If you live in the U.S., chances are you’re close to a Wells Fargo or Bank of America branch, maybe even both. They are two of the three largest banks in the U.S., which makes them some of the largest in the world.
Wells Fargo launched in 1852 during the California gold rush. Its logo is a horse-drawn stagecoach because that’s how it used to deliver packages, gold dust and bullion for its clients. Today, Wells Fargo has about 5,700 branches and 13,000 ATMs throughout the country.
Bank of America is nearly as large with over 4,400 branches. Its headquarters is in Charlotte, N.C., but it has banking locations nationwide. Now just because a bank is big doesn’t mean its products are the best. We’ve compared these two major players so you can see whether one is really better than the other.
Wells Fargo vs. Bank of America: Rates
Wells Fargo and Bank of America change their product terms and rates based on the location. This is common for large banks that work in many different areas. For this article, we used the product details from their respective headquarters: Charlotte for Bank of America and San Francisco for Wells Fargo. Depending on where you live, the product details could be different.
|Wells Fargo||Bank of America||National Average||Online Bank Average|
|Savings||Wells Fargo Way2Save® Savings: 0.01% APY
Platinum Savings: 0.05% APY
|0.03% APY||0.272% APY||1.52% APY|
|Checking||Preferred Checking: 0.01% APY
Portfolio Checking: 0.01%-0.05% APY (depending on the balance)
|None on standard account
Advantage Relationship Banking: 0.01%-0.02% APY (depending on the balance)
|0.191% APY||0.41% APY|
|1-year CD||1.45% APY||0.05% APY||1.373% APY||2.09% APY|
|5-year CD||No regular 5-year CD
5-year IRA CD: 1.60% APY
|0.75% APY||2.249% APY||2.70% APY|
For the most part, Wells Fargo pays higher rates than Bank of America. The biggest difference is for its certificates of deposit. Wells Fargo pays more than twice as much for its five-year CD, and its one-year CD rate is nearly 30 times higher. This last difference is because Bank of America barely pays anything on a one-year CD.
For checking and savings accounts, the two banks are closer. Wells Fargo pays a little more for its checking accounts. Bank of America’s regular savings rate is a little higher than Wells Fargo’s, but Wells Fargo has a high-end Platinum account that earns more. The difference is so small though that all these accounts pay nearly identical rates.
Overall, neither bank is that generous. All the Bank of America accounts pay below-average interest rates, while the only competitive account at Wells Fargo is its one-year CD. Even that one is not great compared to the average online bank. Online banks typically offer the best deals since they aren’t spending money on operating branches.
Wells Fargo vs. Bank of America: Account options
Both banks offer multiple checking accounts, which range from a low-fee option with fewer benefits to more generous accounts that pay higher interest rates but come with a higher monthly fee. For savings accounts, Wells Fargo has a little more variety because it has two choices, while Bank of America offers just one regular savings account.
But Bank of America has a better selection of CDs. You can pick fixed terms that range from 28 days to 120 months. You can also customize the number of days or months to match your exact timeline. Wells Fargo doesn’t offer as many regular CD terms. It has more choices for IRA CDs, but if you want to save outside your retirement plan, its selection is rather limited.
Both Wells Fargo and Bank of America offer bonus programs where you can qualify for higher interest rates by having a larger account balance or by having multiple accounts at the bank. The rate bonus is better than nothing, but it will not make a huge difference in how much you earn each year.
Wells Fargo vs. Bank of America: Fees
|Wells Fargo||Bank of America|
|Standard savings account||$5 monthly maintenance fee. You can avoid the fee by meeting one of the following each month:
||Free for the first 6 months, then $8 a month. Bank of America will waive the fee if you meet one of these conditions each month:
|Standard checking account||$10 monthly maintenance fee. Avoid by meeting one of the following each month:
||$12 monthly fee. To avoid the fee, you need to meet one of these requirements each month:
|ATM fee||Free at Wells Fargo ATMs. $2.50 for out-of-network transactions in the U.S. $5 for international out-of-network transactions.||Free at Bank of America ATMs. $2.50 for domestic out-of-network transactions. $5 for international out-of-network transactions.|
|Overdraft fee||$35 per overdraft, max of three per day for consumer accounts||$35, maximum of four charges per day|
When it comes to fees, Wells Fargo and Bank of America are on the expensive side, and one is not clearly better than the other. Both their standard checking and savings accounts charge a monthly fee.
Wells Fargo charges a little less for its monthly maintenance fees. But the Bank of America savings account doesn’t charge its monthly fee for the first six months. Bank of America also offers a no-frills checking account that doesn’t include checks and has a monthly fee of just $4.50 — less expensive than the accounts at Wells Fargo. That’s why we consider it a draw on maintenance fees.
For ATMs, Wells Fargo and Bank of America charge the exact same fees for out-of-network withdrawals. Their fee will be in addition to fees charged by the ATM owner. This means out-of-network withdrawals are costly for both banks.
Finally, both banks charge an identical and expensive overdraft fee. Overall, the fees are a serious downside, especially considering neither organization pays much interest.
Who should bank with Wells Fargo?
Based on the factors in this review, Wells Fargo looks like the better bank. Its rates are higher for nearly all its deposit accounts, and its average monthly fees are slightly lower. Wells Fargo also has more branches nationwide.
The one category where Bank of America looks better is for CD variety. Wells Fargo doesn’t offer as many terms for standard CDs, so if you’re looking for a specific timeline for depositing your money, you might be better at Bank of America.
While Wells Fargo looks better than Bank of America, its products are still not competitive. Its fees are high and its rates are well below average, especially when you compare them against online banks.
If you happen to live close to a Wells Fargo branch or you’re working with it for another service, like your home loan, it could be worth opening a deposit account so you can handle everything at one place. But, otherwise, there’s no real attraction.
Who should bank with Bank of America?
There is even less appeal to working with Bank of America because its accounts, for the most part, are even less competitive than the accounts from Wells Fargo. Bank of America pays below-average rates on all its products, and its standard checking account doesn’t pay anything at all. Only its most expensive, premium checking account earns interest.
The only real strength at Bank of America is it has is a wide selection of CD terms, which let you pick how many days or months for the CD term. But you’re giving up a lot of earning potential for this flexibility
Once again, the only reason to work with Bank of America is convenience. If it has plenty of its ATMs near your home or workplace, maybe opening an account makes sense so you can use them for free. But if your goal is to find a great deal for your deposit accounts, Bank of America is not the right place.
Thanks to their size, Wells Fargo and Bank of America have a ton of name recognition. We suspect people sign up with them because they don’t know what else is available. That’s a costly mistake. There are much more generous offers out there, especially when you consider online banks.
Since online banks have fewer expenses, they can pay much higher rates and their fees are lower. And yet their ATM access can be just as convenient and even better than a large bank. While an online bank won’t have its own ATMs, it typically give you a refund on fees so you can use any ATM you want at no charge.
Before settling on a large bank, make sure to consider your other options first. You can use our free tools to get the rates from over 11,000 banks and credit unions around the country. We also have bank reviews so that you can see what other people like — and what they don’t.
When you see just how much better you can do for your money, you’ll move on from the major banks.