The 8 Best Banks and Credit Unions of 2020 in the Northeast

From big banks to regional favorites

Not all banks and credit unions are created equal. But what causes rates to be so different between financial institutions? First, credit unions can usually offer better rates and perks because they’re non-profits and member-owned. Banks are for-profit and owned by Wall Street shareholders. Banks exist to not only serve their members but also drive profitability for their shareholders. These differing business models often allow credit unions to appear more attractive in their rates and terms.

The second big difference has to do with physical branch locations. These days, Internet-only banks are on the rise — because they have no physical locations with all the overhead costs that come with it, Internet banks can offer customers higher rates in exchange for doing all their banking online.

Another thing that can influence an institution’s rates: the “frills.” If you’re looking for the latest and greatest app that includes mobile check deposits and a high-tech, modern website, you’ll pay for that technology through lower rates.

Considering all of these factors, read on for our picks of the best banks and credit unions in the Northeast today.

Best Big Bank: Chase

If you find comfort in using one of the behemoth national banks, Chase claims the top spot among big banks on our list. This New-York-based bank has $2.623 trillion in assets, more than 250,000 employees, and 5,100 branches nationwide. Chase offers more services than many of its competitors, including a wide range of credit cards. And if you’re looking for the best technology, the bank’s website is easy to use, full of features that let you do the vast majority of your banking online, and in the event that you need to visit a branch, there’s likely one not far away.

But all of these perks come at a price. Chase offers some of the lowest interest rates on savings accounts and CDs, and their fees can be expensive and sometimes hard to avoid. But this is true of most of the larger banks — bigger companies don't always have better rates, unfortunately.

Want to learn more? Check out our full review of Chase.

Best Regional Bank: Santander Bank

Santander Bank (formerly Sovereign Bank) started in Spain, but if you live in the Northeast, you know that this bank feels like it’s been in the region forever. With more than $79 billion in assets and more than 650 branch locations in the region, it might feel like there’s one on every street corner. And despite the large footprint, Santander offers some outstanding perks.

As of the writing of this review, CD rates were at 1.75% (varies by branch location) for a fifteen-month CD, which is very competitive.

Best Big Credit Union: Alliant Credit Union

Founded in 1935, Alliant Credit Union is the 8th largest credit union in the United States, with assets of $9.7 billion. Alliant serves more than 385,000 members and has been rated as one of the best as well as the overall best credit union by popular bank review websites, including ours.

Its interest rate on checking accounts is 0.45%, which is much higher than what some of the big banks are offering. There are no monthly fees for its checking account, and you only need $100 to qualify for that 1.80% rate on its savings account.

Although you won’t find branches in the Northeast, you won’t have any problem banking with Alliant entirely online as long as you meet the eligibility requirements.

You can also read through our full review of Alliant Credit Union.

Best for No-Fee Checking: M&T Bank

M&T is a regional bank that holds the distinction of being profitable every quarter since 1976. Not even the well-known behemoth banks can claim that honor. With $118 billion in assets, it definitely doesn’t rank as the largest bank on our list, but you’ll like what it has to offer.

The bank’s checking account doesn’t offer any interest, but it’s completely free—a huge perk for people with low balances. You’ll find better rates on CDs at other banks and credit unions, but M&T receives high marks on its customer service, use of technology, and business banking, including a credit card with 1.5% cash back regardless of how much you spend.

Best for Low Fees: Popular Community Bank

Popular is a community bank with more than 30 locations in the New York area. It also services New Jersey and South Florida, bringing the total location count to 50. Popular is considered a mid-sized community bank but its perks are not usually seen in a bank of this size.

For starters, the bank offers a completely free checking account. Its other accounts also have fees lower than most, and it offers competitive interest rates including a 13-month CD with a 2.15% APY (limited time).

With an ATM network larger than 55,000 worldwide, you won’t have any trouble accessing your money. Plus, the mobile banking options won’t leave you feeling like they’re stuck in the '90s.

Like most banks, as your balance grows, Popular has a private client division that will offer even better rates on all of their products along with concierge service from a private banker dedicated to you.

Best for Military: Navy Federal Credit Union

If you’re a past or present servicemember or Department of Defense employee, check out Navy Federal Credit Union. You’ll find 289 branches nationwide, and because the bank exists largely for active-duty military, banking with Navy Federal is easy regardless of where you are.

Checking accounts pay 0.05% interest with rebates of up to $20 monthly at out of network ATMs. Share certificates pay an impressive 2.25% on two-year terms, with rates as high as 3.50% if you can keep your money deposited for longer. The savings account offers 0.25%.

For those who qualify, Navy Federal Credit Union has credit cards as low as 7.99% (as always, it isn't a good idea to apply for a credit card with the idea of holding a balance).

Best for Low Balances: Digital Federal Credit Union

At Digital Federal Credit Union, there is a rate of 6.17% APY on the first $1,000 you deposit into a Digital Federal Credit Union savings account. That's pretty impressive, but once you pass that benchmark the rate drops to 0.25% — more in line with standard rates. For accounts with higher balances, you can lock in a rate of 1.41%. And if you use an out of network ATM, Digital offers a $10 monthly reimbursement on those fees.

Other perks and rates are standard to slightly below average, but if you live in the Boston area, Digital is a better option than the average bank. And it definitely beats out other credit unions.

Keep in mind that the numbers don’t tell the entire story. As part of your personal evaluation, ask the financial institution questions about the features that are important to you. 

Best Award-Winner: Hanscom Federal Credit Union

If you live in the Boston area, Hanscom Federal Credit Union should be on your shortlist with all of its “best of" awards. And with 21 branches in and around Boston, you won’t have any trouble finding one. This credit union also holds high marks for its online banking, which allows anyone can join regardless of where they live.

Eligibility requirements are simple: support one of three partner organizations for as little as $12.

Three of the four checking account options at Hanscom are free. Some even pay up to 2% cash back on debit card purchases. Savings accounts pay up to 5.00% APY, and the five-year CD pays 2.75%.