively high average savings account rate of 0.13% (Orlando FCU currently offers 0.20% APY).

City Bank/CU Failures per 100,000 Residents Unique Banks/CUs per 100,000 Residents Branches per 100,000 Residents Average Savings Account APY Median Monthly Checking Account Fee % of Households Fully Banked Overall  Consumer Banking Score
1. Cincinnati, OH








2. Pittsburgh, PA








3. Madison, WI








4. Tulsa, OK








5. Birmingham, AL








6. Washington, DC








7. Miami, FL








8. Irvine, CA








9. Buffalo, NY








10. Orlando, FL








  Average over 100 Cities









The overall score for each city was derived from the following measures:

  1. Bank failures via the FDIC and closed credit unions via the NCUA
  2. Bank branch locations via the FDIC and credit union branch locations via the NCUA
  3. Bank and credit union savings account rates from NerdWallet’s interest rates database – use our savings rates tool to research accounts in your own zip code
  4. Median checking account fees via The Pew Charitable Trust’s report on Bank Fees and Disclosures in the States
  5. Household banking status (% fully banked) via the FDIC’s National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households
  6. Population estimates as of 2011 via the United States Census Bureau