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By Leslie Cook
October 26, 2021
Three people are moving the big bank vault.
Janice Chang for Money

National banks offer the security of a brand name along with the convenience of hundreds -- and often thousands -- of bank branches, where you can find a real person to help with complicated financial needs like taking out a loan or opening an individual retirement account.

And, although you will typically still find the highest possible interest rates at online banks or through credit unions, big bank brands have been working hard to improve their online and mobile tools, so, at least when it comes to convenience, you can have the best of both worlds.

Our top picks for best national banks of 2021-2022

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Best national banks reviews

To find the best national bank, Money looked for low fees and a top-notch branch experience at 20 of the largest retail banks by assets. (You can read in-depth about our methodology below.)

Here are our favorites:

Capital One is our top pick because of its higher-than-usual interest rates, low opening balance requirement and zero fees.

Pros:

  • Highest interest rates in category
  • No account fees (other than a $35 overdraft fee)
  • No ATM fees
  • Earn up to 5% cash back on rewards credit cards.

Cons:

  • Few physical branches
  • No ATM card with savings accounts

With Capital One, you can earn a higher interest rate on both checking and savings accounts than at other national banks we considered. That includes 0.40% interest on the bank’s flagship 360 Savings Account, compared to 0.01% to 0.05% at most other banks. And, while 0.10% offered by the 360 Checking Account might not sound like much, most other big banks don’t offer any interest at all on this type of account. There are no maintenance fees for either account.

With one of Capital One’s many Rewards credit cards, you can earn between 1% and 5% cash back on purchases at select stores. You’ll also have access to over 70,000 ATMs nationwide, including Capital One-branded ATMs and the Allpoint and MoneyPass ATM networks. Best of all, Capital One's 360 checking accounts don’t charge any fees for using out-of-network ATMs. (Although the ATM owner may charge one).

Make sure you open a Capital One checking account though, as the bank’s savings accounts don’t provide an ATM card. Capital One has only about 400 branches in nine states, including New York, Louisiana and Texas. That does include Capital One Cafes — coffee shops where you can sip your latte while bank “ambassadors” provide assistance. Still, compared to larger banks like Wells Fargo, which has close to 5,000 branches, Capital One is limited in terms of physical locations.

Bank of America — Best Customer Service

Bank of America offers a high level of customer service across both its online platform and its brick-and-mortar branches.

Pros:

  • Highest ranked national bank by JD Power for its online presence
  • Non-BoA ATM fees waived for the first six months
  • Monthly maintenance fees can be easily waived
  • Thousands of branches and ATMs

Cons:

  • Opening account balance requirements are higher compared to other big banks.
  • Account maintenance fees are higher than other banks.

Bank of America is the highest-rated national bank on this year’s JD Power Online Banking Satisfaction Study, obtaining a score of 871 on a 1,000 point scale. And BofA’s online banking is backed up by a network of over 4,100 brick-and-mortar locations across the country, making it easy to find one if you need to make a large cash withdrawal or take out a cashier’s check.

With Bank of America, you’ll also have access to over 17,000 ATMs nationwide. While using a BoA ATM won’t cost you anything, there is a $2.50 charge for using a non-BoA ATM in the US, although that is slightly lower than the $3 fee charged by many banks. Best of all, non-BoA ATM fees are waived for the first six months after opening an account.

The Wells Fargo mobile app provides 24/7 access to all its banking products, takes advantage of biometrics for quick, secure logins, and enjoys the highest user rating among all national bank apps we looked at, with many users praising its ease of use.

Pros:

  • Highest user-rated mobile app of all national banks we considered
  • Access to all Wells Fargo banking products
  • Mobile check deposits
  • Allows for auto bill pay and mobile payment

Cons:

  • The app can be glitchy after updates.
  • Wells Fargo has been fined several times by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

When we looked at the mobile apps for the top 25 national banks, the Wells Fargo mobile app was the highest rated by users, garnering a 4.8 star rating on Google Play. Most users praised the app's ease of use and the ability to conduct all their banking transactions without ever having to step into a bank branch as their favorite features.

The Wells Fargo app lets you manage your accounts from anywhere and at any time. You can quickly see account transactions such as recent deposits, payments and purchases made on your credit or debit card. The app allows you to check your account balances, transfer funds or link your account to Zelle, a person-to-person payment app that allows you to send or receive money. You can also set up account alerts and automatic bill payments on your phone.

Security is also a top priority with the Wells Fargo app. Instead of using a password, you can set up a secure biometric login using either your fingerprint or facial recognition to access your accounts. While biometrics is becoming much more common, it's still not universally available. If mobile banking isn’t enough, Wells Fargo has close to 5,000 bank branches across the country, the largest number of brick-and-mortar locations of any of the national banks we reviewed.

As with any app, updates can cause glitches. Most of the negative customer reviews of the app mention problems making direct deposits, failure to recognize fingerprints or passwords, or getting logged out without notice. Most glitches seem to occur after an app update has been installed or when downloaded onto a new phone.

Charles Schwab is our top pick for its low fees across a number of different accounts and services as well as its low opening balance requirements.

Pros:

  • No monthly maintenance fees
  • Unlimited rebates of non-Schwab ATM fees for cash withdrawals
  • Checking and savings accounts can earn interest.
  • No minimum opening balances

Cons:

  • Only one checking and one savings account option

Although it’s better known as a place to trade stocks, Schwab’s High Yield Investor Checking and Savings accounts offer a solid option for anyone interested in combining their investment accounts with regular banking accounts within the same financial institution. Schwab’s bank doesn’t charge any fees for a slew of services, including incoming wire transfers and foreign transaction fees on purchases with your Schwab debit card, which is unusual for many banks.

There are no fees at ATMs where Schwab’s debit card is accepted and you can get an unlimited number of ATM fee rebates when withdrawing money from any ATM worldwide. The opening balance for either the checking or savings accounts is $0, and while the High Yield Checking account can only be opened when linked to Schwab One investment account, there’s no minimum balance requirement.

You can earn interest on both the checking and savings account, but it’s on the lower end of the spectrum. The High Yield Checking account pays 0.03% interest, which is high compared to most traditional bank offerings but lower than the rates you can find online and at credit unions. The interest rate is a little better on the High Yield Savings account, where you can earn 0.05%, although you can find higher rates elsewhere.

Citibank’s Accelerate Savings account offers one of the highest interest rates of any national bank, making Citibank our pick for the best bank for high yields.

Pros:

  • Savings account pays 0.50%, one of the highest rates among the national banks we looked at.
  • No minimum opening balance
  • Relatively low non-Citibank ATM fee
  • Low maintenance fee

Cons:

  • Must be opened in conjunction with a banking package that links the savings accounts with other Citi accounts such as a checking account
  • ATM fee reimbursements not available in all packages
  • Some banking packages are not available in all states.

Citibank’s Accelerate Savings account caught our eye because you can earn 0.5% interest, which is much higher than the typical rate offered by national banks, where 0.01% to 0.05% is common, and, in fact, comparable to rates offered by many online banks.

The Accelerate packages are combinations of different checking and savings accounts that have different benefits and account fees, depending on your banking needs. We focused on the Accelerate Access Account package, which has no opening balance requirement and a monthly fee of $4.50 for a savings-only account or $10 if you have a checking account linked to a savings account. The monthly service fee can be waived by maintaining an average monthly balance of $500. There are no fees for using Citibank-branded ATMs, but there is a $2.50 fee for using a non-Citi ATM. There are no ATM fee reimbursements with this package.

The Access package is currently only available in 41 states and 8 territories and Armed Forces theaters of operation, so you’ll want to check with Citibank about accessibility (this account is not available in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia, and is available in limited areas of Florida and Illinois). There are five additional banking packages available besides the Access account package, each with different fee ranges and benefits that may be available in your area.

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How we chose the best national banks of 2021-2022:

In selecting our winners for Best National Bank, Money started with the 20 largest retail-focused banks in the country, measured by assets. Money then partnered with data provider Curinos to review 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 ATM withdrawals, and higher interest rates. In naming free accounts, we assumed customers would be okay with receiving e-statements to avoid a monthly fee.

When available, we weighed customer service ratings from J.D. Power’s 2020 U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study, 2021 Online Banking Satisfaction Survey, and 2021 Mobile Banking Satisfaction Survey. Money’s edit team independently fact-checked information in September and October.

The interest rates quoted were checked on October 25, 2021.

More from Money:

How to Save Money

How to Choose a Financial Advisor

How to Buy Gold

(An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated Capital One reimbursed foreign ATM fees and did not note out-of-network ATM owners may charge withdrawal fees.)