Ask the grumpies: How do I find a good bank?

Susan asks:

We’ll be leaving BofA. What recommendations do you have?

I’ve been googling and what is defined as “ethical” seems confusing (mostly synonymous with green?). I think we need: direct deposit, online/picture deposit, billpay, and ATMs, though we don’t use cash much. We’ll need to link to Vanguard. So, pretty simple, and online only is going to be fine I think, it’s been years since I’ve been to the B&M. We keep ~$10k in checking. We have a Capital One account already (from when it was ING).

I don’t know that I have good recommendations, and #2 and I have very different feelings about credit unions. (I think it’s a good idea to have both a local CU and a national bank, she is very against CU for reasons.) I will say I’m enjoying the interest on our capital one online-only account (that we opened because of a special extra cash offer), but I think people generally prefer Ally.

In terms of ethics, I have no idea, though obviously Bank of America and Wells Fargo have many strikes against them on that front.

There’s some online people who have looked at the question of ethics, as you note, but I’m not sure how trustworthy the sites are.  Here’s the ethical consumer for UK banks and here’s nerdwallet with US banks.

Mr. Millionaire says:

I love Ally (not sponsored). The only drawback is that if I want to deposit cash (side hustle), I have to buy a money order and mail it in.

gasstationwithout pumps says:

When my son and I were both looking for interest-bearing accounts, we ended up with Alliant Credit Union. For us, it is online only, except that we can use any credit-union ATM for deposits and withdrawals. The interest rate is a bit better than Ally or Capital One. It’s early days yet, but the only problem I’ve had was depositing the check for closing out the Wells Fargo account—it exceeded the maximum for ATM transactions, and I had to do a 2-step transfer (first in-person at my local credit union, then electronically from there). It is a good idea to retain one local brick-and-mortar institution in your portfolio.

Maybe the readers will have more suggestions?

8 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: How do I find a good bank?”

  1. Leah Says:

    I really like banking with Schwab. Lots of perks, like free checks. You do have to open a brokerage account, but I kept like $10 only in it for years. ATM fee reimbursement, easy to use overseas, good phone support. I’ve been with them for a decade with zero issues.

    Not like you’ll need it due to your cushion, but I once overdrew my account because I accidentally paid my credit card twice. They give you a grace period (24 or 48 hours?) to get enough money in before charging fees. Seriously good service.

  2. becca Says:

    Truthfully, just like you don’t really know if you have good health insurance until you’re sick and try to use it, you don’t really know if your bank is evil until you are poor and/or otherwise in their targeted demographic to extract fees from.

    I personally prefer my credit unions (Lake Michigan Federal and Consumers Credit Union of IL) because they offer 3%/3.09% interest on my accounts (to 15k and 10k), free ATM reimbursement, no fees for anything I want to do, good digital check deposit for LMCU (haven’t tested CCU). There are direct deposit and debit card transaction requirements to get the interest/perks, but it’s not like they cost you money when less actively used.

  3. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I’m curious about the anti-CU reasons now!

    I primarily bank with USAA and Ally, with a begrudged account at Chase because we needed a really accessible major bank for our trust account to deposit the proceeds of our home sale and it was easiest to get that done with a B&M (versus a several day or week process to open it with an online only bank). I’m pretty sure Chase has evil elements.

    • Leah Says:

      I am really not a fan of Chase and closed my account there. I only had one because they bought out Washington Mutual. In general, I don’t want to support the giant banks because I think that adds some instability to our system. My main issue with Chase is that they promised to keep a lot of perks WaMu had, and then they slowly started taking the perks away in underhanded ways as if they were improving our services.

  4. Debbie M Says:

    At one point, I decided credit unions were probably more ethical than banks, just because they are nonprofits. They are not going to be financing fracked gas lines, for example. But like you say, it’s very difficult to really know.

    I used to have an account at INGDirect/Capitol One. I added another online savings account with higher interest, but it was only higher for a while, so eventually I closed that account and decided to stop chasing interest rates.

    I never heard anything specifically bad about Capitol One, but I moved to a credit union anyway, just hoping it would be better. Like gasstationwithoutpumps, I use Alliant. You actually have to contribute some trivial amount to a specific charity to join (if you don’t otherwise qualify, which I don’t). I started with them for an HSA, which they have since discontinued, but when I was looking to switch to credit unions, I learned they paid higher interest (currently 1.95% APY) than Capitol One. And I switched my rewards credit card to them, too (2% cash back), from wherever it was (I forget).

    I have used Alliant’s online/picture deposit and bill pay, though my local credit union now finally does bill pay, so I haven’t used Alliant’s in a while. I only link to my local credit union and have not tried linking to Vanguard. Because I can transfer to my local credit union and photo-deposit checks, I haven’t used their ATMs.

    The savings rates and credit cards of my local credit union aren’t great, but I like a brick and mortar for some things. I first got them when my savings and loan was bought out the second or third time and was finally worse. So I love that they have never been bought. They did once change their checking account, so that you had three options instead of one, but all the options were worse than the original one. I actually wrote them a protest letter explaining why I thought that. I’m sure other people protested, too, because they ended up adding that version again, too. I was so impressed that they actually listed to us. So that’s part of why I stay, too.

    Hmm, none of the places I use are on any of the lists in that nice nerdwallet article. If I stopped liking Alliant or decided I needed a bank, I might look into Aspiration, the only place I’ve heard of that IS on the list. Savings interest is only 0.25% (less than $2500) or 1% (more than $2500), and their web pages are annoying, so I have no interest right now. But all ATMs are free, so that sounds pretty good, eh? You might want to check them out.

  5. Leigh Says:

    I really like Alliant! The checking account interest rate is 0.65% which is nice because we do end up keeping a decent amount in our checking account (generally it’s around $10,000) and their savings account interest rates are comparably to Ally, currently 1.95%. You can open multiple savings accounts easily and they had competitive CD rates recently as well, so we both opened some there. They reimburse ATM fees that same day in overnight processing. There’s a limit on it I believe but there’s a credit union ATM near-ish us so we don’t use very many fee ATMs to ever hit that limit. Our first batch of 100 checks was free, but we had to order some more recently and pay ourselves. I’ve been with them for about three years now I think and we’ve been with them for about two years.

    One thing I like about credit unions is that it’s easy to transfer money between members. My husband and I each have personal memberships and a joint membership and we can easily transfer personal money into the joint accounts, which is helpful.

    I do like having a B&M account like N&M say. It was super useful to deposit wedding present checks and easier to deposit the occasional amount of foreign cash/checks too. We also have a checking account at Schwab, minimal interest, but they reimburse ATM fees anywhere in the world, which is super helpful when traveling!

    I’m curious what we will end up doing for a checking account when we get the mortgage on the new place. We’ve been really happy with Alliant though, so hopefully staying there will work out!

  6. xykademiqz Says:

    I do most banking with a local credit union. Have mortgage with another local bank. Credit cards with big banks like BofA or Citi. The credit union is awesome and has all the perks of a big bank, ATMs everywhere in town (important!) plus great options for savings, linking accounts etc.

  7. Susan Says:

    Thank you!

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