While the popularity of online banks has been growing, plenty of Americans still want to save, earn interest — and visit a branch.
How popular do branch networks remain? Just over half of retail banking customers use branches exclusively or in combination with online or mobile banking, according to a 2020 study by J.D. Power & Associates. On average, bank-dependent customers visited a bank branch 1.5 times per month. (While these stats are from before COVID, post-pandemic, branches won’t be going anywhere either, according to consulting firm Oliver Wyman.)
Of course, one of the biggest reasons many of us still prefer bank branches is human contact — since face time inevitably makes it easier to make complex transactions and solve problems. In fact, the overall customer satisfaction rating for retail banks is 824 points on J. D. Powers’ 1,000 point scale, 23 points higher than the rating for online-only banks.
That’s not to say that retail banks have ignored online and mobile banking. On the contrary, as digital banking spreads, national banks have developed excellent online tools that rival those of many popular online banks. However, convenience comes at a cost — national banks still lag behind online banks in terms of the interest rates they offer.
To pick 2020’s Best National Bank, we reviewed account terms for flagship accounts at the 23 largest retail banks — those with over $100 billion in deposits. As with all our Best Banks winners, we paid close attention to interest rates and fees. For the Best National Bank category, we gave extra consideration to geographic reach and branch locations. Finally, we took into account what customers said about each bank’s mobile app experience.
Best National Bank: Capital One
Why it Wins: While Capital One doesn’t have the most bank branches, its generous interest rates, lack of fees, and large affiliated ATM network make it Money’s Best National Bank for 2020.
As of October 7, balances in Capital One’s 360 Checking account earned interest of 0.1%. While that may not sound like much, rates for checking accounts at other big banks we reviewed ranged from 0.01% to 0.05%, if they paid interest at all. The 0.5% interest rate on Capital One's 360 Savings account is also consistently higher than other big banks, many of which pay as little as 0.01%.
But, given how hard it is to make money no matter where you stash your savings, interest rates alone don’t make Capital One the Best National Bank. Capital One also stands out because it has a $0 opening balance requirement on all of its accounts (although you do have to fund the account within the first 60 days of opening) and charges no monthly service fees, no out-of-network ATM fees (although you may be subject to fees charged by the ATM owner), and no foreign transaction fees, which is not common among large retail banks.
Capital One currently has over 400 bank branches and 40 Capital One Cafés (a combination of a full-service branch with the laid back atmosphere of a coffee house). You can open an account at a Capital One branch, Café, or online in a matter of minutes. Once you have an account, you’ll have access to over 40,000 ATMs around the country. Look for Capital One ATMs at bank branches (even though they may be closed due to COVID at the moment) or use your card at any of the green and yellow Allpoint network ATMs.
Capital One’s mobile app is highly rated on both iTunes (4.8 out of 5 stars) and Google Play (4.7 out of 5) and allows you to access and manage all your accounts, deposit checks, transfer funds, and pay bills online. You can also make secure person-to-person payments with the popular digital payment network Zelle, or use the app to make card-free purchases with Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay.
Caveat: Capital One’s 400-plus branch network isn’t as extensive as some of its top competitors such as Bank of America (4,400) or Chase (5,100), so if you don’t happen to live near one and aren’t a big fan of online or mobile banking, this may not be the best bank for you. If that’s the case, you may want to consider one of the other banks we evaluated.
TD Bank: We liked TD Bank because it doesn’t have a minimum opening balance for either its checking or savings accounts and has over 1,200 bank branches throughout the U.S., which is about triple what Capital One has.
Although the bank charges a monthly service fee of $15 on its Convenience Checking account and a $5 service fee on its Simple Savings account, both are fairly easy to waive by maintaining a reasonable minimum balance ($100 on the checking account and $300 on the savings account).
However, TD doesn’t pay interest in its checking account and only pays 0.05% on its savings account.
PNC Bank: Another great option is PNC’s Virtual Wallet product line, which combines a simple checking account, called the Spend account, with an interest-earning checking account (Reserve) and an interest-earning savings account (Growth), basically giving you three accounts in one.
You can open a Virtual Wallet account with as little as $25 at one of PNC’s 2,300 bank branches or with $0 online. PNC charges a relatively low monthly service fee of $7 on its checking portion, but that can be easily waived by maintaining a minimum monthly balance of $500 in either the Reserve or Spend account.
While the interest rates on the Reserve and Growth accounts start at a minimal rate (0.01% and 0.02% to 0.03% respectively), you can increase it if you meet certain transaction requirements. Finally, you can earn up to $50 in cash-back rewards when you open a Virtual Wallet Account.
To produce this year’s Best Bank rankings, Money reviewed account information for 23 of the biggest traditional banks that have both branches and online banking and deposits of over $100 billion. The account information included account minimums and qualifications, interest rates, monthly service fees, ATM fees, overdraft fees, overdraft protection fees, insufficient funds fees, debit card replacement fees, domestic wire transfer fees, and online banking capabilities. When selecting finalists, priority was given to checking and savings accounts with no or easily waived monthly fees, free ATMs, and higher interest rates. In naming free accounts, we assumed customers would be okay with receiving e-statements to avoid a monthly fee. Money’s editorial team fact-checked the information in October.