The Biggest Banks in the United States

The Breakdown of America's Banking Giants

The term Big 4 within the banking industry refers to the four largest banks within the United States: Bank of America, Chase, Citi and Wells Fargo. With each bank holding assets in the low trillions, these institutions serve the majority of personal and business account holders in the US, reportedly holding 45% of deposits within the US.

These banks easily fall under the definition of “big banks,” and would presumably be considered (by some) too big to fail.

Get familiar with these banks so you make better choices for your banking needs. After all, you'll probably be doing business with one (or several) of the Big 4 in the future.

Bank of America

Logo : 'Bank of America'.
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Bank of America has come a long way since the early 1900s, moving from a California saloon to a skyscraper on 6th Ave. Though some may argue the bank hasn't lost certain saloon-style tactics, it's one of the most recognizable brands in banking. The bank's recent success seems to be a combination of numerous locations and anticipating trends. Oh, and merging with a little brokerage firm called Merrill Lynch. That helped too. 



Sign at Chase Manhattan Plaza.
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The Chase Bank (formally referred to as JP Morgan & Chase) of today's Big 4 is the resulting offspring of a merger between JP Morgan and Chase Manhattan Bank in 2000. Like many larger banks, Chase seems to have a penchant for mergers, snapping up Chemical Bank, Bank One, the Bank of Chicago, Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual along the path to success. 


Catherine Leblanc / Getty Images

When it comes to location globally, Citi holds the winning hand. The bank's locations span over 125 countries, making it the largest financial entity in the world. Citigroup's product lines all carry the "Citi-" prefix, making them easy to identify.  There's CitiMortgage, CitiCards, CitiFinancial, CitiCapital, Citi Investment Research-- well, you get the idea.


Wells Fargo

Carriage in Wells Fargo History Room
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Wells Fargo claims to serve one in every three US households through at least one of its business lines. If you consider all the bank's insurance, banking, and other products, it's not hard to believe. Back in 1995, when we were all cranking up our dial-up modems to use Netscape, Wells Fargo was the first bank to offer clients internet access to bank accounts. Wells Fargo is the most recent inductee to the Big 4.


Alternatives to Big Banks

Retail Banking Counter Window with Friendly Teller
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Go local: if you prefer smaller institutions, there are likely several other local banks and credit unions in your area. These organizations might be more community-minded, and you might also enjoy a more personal touch. Still not sure what a credit union is? Learn how they work.

Go online: online banks are increasingly popular, and they can even stand on their own (without the need for a brick-and-mortar bank in some cases). Rates are competitive and fees are low. However, there are some benefits to keeping access to a local branch.

There was a time when big banks offered the best selection of products and services, but that's no longer true. Small institutions sometimes even lead the way with new technologies, and big banks make it difficult to manage your money. For example, some banks charge additional fees to download your transaction history into third-party software products, and your best bet for free checking is not a big bank.

Note: this article was updated by Justin Pritchard.