Best Banks and Credit Unions in California

If you’re looking to open an account with one of the best banks or credit unions in California, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, you will find a list of the very best banks and credit unions in the state of California, from San Francisco to Los Angeles and San Diego in Southern California.

In This Article

9 Best Banks and Credit Unions in California

Here are the best banks and credit unions in California that you can join today:

  1. Bank of America
  2. CIT Bank
  3. Wells Fargo
  4. East-West Bank
  5. Bank of the West
  6. Ally Bank
  7. U.S. Bank
  8. Golden1 Credit Union
  9. Alliant Credit Union

1. Bank of America: Best Checking Accounts in CA “Bank

Bank of America is the owner of some of the best checking accounts in California.

Being the 4th largest national bank in the United States, it has an impressive amount of branches and ATMs, both in California and nationwide.

If your top priority is accessibility, Wells Fargo, Chase, and BofA are all great options.

Let’s explore Bank of America’s 3 checking account options and discover why we thought this bank has the upper hand in this realm.

BOA Advantage Plus Checking Account

Bank of America’s Advantage Plus checking account is the best of 3 checking accounts if you plan to get full service.

It includes check writing and overdraft protection programs, among other features.

It comes with a monthly fee of $12, which is easy to waive. Just set up regular monthly deposits of at least $250 to your account, or maintain a daily balance of $1,500 or above.

BOA Advantage SafeBalance Checking Account

The Advantage SafeBalance account, instead of charging overdraft fees, simply doesn’t allow your payment to go through in case the funds aren’t enough.

While this is a perk for some, it could be a limitation for others, depending on your personal preference.

Keep in mind that this account has a $4.95 monthly fee, which you can only waive with a student discount.

BOA Advantage Relationship Checking Account

The 3rd checking account available at Bank of America is the Advantage Relationship Banking account.

It is the only checking account that earns interest, even though very low, and it has a $25 fee which can be waived if you keep at least $1,000 in the bank.

A nice perk is that if you sign up for any one of the three checking accounts, you also automatically get a chance of getting a $100 bonus.

Pros:
  • Three checking accounts options
  • no overdraft or offers a protection program
  • interest-bearing option
  • $100 bonus
  • Many branches
Cons:
  • Low APY
  • Fees

2. CIT Bank: Best Savings Accounts in CA “CIT

CIT Bank is an online banking mobile-only bank, and it is the right lender to find the best savings accounts.

Its mobile app is available for Apple or Android devices alike, and it generally gets high reviews.

The banking app includes digital account statements, transaction history, mobile transfers, mobile deposits, and other standard features.

CIT Bank’s savings account allows you to reach an excellent APY of 0.40% if you can maintain a minimum balance of at least $25,000.

Alternatively, you can get the APY if you make monthly deposits of $100 or above into your Savings Builder Account.

It’s an excellent account if you plan on building up your savings in the long term.

If you can not meet either of these two requirements, you will still get APY on your savings account, but a little lower, at 0.28%, which is still more than many other banks offer anyway.

In addition to the savings builder, CIT offers many other financial products, including money market and CDs accounts, a premium account, and more.

Pros:
  • High APY on savings account
  • Good mobile app
Cons:
  • Online banking or mobile banking only

3. Wells Fargo: Best California Bank for Locations “Wells

Wells Fargo is one of the largest banks in the United States. In California alone, it has more than 1,000 branches!

The runner-up in this category is Chase Bank, with many California branches, followed by BofA and BBVA Bank.

If you are traveling with Wells Fargo bank, you will always be covered. There are only ten states in the USA that don’t have a Wells Fargo branch.

Wells Fargo has a highly convenient ATM/branch locator, which helps you find the nearest office or ATM.

It features various financial products, including:

  • Checking accounts
  • Savings accounts
  • Credit cards
  • Mortgages
  • Investments

For people who like having all of their financial assets under control in one place, it is a perfect banking solution.

To open a checking account, you have five different options, from the standard ones to the checking accounts dedicated to teens.

Wells Fargo Checking Accounts

The standard checking account has a $10 monthly fee and requires a minimum deposit of $25.

To avoid the monthly maintenance fees, you will have to make at least ten debit card transactions each month or make sure to keep a daily minimum balance of $1,500.

Wells Fargo Savings Accounts

You will have two options for savings accounts: the regular goal-based Way2Save account or the premium Platinum Savings Account with a slightly higher APY.

If you’re looking to earn more interest, go for a CD account. At Wells Fargo, you’ll find five options of CDs accounts, which all are safe FDIC-insured investments.

Wells Fargo offers a positive banking experience both online and offline. It has mobile banking, direct deposit, online bill pay, and money transfers using the Zelle service, plus real-time updates on your investments.

Pros:
  • Large frequency of branches
  • Variety of bank accounts to choose from
  • Interest-bearing premium accounts
  • All of your financial assets in one place
Cons:
  • Minimum opening deposit
  • Service fee
  • Average APY

4. East-West Bank: Best Bank for Californian Students

East-West Bank is the perfect bank for students in California.

While it has many types of bank accounts, today, we want to dive more closely into the one devoted to students.

East-West Bank has two offers that are especially great for students: its Student Plus free checking account and its Student Plus Savings account.

Student Plus Checking Account

The Student Plus Checking account has no monthly fee. It offers many benefits like a Visa debit card delivered to you as soon as you open the account and many budgeting tools.

These can be handy for students who are typically on a strict budget and want to learn more about managing their finances.

ATM withdrawals are free, and East-West Bank even reimburses all out-of-network ATM fees at the end of each month.

The checking account doesn’t pay interest, so you should open a savings account if you would like to earn something with your bank account.

Student Plus Savings Account

To open a Student Plus Savings account, you’ll only need a $100 minimum deposit.

This student savings account has a monthly fee of $3, which can be waived if you set up a direct deposit on your account, and more importantly, it pays 0,01% APY.

Pros:
  • Best for students
  • Only $100 minimum deposit
  • Budgeting tools
  • Free ATMs and refund available
Cons:
  • No interest-bearing checking account
  • A monthly fee on the savings account (can be waived)

5. Bank of the West: Best California Regional Bank

Bank of the West is the primary subsidiary of East West Bancorp, Inc. It currently has 120+ locations between the USA and China.

Bank of The West was founded in Pasadena back in 1874 and still has most of its branches in the Golden State.

This bank offers many accounts, and it has a pretty complete offer to satisfy all of its customers.

Bank of the West Products

It features checking accounts, savings accounts, money markets, and CD accounts. In addition, it gives rewards, cashback, secured credit cards, home, and car loans.

  • Checking Account: Its checking account asks for a monthly fee of $10, which can be easily avoided by making at least a deposit each statement cycle. It has no minimum opening deposit to get you started, but don’t expect to earn interest.
  • Savings Account: To open a savings account, you will need at least a $25 balance and pay a $5 monthly fee, which can be waived. The real downside of the savings account is that its APY is very low.
  • Money Market Account: If you’d like to earn better interest, you can opt for one Bank of the West’s money market accounts. They pay more interest but keep in mind that they also have higher monthly fees. Fortunately, like for the other accounts, the fees can be waived.
  • Certificate of Deposit: CDs accounts offer the highest annual percentage yield, ranging from 32 days to five years of length.

Bank of the West also features a highly ranked customer service experience. It was named the 4th best in the whole state of California by a J.D. Power research.

Bank of the West online banking and mobile banking both have positive reviews. They let you check your balance, transfer money, pay bills, budget your funds, and much more, without ever having to visit a branch.

On the other hand, visiting your branch will also be extremely easy, and a rewarding experience, especially in California, since Bank of the West is the best regional bank. It is very attentive to its consumers.

Pros:
  • Great regional customer service
  • Many branches in California
  • Online and mobile banking
  • Choice of accounts
Cons:
  • Low APY
  • Not everywhere in the USA
  • Monthly fees (easily avoided)

6. Ally Bank: Best Online Bank “Ally

Ally is one of the many online banks – as their customer, you have to manage your finances entirely online or with the mobile app.

However, there is nothing to worry about because Ally features outstanding excellent customer service with a 24/7 phone and live chat.

Ally is the best online bank because of its customer service and its high-interest earning accounts.

Ally High Yield Checking Account

The Interest Checking Account is a free checking account with variable interest based on the balance you keep in your account.

There is 0.10% APY with a minimum daily balance below $15,000 and 0,25% APY if you can keep an average daily balance of $15,000 or above.

Ally High Yield Savings Account

The savings account earns an even higher 0.50% APY, with daily compounded interest rates.

Ally’s online banking and app are great as well and usually very highly reviewed.

Some of the best features of Ally’s app include mobile check deposits, direct deposit, an ATM locator, your balance history, and Zelle, a person-to-person money transfer service.

Regarding money withdrawals, Ally uses Allpoint ATM networks (55,000 ATMs) and reimburses up to $10 out-of-network ATM fees charged by other financial institutions per each statement cycle.

There are no minimum balance requirements and no account fees.

The only downsides to banking with Ally are that you won’t be able to deposit cash. If you like in-person interaction, you’d better read on and consider U.S. Bank.

Pros:
  • High-yield savings account
  • Convenient online only
  • Customer service
  • Access to Allpoint ATM network
  • No minimums
  • Fee-free
Cons:
  • No brick-and-mortar branch locations
  • No cash deposits

7. U.S. Bank: Best California Bank for Customer Service “US

U.S.Bank is the 5th largest bank by assets in the USA. Like many other banks this big, it has many branches and ATMs all over the country, which is pretty great.

However, it also charges a monthly fee and pays a below-average APY of only 0.01% on the standard savings account.

U.S. Bank came in second in the whole country for customer service, according to a 2017 J.D. Power satisfaction study.

Factors such as the bank’s offering, number of branches, and ability to handle customers’ complaints were evaluated in this study, proving that U.S.Bank is pretty good at handling customer service.

U.S. Bank’s presence in California includes 650 branches and a wide offering regarding financial products.

You can choose between a range of standard checking and savings accounts, plus money market accounts, loans, and credit cards.

U.S. Bank Checking Accounts

There are five different checking account options, from regular to special accounts for students and a premium interest-bearing one.

Monthly fees are high, at $8.95 a month. You can easily lower this amount by choosing online statements over paper statements.

In that case, the fee becomes $6.95 a month, which is a little better but with plenty of room for improvement.

U.S. Bank Savings Accounts

There are also five different options for savings accounts. The downside is that none of them earns a very high APY, and you always have to make sure to keep a minimum balance of $1,000. Otherwise, you may incur additional fees.

If you want to earn higher APYs, you can choose one of the U.S.Bank CDs options.

The bottom line is that this bank is pretty awesome if you aren’t afraid of paying some fee for excellent customer service and in-person interactions.

Pros:
  • A large number of branches and ATMs all over the country
  • Wide offers of financial products
  • Best customer service
Cons:
  • Low APY
  • Monthly fees

8. Golden1 Credit Union: Best Credit Union to Join in California

Some people may prefer to enroll in a credit union than a bank, thanks to better customer service and higher annual percentage yield.

Golden1 is only one of the many credit unions you can join in California. So far, there are 300 credit unions in the state, with 1,550 offices, 12.89 million members, and beyond $251.61 in assets!

Golden1, according to our research, came out on top of the other credit unions for several reasons.

Golden1 has a large number of California locations. There are more than 700 branches plus 240 ATMs.

If you travel out of state, you won’t have to worry either because Golden1 grants you access to 30,000 CO-OP ATMs nationwide for free. That’s more than other well-known credit unions such as First Technology Federal Credit Union offers.

Golden1 also pays an average amount of APY. It offers higher rates than other brick-and-mortar banks but lower rates than most online-only banking options.

The interest at Golden1 is compounded monthly, like at the majority of credit unions. If your main goal is to earn interest, find a credit union that compounds interest daily (or switch to a bank).

Golden1 Credit Union Member Requirements

First of all, as you may know, there are always specific requirements to meet to be accepted as a credit union account holder. Credit unions are more often than not industry-specific.

Golden1 lets you join with an easy minimum requirement: you have to live or at least work in California and make a minimum deposit of $1. That’s it.

Pros:
  • Easy to become a member
  • Many branches and free ATMs
  • $1 opening deposit
Cons:
  • Interest compounded monthly
  • Moderate APY

9. Alliant Credit Union: Best Online Only Credit Union “Alliant

Alliant is not technically a Californian credit union. It is from Chicago, Illinois, but it is open nationwide through online banking.

Since Alliant doesn’t have any brick-and-mortar locations in California, you’ll have to be comfortable using online banking and getting help by phone, email, or online.

Alliant’s main selling points are its high yield accounts, low service fees, and excellent customer service. Its online banking has many positive reviews.

Alliant’s checking accounts, savings accounts, and CDs all offer great APY, on the same level as major banks in the country, or even better.

Another great feature of this credit union is transparency. They do a great job at informing their members of every fee they are incurring and why.

Withdrawing money from your account with Alliant is also extremely convenient: you will get access to over 80,000 free ATMs. Alliant also reimburses ATM charges from other financial institutions for out-of-network ATM operations, up to $20 a month.

The only downside of ATM withdrawals is that Alliant has a maximum amount you can withdraw from ATMs per day. The limit is $500 a day, which could be even less if you have a history of overdrafts.

Alliant Credit Union Member Requirements

On the plus side, Alliant credit union, unlike many of the other ones out there, doesn’t strictly require its members to be residents of a specific region or serve a specific industry.

It is open to any U.S. citizen or resident nationwide.

Pros:
  • High APY on all accounts
  • Fees transparency
  • Free ATMs and refunds
  • Good customer service
  • Open nationwide
  • Convenient online banking
Cons:
  • No brick-and-mortar branches
  • Limited ATM withdrawals

How We Chose The Top Financial Institutions in California

To create this list of best banks and credit unions in California, we reviewed many financial institutions – from the largest banks in America to community banks and credit unions. Factors considered:

  • Checking accounts
  • Savings accounts
  • Minimum balances
  • Low fees
  • Accessibility
  • Customer service
  • Online experience

How do you know which bank or credit union is the best for you?

Here are eight things to consider when looking for a financial institution that is a perfect fit for your banking needs.

  1. Bank or credit union? It depends on the individual institution, of course, and it will always be a trade-off. Brick-and-mortar banks may have more branch locations in your area and be more updated with current trends technologies. In contrast, credit unions usually have better customer service and pay higher APYs.
  2. Try to find a bank that charges you as little monthly service and overdraft fees as possible. No one wants to pay extra money when the same service is offered for free somewhere else. If there is a fee, check if you can find easy options to waive it.
  3. Consider which debit card and credit card providers are tied to the bank. As we know, there are more widely accepted credit cards than others. For example, more stores accept a Visa than an American Express.
  4. Go for companies with excellent customer service. If you have a problem, how easy is it to get in touch with someone? How helpful will they be? You might not think about these questions beforehand, but they will be important for your future relationship with the bank.
  5. How many branches and ATMs are there in your area and the country? You never want to find yourself in the uncomfortable situation of not finding a free ATM or local bank when you need it.
  6. Online banking and mobile app. Nowadays, it is fundamental for a financial institution to have a user-friendly app and online banking. We want to be independent and always have ways to check and manage our finances, wherever we are.
  7. Pay attention to the annual interest rates. Is there another bank that can give you a better deal?
  8. Make security a priority. Choose a bank you trust and that comes with insurance on your deposits, better if Member FDIC.

FAQs

What is the best bank to use in California?

This question will have a different answer depending on what you consider to be the factors that qualify a bank or credit union to be “the best.”

  • Are you looking for a bank with many branches in your area because you find convenience the most important characteristic? → Wells Fargo
  • Would you like a student-friendly account? → East-West Bank
  • Is earning a high annual percentage yield on your savings important to you? → Ally Bank or CIT Bank

There is a “best bank” for every single one of these factors and more.

Read the article above if you want to explore the banks that made our list of best banks and credit unions in California and find your favorite.

We have already divided them according to their best qualities for you.

What is the best credit union in California?

The best credit union located in California is Golden 1.

We selected it over others because, beyond the benefits it offers, it’s easier to join than other major credit unions such as SchoolsFirst, which caters only to the education community.

To join Golden1 credit union, you will only have to live or work in California.

If you are a fan of online-only financial institutions, then the perfect credit union for you is Alliant. Technically from Chicago, Illinois, but available nationwide.

What is the largest credit union in California?

The largest credit union in California is SchoolsFirst.

As the name suggests, this credit union specializes in services for the education community and their family members.

It currently has more than 1.15 million members and $23.74 billion in assets.

What are the best checking account options in California?

Some other checking account options that didn’t make the cut for this list but are worth mentioning:

  • In terms of the best checking account in California, the runner-up is Citibank. It wins second best both for the checking account and the savings account categories.
  • Capital One checking accounts, with two business banking options, are great for small businesses.
  • If you are looking for a checking account that pays better APY, I suggest you look at Union Bank. It offers the best APY on checking accounts you can find in California (up to 0.05%).