Best Banks 2013 - Should You Switch?

These banks may be the best, according to a new study, but are they attractive enough to pull you from your current bank?
By Ollie Geiger

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MONEY Magazine announced this month its 2013 list of the best banks in America, naming its top picks in categories such as best online bank, best midsize bank and best customer experience. But for consumers who are on the fence about leaving their current bank, the big question is: Are these winners good enough to merit a switch?

MONEY’s study examined the 40 largest U.S. retail banks by consumer deposits and the 15 largest online banks, along with the three largest credit unions. Here are the winners in the study’s 11 categories, along with notes on how these banks distinguished themselves and which types of customers may want to consider them.

Best savings account: Barclays and Synchrony Bank (tie)

Simple metrics tell the story here: Synchrony Bank and Barclays both offer savings accounts that pay in the neighborhood of 0.90 percent – many times over today’s dismal national average for savings accounts. (Note: Synchrony Bank was known by a different name in the 2013 study, but this name is effective as of June 2014).

Who should consider Barclays or Synchrony Bank for savings accounts: If you’ve had it with banks that pay less than a tenth of a percent annually on their savings accounts, these banks will move you as far from that situation as possible today.

Best online bank: Ally Bank

Ally Bank topped this competitive category on the strength of its highly competitive rates and minimal fees. Its customer service representatives – actual humans who are available by phone or instant messaging around the clock – certainly didn’t hurt either.

Who should consider Ally: If you just hate low savings account interest rates and high checking account fees, Ally’s approach to banking may be an ideal fit for you – especially if you rarely visit your local branch.

Best big bank: TD Bank

TD topped this category through some nice account perks and strong customer service, yet it should be noted that the big bank category as a whole offered the worst account terms of any bank type in the study, making TD’s victory a little easier.

Who should consider TD: If the notion of a small or online-only bank scares you, TD may your best option among the behemoths.

Best customer experience: Citizens Bank

Live phone representatives, generous branch hours and online instant messaging options sealed up this win for Citizens. Its more than 1,300 branches are open 55 hours during the week and 10 hours on weekends.

Who should consider Citizens: If you’re on a first-name basis with your teller and hate navigating automated phone menus, you’re likely to find Citizens’ emphasis on person-to-person service refreshing.

Best mobile app: Chase

Chase went against 54 other banks in the mobile-app contest and emerged a winner for its wide range of features, including remote deposit capture for checks and automated alerts that can help keep your account balance in check.

Who should consider Chase: If your smartphone or tablet has become an indispensable part of your banking routine, Chase’s cutting-edge features could make your life easier.

Best midsize banks: Capital One, Susquehanna, Zions, Bank of the West

Comprising the banks in the study that have less than 1,000 branches, this category named winners based on a broad range of attributes. Each of the top banks in this category may be worth considering – provided they offer a branch near you. None of them is available in more than 19 states.

Who should consider the top midsize banks: If you’re tired of the lousy account terms offered by many large banks but leery of the online banking world, these midsize banks may represent your sweet spot.

Best military bank: Navy Federal Credit Union

This military-oriented institution was the lone credit union to win a category, but it did so with gusto, offering free interest checking (a rarity today) and some ATM fee reimbursements. The only catch? NFCU membership is geared toward active-duty military and their families.

Who should consider Navy Federal Credit Union: If you’re active-duty military or a Defense or Coast Guard civilian employee – or you have a relative who fits one of those descriptions – this credit union may offer you terms that surpass those of most other institutions.

Best checking account: Ally Bank

Grabbing another win in a highly competitive race, Ally offers a fee-free interest checking account with a yield that rivals the savings account rate at most banks. The lack of out-of-network ATM fees sweetens this deal further.

Who should consider Ally for checking: If you have a zero-tolerance policy toward checking account fees and wouldn’t mind squeaking out a little interest, Ally’s terms are hard to beat.

Best teen and college student checking: US Bank and Citi (tie)

These winners both offer free accounts to students, as well as tools that can help teens learn basic financial and budgeting skills.

Who should consider US Bank or Citi for student checking: If you’re a student or teen who needs a checking account that’s low on fees and high on perks – or just the parent of one – these institutions have done their homework.

Best checking for established businesses: Capital One

Capital One’s Spark Business Unlimited account offers no cap on free transactions and a relatively high cash-deposit threshold, though its minimum balance and monthly fees are high.

Who should consider Capital One for business checking: If your business doesn’t have a problem keeping cash on hand and you crave a hassle-free account, you could do worse than Capital One.

Best checking for start-ups or side businesses: PNC       

The story was simple here: PNC’s Free Business Checking requires no minimum balance and charges no maintenance fees, in addition to offering a generous number of free transactions per month – all critical features for a business that hasn’t found its footing yet.

Who should consider PNC for business checking: If your business is just getting off the ground, PNC’s terms aren’t likely to get in the way of its progress.

Best 12-month CD: Synchrony Bank and Ally Bank

While Synchrony Bank recorded the highest outright rate – 1.05 percent for balances of $30,000 or more – the across-the-board rate of 0.94 percent on the Ally Bank CD may appeal to a larger audience, especially considering its minimum deposit amount of just $1.

Who should consider Synchrony and Ally Bank for CDs: If you prefer the locked-in nature of a certificate but can’t stand the horrific yields that most of them offer today, these banks are likely to offer much-needed relief.

No 13 September 2014 at 7:04 am

NFCU is the best bank. It has checking interest, lower interest rates than PFCU.

Benjamin Roy 8 May 2014 at 7:55 pm

NFCU was the top military bank? Yeah right...I would want to see the data over PFCU or USAA.

Kristine 13 November 2013 at 4:41 am

I have Ally bank and am in the process of looking for a different one. I travel frequently and unless I contact Ally in advance they will mark charges out of my normal area as potential fraud and may reject them. This has happened and I recently spoke to a live phone rep who told me I would need to contact them to apply "travel notes" to my account. They also would not increase the maximum daily ATM withdrawal amount. Overall, good to have 24/7 available operators, really wanted it to work out, but not with those policies in place.