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Money's selection criteria for the Best banks in America 2012.

Defining the field: Money started with a universe of the 40 biggest retail banks by consumer deposits and number of branches, according to financial consulting firm Novantas, plus the 10 most popular online banks. Those with more than $50 billion in deposits were contenders for "National Bank"; those with less were considered "Midsize/Regional." Reporters then collected account terms on banks' checking, savings, and one-year CD options.

Ranking checking: The leading consideration was maintenance fees and minimums to avoid those fees, followed by other charges, restrictions, and perks. We also narrowed the list by banks' performance in independent customer service studies.

Ranking savings: Money weighted rates first, followed by fees, minimums, and other rules.