NextAdvisor Methodology How We Review Banks

How We Review Banks

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Setting aside savings for emergencies or future goals is a critical part of maintaining financial health. And where you keep your cash can have a major effect on how and what you save. 

The bank you choose plays a big role in your investing, saving, and spending. We believe banks can make money management easier and provide tools to help you reach your financial goals.

For the banks we review and score at NextAdvisor, we make sure to evaluate the products, features, and standards that impact your money — whether you’re opening your first high-yield savings account or adding a CD ladder to your savings strategy. We also provide you with information that could hinder those goals — such as hidden fees and banks that lack transparency about penalties or costs — to help you make an informed decision. 

While we do judge a bank’s transparency based on information readily available on its public website, we also do our best to acquire further information or clarification by reaching out to bank representatives. 

Our bank ratings and reviews are designed to give you a thorough understanding of the best banks available today and provide advice to help you make the best decision for your wallet and financial needs. 

Here’s a breakdown of our bank review process:

Editorial Independence 

Even though we partner with some of the banks we review, our bank recommendations and ratings are created independently, without influence from any banks or partners themselves. 

How We Determine Which Banks to Review

Each bank we rate has a unique variety of products and features for saving, spending, borrowing, investing, and more. Our goal is to review as many financial institutions as we can, but prioritize our reviews based on consumer interest and the banks that appear on our lists of best savings accounts, best CDs, and more. Because the banks with the most competitive rates are typically online-only or hybrid banks, these make up the majority of our reviews. However, whether a bank is reviewed or not is not indicative of its quality. 

What We Did Not Evaluate in Our Scoring

Interest rates are one of the most important things to consider when choosing a bank for your individual goals. However, these rates can change rapidly and may not be comparable across all the banks we review, so we left this detail out of our scoring methodology.

Still, we know that interest rate is a top deciding factor for many people considering a new bank, so we make an effort to highlight current rates across every review page we publish.

We also only focused on reviewing banking deposit accounts for our review (savings, checking, money market, CDs). When applicable, we do link to reviews of other products offered by the bank that we have reviewed elsewhere on NextAdvisor, including loans, credit cards, and more. 

Our Methodology

We assign each of the banks we review a star rating between zero and five using a weighted, relative ranking of several factors:

  • 35% Customer Service: How the bank rates among customer reviews and ratings from consumer protection sites and studies
  • 35% Account Options: Variety of different accounts and types of accounts offered
  • 20% Communication: Number of ways customers can contact the bank for assistance or account management
  • 10% Transactions: How customers can bank in-person, online, or using mobile. This category includes restrictions such as transaction limits or ATM fees
  • 5% Accessibility: Efforts the financial institution is making to improve banking inclusivity, including web tools, audits, and other company efforts

We understand that the needs of someone opening a checking account may be completely different from someone looking for an investment account or applying for a loan. That’s why we believe it’s always important to do your own research based on your individual goals. However, this fact also helps guide our ratings and reviews, which are based around the overall bank experience. 

First, we evaluate the bank on its customer service, including reviews and ratings from current customers. Customer service is one of the most influential factors in our rating system because it indicates how its customers perceive the business and what it offers based on their experiences. 

We look at each bank’s app ratings and reviews on Google Play and App Store to evaluate the bank’s mobile app experience. Then, we evaluated the customer service ratings from sites that either compile reviews, like Trust Pilot, or conduct independent customer experience studies, like J.D. Power’s U.S. Direct Banking Satisfaction Study. Some of the banks we review are not included on all of the studies we compare (especially smaller online banks and credit unions). In these cases, we did not penalize the banks for a lack of score, but simply did not include that criteria in the overall scoring for this category.

Next, we review each of the different banking products that each bank offers, including CDs, money market accounts, checking accounts, and high-yield savings accounts. 

Within these individual products, we also looked at the different types of each account the bank offers. For instance, Marcus by Goldman Sachs does not offer a checking or money market account. But it does have several different CD options, from traditional to no-penalty to bump-up CDs. Banks that have more account options and/or offer a variety of those account types score higher. 

With that being said, we also understand that not everyone is looking for a full-service bank. This rating category may not be as useful for you if you’re only looking for a new high-yield savings account for your emergency fund, for example. Still, a bank with a variety of account options can give you more flexibility in the future, if you decide to open a new account or your financial goals change. 

Next, we believe that contacting your bank should be easy and convenient. Some banks offer online chat, a mailing address, phone number, email, and even customer-focused social media accounts to more easily and conveniently get in touch. We research all of the options offered by the banks we review, and those with more customer service options score higher in this category. 

We also considered all the ways you can handle banking transactions. We gave the highest scores in this category to banks with the most flexibility — including the options to move money between different accounts online, via a mobile app, and ATM. 

Transaction limits are a factor in this category, too. After the pandemic-era Regulation D federal law change, consumers are no longer limited to six transaction limits per month. But some banks still have policies that restrict withdrawals. Banks with no transaction restrictions were given preference over those that do. 

Finally, we believe that banking should be easy for all. Accessibility for everyone is an important differentiating factor for any financial institution, but especially online banks without in-person options. 

To determine an accessibility score for each bank, we research both the accessibility tools currently offered (such as text-to-speech capability and a submission form for requested changes) as well as accessibility measures the bank is taking to improve its standards when banking in-person or online, such as following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), completing accessibility audits, and meeting with experts to improve their inclusivity efforts. We weight these accessibility efforts relatively to the efforts of the other banks we review. When the bank does not have a clear webpage about accessibility initiatives, we reach out to a representative for comment.