Banks & Credit Unions
Our database contains information, ratings and reviews for 13,927 banking institutions, ranging from big banks with national branch networks to local community banks and credit unions near you. Compare institutions to find the options that best fit your banking needs. You can get help with how to choose among accounts in the Expert’s Answers section below. While you’re here, rate a bank you’ve done business with in the past to help others in their searches.
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How Do Banks Work?
The manner in which banks operate might seem like a rather basic topic, but given how complex financial markets have become in recent years, it’s helpful to revisit the fundamental simplicity of the industry.
Having money exactly when you need to it—and earning income on it when you don’t—is a problem as old as money itself. Banks exist to solve that problem, and have served as an intermediary between savers and borrowers since the Italian Renaissance, the Crusades, or even earlier, depending on which historians you consult.
More specifically, banks lend the funds deposited into savings accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs) to other customers, who repay the money with interest over time. Depositors entrust their money to banks for two reasons: 1) banks offer safe-keeping, borne from FDIC insurance; and 2) banks pay interest on deposits, allowing funds to grow over time. Banks, in turn, make money, by charging a higher rate of interest on their loans than what they pay on deposits. Banks can have other sources of revenue as well, including investments, fees on various services, and commissions on the sale of financial products such as mutual funds and insurance.
In addition to serving as a vector for borrowing and lending, banks play a central role in a number of other financial mechanisms. For example, banks process payments between buyers and sellers and they exchange foreign currencies. Banks also carry out governmental monetary policy by increasing or decreasing the amount of money they keep in reserve.
How Do I Choose a Bank?
When it comes to selecting a bank, the options can be overwhelming. In past generations, it was common to choose whichever institution was to your home or office, or to be lured in by special prizes such as a free toaster. These days, you might just as easily do business with a bank that’s located across the country or with an online-only bank that has no branch offices at all. Special offers also are less likely to be small kitchen appliances and more likely to be perks such as free checking, introductory interest rates, or a lump of cash to jumpstart your savings account.
But before you jump on the bank with the biggest name or the flashiest offers, take some time to identify how you’re most likely to use your account and which features are most important to you.
Do you need a brick-and-mortar location?
You may find yourself in need of a safe-deposit box. Or if questions arise, you may be the kind of person who is most comfortable with face-to-face communication. If you need access to a real building staffed by live people, prioritize your bank’s location and hours.
Bankers’ hours are notoriously short, and if your workday overlaps them completely, you might want to choose a bank that’s close to your office rather than your home, so that you can slip in at lunchtime. Or you might want to look for a bank with better hours.
Are you a technophile?
You may find access to better interest rates and fee structures by opting for an online-only bank or bank account
. By the same token, you may be able to minimize fees by opting for paperless statements, keeping tabs on your account balance electronically, and using mobile apps to locate ATMs that are within your network.
These are great opportunities, and you should take advantage of banks that offer them…if you are likely to use them. If your inbox is full of unread email notifications and your phone is loaded with unused apps, it helps to be realistic. Read through the fine print, understand the fees and penalties, and decide whether they work for your lifestyle.
Do you travel abroad extensively?
International financial transactions have never been easier or less labor-intensive. And while most banks charge special fees for international debit card transactions and ATM withdrawals, others have been able to pass the savings along to their customers.
If you’re a frequent international traveler, it definitely pays to open one of the various no foreign transaction fee credit cards that are on the market. Not only will this enable you to avoid the industry-standard 3% international surcharge, but you’ll also save a lot of money on currency conversion since Visa and MasterCard offer much better rates
than bank branches or airport kiosks. You should also look into getting a checking account that charges for neither international debit card use, nor foreign ATM withdrawals.
Is a sense of responsibility to the community important to you when it comes to banking?
Since the global financial crisis of 2008, the reputation of many banks has suffered a black eye. But the banking industry is not a monolithic entity. Many consumers who are concerned about issues like local development, fair lending, and executive salaries have turned to small community and cooperative banks as well as credit unions for their banking needs.
These institutions may be less likely to offer all the bells and whistles of their larger cousins, but their mission is to provide the immediate community with the best products and services possible. They’re worth a look at the very least.
What Does It Mean to Be FDIC Insured?
If your bank is FDIC insured, any money you put into a deposit account, along with any earned interest, will be returned to you, even if your bank fails. There are limits, of course. Insurance coverage tops out at $250,000 per depositor, per institution—not per account, as some people assume. That means if you have $125,000 in a money market account and another $125,000 in a CD at the same bank, you’ll want to open a new account at a different bank before depositing any more money in order to make everything is insured.
It’s important to note that FDIC insurance covers deposit accounts only, that is, checking, savings, CDs, and money market accounts. Other investment vehicles that banks sometimes provide, such as annuities, life insurance, and mutual funds (including money market funds), are not insured.
Most banks and thrifts (also known as savings and loan institutions), are FDIC insured, but a few are not. By law, those that are must display the FDIC logo prominently on the bank premises and in written materials. If you don’t see the logo, or if you have any doubts, ask about coverage. Credit unions are not covered by the FDIC, but they do have an insurance program of their own, sponsored by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). As is the case with banks, this provides coverage for up to $250,000 per depositor, per institution.
The FDIC, which stands for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, was founded by the U.S. government in 1933 in response to the widespread bank failures of the Great Depression. FDIC insurance is deemed necessary because bank failures can initiate a devastating domino effect involving consumers, commerce, other banks, and the overall economy. And one of the hard lessons of the 1920s and 1930s was that even healthy banks can fail when skittish customers withdraw all their deposits en masse. Deposit insurance gives depositors the assurance necessary to keep their money in the bank, even in the face of frightening economic and financial news. In that way, it protects not only the consumer, but also the banks and the economy.