6 Best Banks and Credit Unions in California 2021

Credit Unions: In California, if you are choosing where to bank, you have well assured the best combination of low account fees, convenience, and features. Also, as well as harder-to-measure factors such as customer service.

California is known for its sunshine and coastlines, but what about its banks? As a resident of one of the largest states in the US, you have a ton of options when it comes to storing your money.

However, this article rounds up the best six banks and credit unions in California to help you pinpoint which one is right for you

Best Banks and Credit Unions in California

1. Alliant Credit Union: Best Credit Union for Fees

Alliant Credit Union is a consistently highly rated credit union and the 5th largest in the United States by assets. Founded as United Airlines Employees’ Credit Union in 1935, the Chicago headquartered credit union now operates is in California, Colorado, Texas, and Virginia in addition to its native Illinois with 11 branch locations.

Members can access 80,000 ATMs surcharge-free, though you can use an out-of-network ATM worry-free with up to $20 in monthly reimbursements for checking account holders.

The easiest route to membership is an association with its 150+ member companies or living in the local area. You can also join with a simple one-time, $5 donation to Foster Care to Success.

With great online, mobile, and phone banking options, don’t worry if you don’t live near a branch. The only thing that would inhibit is cash deposits. You can do everything else remotely without spending a cent.

2. CIT Bank: Best for online banking

CIT Bank is an online-only institution headquartered in Pasadena, California. Although it serves customers nationwide, its California roots make it a great option for those who want to bank online and support a local institution.

As of 2016, the bank has reinvested nearly $5 billion in the Southern California community to promote affordable housing, economic development, education, and access to credit.


CIT Bank offers one checking account and a slew of high-yield savings accounts and CDs. Thanks to its low overhead, it has the highest APYs of any bank or credit union on our list. The CIT Bank Money Market Account earns 1.65% APY.

Another attractive perk is that it doesn’t charge monthly fees for any account, so you won’t have to worry about meeting certain requirements every month.

The only downside is that you need at least $100 to open most accounts.

Customer Experience

CIT Bank doesn’t have an ATM network, but it reimburses up to $15 in ATM fees a month. Because it’s online-only, you won’t find any local branches in your neighborhood.

But you can reach customer service by phone or email. It has a robust mobile app, which allows you to e-deposit checks, pay bills, manage your transaction history, and more.

3. Union Bank: Best for locals

Union Bank is a regional institution with a full suite of checking and savings options. You’ll need to visit a branch to open most accounts, so it’s best for locals looking for a personal banking experience.


Union Bank has five checking account options, including a free account, an interest-bearing account, a teen account, and two business accounts.

Most savings accounts come with an ATM card, making it easy to withdraw cash on the go. Although Union Bank has some monthly fees, you have several options to avoid them.

Customer Experience

Union Bank has over 300 branches and 540 ATMs in California, Oregon, and Washington. It never charges ATM fees and offers reimbursement for operator fees.

Some accounts come with a limited number of monthly reimbursements, while others are unlimited.

This bank has extended customer service hours on weekdays and Saturdays, which is ideal if you work during normal business hours and don’t have time to get assistance during the day.

Union Bank also has a user-friendly mobile app, which allows you to deposit checks on the go, pay bills, and set up customized alerts for your account and debit card.

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4. Golden 1 Credit Union: Best for students

Golden 1 Credit Union is a California-based credit union offering a range of solid checking and savings accounts. It stands out from the pack as the best institution for students thanks to its extensive list of youth, teen, and college accounts.


All of Golden 1’s basic checking and savings accounts are free of monthly fees and have a low, $1 opening deposit. Although you’re required to keep a $100 minimum balance to earn dividends for some accounts.

The bank’s APYs aren’t the highest, but they’re still better than what you’ll find at most traditional banks.

Customer Experience

Golden 1 is part of the CO-OP ATM network, which gives its members free access to over 30,000 ATMs across the country. As with most credit unions, it’s known for its strong customer service reputation.

You can chat with a representative by phone, email, or at a local branch — giving you the ability to get help when and how you need it.

As a Golden 1 member, you get access to free financial tools that help you create a budget, organize transactions, and track your monthly spending.

5. Bank of the West: Best for businesses

Bank of the West serves 18 states throughout the west, but it’s headquartered in San Francisco. Over the past three years, it’s won awards for great client service, excellence in consumer retail banking, and innovation in private banking.


Consumers and businesses alike can find a wide variety of checking, savings, and CD accounts at Bank of the West. It has low opening deposits, with some accounts requiring as little as $0 to get started.

There are some monthly fees, but there are fewer hoops to jump through to avoid them. Businesses may find this regional bank extra appealing thanks to its straightforward checking accounts.

It offers one basic account with 100 monthly transactions and a premium account with unlimited transactions.

Customer Experience

Bank of the West has 550 branches and 750 ATMs sprinkled throughout 18 states. Its online banking tools give you the power to compare your monthly spending habits, set goals, and create monthly budgets.

Its customer service options are convenient. You can chat with a customer support representative by phone, live chat on the bank’s website, or face-to-face at a local branch.

It even offers in-person appointments for those needing one-on-one help.

6. East West Bank: Best for ATM access

East West is one of the largest independent banks in Southern California. It opened its doors in 1973 to serve Chinese-Americans in Los Angeles. Today, it has over 125 branches spread throughout the US and Greater China.


East West Bank has a string of checking and savings accounts, including those specifically for students and seniors. Perhaps its biggest perk is that most accounts come with an ATM or debit card, so you can access your money on the go.

Most checking accounts are free to open and maintain. There are monthly fees for some savings accounts, but you can avoid them when you meet certain direct deposit or minimum balance requirements.

Customer Experience

East West Bank has over 130 branches in the US and China. It partners with Allpoint and MoneyPass to bring you over 88,000 free ATMs worldwide.

This means that even if you bank with this regional institution, you’ll have free access to your money wherever you go. Customer service is available on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. PT and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT.

You can also send a secure message on its website or visit a local branch if you prefer.

6 Best Banks and Credit Unions in California of 2021


1. Who regulates California banks?

The California Department of Business Oversight’s Division of Financial Institutions oversees state-licensed banks and credit unions in California. National banks are regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC).

2. How many banks are in California?

There’s a total of 191 banks and 423 credit unions in California. Combined, these institutions have nearly 8,000 branch locations spread throughout the state.

3. What bank has the most branches in California?

Wells Fargo is one of the nation’s largest banks with nearly 986 branches in California. Although it has the largest number of locations in the California area, Chase Bank comes in a close second at 973 locations.

California has a lot to offer when it comes to banking options. Whether you’re looking for high APYs or a personal banking experience, there’s bound to be an institution that’s right for you.

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