Best National Banks of 2021: Low Fees, High APYs & Accessibility

A national bank is a commercial bank that is a member of the Federal Reserve System and that has locations across the country. Good national banks typically offer a broader range of financial services than local or regional banks. On top of quality customer service, the top national banks also offer lower fees, higher interest rates and access to physical branches in the majority of states. National banks are one-stop shops for many customers, particularly for those with higher-level financial planning needs, such as estate planning and wealth management, or for those who need both business and personal accounts.

Here’s a quick look at GOBankingRates’ list of the Best National Banks of 2021:

Best National Banks of 2021

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U.S. Bank

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Bank of America

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Wells Fargo

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JPMorgan Chase Bank

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PNC Bank

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To determine the Best National Banks of 2021, GOBankingRates evaluated national banks using a methodology focused on the following criteria:

  • Checking account fee
  • Savings account annual percentage yield
  • 12-month CD APY
  • BauerFinancial Star Rating for overall financial strength

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Further consideration was given as to whether or not banks offered the following services:

  • Auto loans
  • Mortgage loans
  • Credit cards
  • Investment services
  • Insurance services

Accessibility also was considered, including customer service and live chat capability. To qualify for the national bank list, a bank had to have a presence in at least 20 states.

Learn More About Each Bank

Here are the features, benefits, pros and cons of each individual bank on the Best National Banks of 2021 list.

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U.S. Bank: Best National Bank

Why we like it: U.S. Bank offers the solid financial banking of a well-known name coupled with geographic exposure over more than half of America; the bank also has a broad and deep product line, including money market accounts.

Benefits

  • Numerous account types, including money markets
  • Excellent customer service reputation

Drawbacks

  • Low checking and savings APYs

Branch Locations

2,774

State Locations

27

Checking Account Fee

$6.95

12-Month CD APY

0.05%

Savings Account APY

0.01%

Other Products

Auto Loans, Mortgage Loans, Credit Cards, Investment Services, Insurance
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Bank of America: Top National Bank

Why we like it:Bank of America boasts a highly rated mobile app and a broad product line, including investments offered through its subsidiary Merrill Lynch.

Benefits

  • Branches in 37 states
  • Broad product line
  • Strong investment partner in Merrill Lynch
  • Some checking account fees are low for the category

Drawbacks

  • Low APYs
  • High non-Bank of America ATM fees

Branch Locations

4,267

State Locations

37

Checking Account Fee

$12

12-Month CD APY

0.05%

Savings Account APY

0.01%

Other Products

Auto Loans, Mortgage Loans, Credit Cards, Investment Services (through Merrill Edge)
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Wells Fargo: Top National Bank

Why we like it: Among the major national banks, Wells Fargo offers the best rates for CD and savings accounts and CDs, coupled with 24/7 customer service.

Benefits

  • Broad range of banking products
  • For a national bank, relatively high rates for savings accounts and CDs

Drawbacks

  • Checking fees are some of the highest among national banks

Branch Locations

5,413

State Locations

37

Checking Account Fee

$10

12-Month CD APY

0.02%

Savings Account APY

0.01%

Other Products

Auto Loans, Mortgage Loans, Credit Cards, Investment Service
READ OUR FULL REVIEW

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JPMorgan Chase Bank: Top National Bank

Why we like it:Chase offers a wide range of popular credit cards and has a broad product line beyond that, in addition to a wide geographic presence that now reaches 38 states. Its global stature may be important to some customers, as well. It’s also one of the few banks that offers 24/7 customer service, including live chat with a human.

Benefits

  • Broad product line and geographic presence
  • Well-known line of credit cards
  • 24/7 customer service with a live person
  • $200 checking and $150 sign-up promotion

Drawbacks

  • Very low APYs

Branch Locations

5,014

State Locations

38

Checking Account Fee

$12

12-Month CD APY

0.05%

Savings Account APY

0.01%

Other Products

Auto Loans, Mortgage Loans, Credit Cards, Investment Services (through J.P. Morgan)
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PNC Bank: Top National Bank

Why we like it: PNC Bank has a broad product line and a decent CD APY for a big bank. Currently the smallest of the top national banks, but a strong acquisition program means that geographic reach is increasing.

Benefits

  • Broad product line
  • One of the higher CD APYs for national banks

Drawbacks

  • Low checking APY

Branch Locations

2,336

State Locations

23

Checking Account Fee

$0

12-Month CD APY

0.02%

Savings Account APY

0.01%

Other Products

Auto Loans, Mortgage Loans, Credit Cards, Investment Services, Insurance
READ OUR FULL REVIEW

How To Choose a National Bank

Once you’ve decided that you want to bank with one of the major institutions, you’ll need to determine which one is best for you. Here are some of the factors you might want to consider:

Check the Fees

Fees can vary greatly from bank to bank, and from account to account. National banks often lower fees for customers with larger deposits, so if you fall into this category, make sure to see if you can qualify for lower fees and/or higher interest rates. Look beyond the obvious expenses such as monthly maintenance fees and into fees that the banks charge for other services or events. For example, you might not send wire transfers or overdraw your account often, but most national banks charge for these services and you should be aware of them ahead of time. In many cases, overdraft fees are quite high.

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Read the Fine Print

Since banks are entrusted with customer assets, they have extensive legal departments that work up the fine print to keep the bank safe from litigation. It’s in this fine print that you’ll often find fees or restrictions that you might not be expecting. For example, your account might have inactivity fees or requirements to avoid monthly maintenance fees. Be sure to read all of the terms and conditions on your account so you can compare them with other banks.

Check the APY

For some customers, the APY a bank pays on its accounts can be one of its most important features. While some banks proudly advertise their high APYs, many of those that pay low rates tuck them away in a footnote or on a back page on their website. Since national banks, in general, are not known for high APYs on their checking and savings accounts, you might have to dig a little to find out exactly how much you’ll be earning on your accounts.

Check Out the Website and App

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A bank’s digital presence, such as their website or app might not be as important to you as a bank’s APYs and fees, but they’re still something to consider. The national banks tend to have excellent digital offers. PNC, for example, has been rebranding its checking accounts as Virtual Wallet accounts. If you intend to do most of your banking online or on your smartphone, your experience as a user can go a long way toward your long-term happiness with a bank.

FDIC Insurance

All national banks carry at least the standard FDIC insurance, which covers depositors for $250,000 per eligible account type. However, many national banks also supplement this insurance with additional private insurance, oftentimes running into the millions of dollars. If having a large level of supplemental account insurance is important to you, be sure to compare the policies of the banks you are considering.

National Banks vs. Regional Banks

National banks are more than just larger versions of regional banks. Here are some of the important differences between national banks and regional banks.

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Advantages of National Banks

  • National banks often have broader or more diverse product lines
  • National banks typically have representation in all major population centers
  • National banks often lower fees for customers with higher balances
  • National banks often have a global presence and can handle international services with aplomb

Disadvantages of National Banks 

  • It can be hard for national banks to provide the community feeling offered by many regional banks
  • National banks might not have branches in smaller communities
  • National banks often cater their accounts to a wealthier clientele
  • National banks might not have community-specific loans, bonuses or rates as some regional banks do

FAQ

Although national banks can be found in communities across the country, many customers still have questions about how they operate and what makes them different. Here’s a look at some of the most common questions regarding national banks.
  • What Makes Big Banks Different From Smaller Banks?
    • Big banks primarily differ from small banks in terms of their services and their geographic reach. Larger banks typically offer a wide variety of accounts, from checking and savings options to loans, mortgages, credit cards and investment services, among others. Smaller banks might only offer basic checking and savings accounts and perhaps some CDs.
  • Do National Banks Pay Higher Interest?
    • If you’re like one-third of Americans in a recent GOBankingRates survey, you may not be sure which types of accounts pay the highest interest. Larger banks typically pay lower interest rates than other types of banks, especially online banks. This is because large banks have extensive branch networks and a large number of employees, resulting in higher expenses. Coupled with the additional services many national banks offer, there’s not as much room to pay out the highest interest rates.
  • Are National Banks Better Than Other Kinds of Banks?
    • National banks aren’t inherently better or worse than other kinds of banks. What matters is what you need out of a bank. If you need a bank branch on every corner and someone to talk to in person about credit cards, mortgages and investments, you might find that a national bank is better than an online or regional bank. However, some states are still dominated by regional banks, in which case you might prefer the local flair of a regional bank. Do-it-yourselfers who just want a no-fee, high-APY checking or savings account might find an online bank to be a better option.
  • Is My Money Safer in a National Bank?
    • National banks share the same FDIC insurance as regional and licensed online banks. In that sense, your money isn’t any more or less safe at a national bank. However, national banks might be stronger financially than online or smaller institutions, making it less likely that they could fail. In fact, regulators often have national banks take over the accounts of failing regional banks; many people have become customers of Chase this way. Although FDIC insurance will protect you up to federally mandated limits, it’s always a good idea to check out the financials of a bank before you decide to commit money to it.

More From GOBankingRates

Methodology: To discover the Best National Banks, GOBankingRates looked at the top National institutions (located in 20 or more states) in terms of total assets size that had available published data. To determine rankings GOBankingRates looked at the following factors: (1) total assets as sourced from the FDIC; (2) number of branch locations as sourced from the FDIC; (3) checking account annual fee; (4) savings account APY rate; (5) 12-month CD APY rate; (6) customer service products offered (24/7 customer service and live chat with a human); (7) Bauer rating (out of 5 stars); (8) products/services offered (auto loans, mortgage loans, credit cards, investment services, and insurance); and (9) the average mobile app rating between the android and apple stores. All factors were then scored and combined, with the lowest score being best. Factors (1) and (4) were weighted 1.5 times, factors (2) and (8) were weighted 2 times, and actor (6) was weighted 0.5 times. For all Savings and Checking Account data only the basic accounts/products offered at each institution was analyzed. All data is up to date as of November 4, 2020, rates and fees subject to change.

John Csiszar contributed to the reporting for this article.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the bank advertiser, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. This site may be compensated through the bank advertiser Affiliate Program.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the bank advertiser, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. This site may be compensated through the bank advertiser Affiliate Program.

About the Author

Ann Logue is a writer specializing in business and finance. Her most recent book is The Complete Idiot’s Guide: Options Trading (Alpha 2016). She lives in Chicago.
Best National Banks of 2021: Low Fees, High APYs & Accessibility
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