How to Find the Best Banks & Credit Unions in Santa Rosa CA
When you're ready to open a checking account and savings account, there are several good credit unions and banks in Sonoma County CA. The best credit unions and banks in Santa Rosa CA can offer high-yield savings accounts, secure checking accounts, credit union and bank credit cards and other popular banking services.
The following research by The Prime Buyer's Report identifies the best banks & credit unions in Sonoma County and issues related to choosing one.
Updated April 15, 2019
How to Find the Best Banks & Credit Unions in Santa Rosa CA
Credit unions and banks in Sonoma County are required to be licensed or chartered, which should require ongoing proof of their financial solvency and sound business practices, but various bank failures in recent history show this to be no guarantee. Who a bank is regulated or licensed by depends on the nature of the bank or credit union. The California Department of Oversight licenses banks and credit unions, except "National Banks" which are regulated by the Federal OCC (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency). National banks are distiguished by the words "national", "national association" or the initials "NA" such as Bank of America, N.A., JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Citibank, N.A.. Similarly, Federal credit unions which are distinguised by the words "federal" or the initials "FCU" are regulated by the NCUA (National Credit Union Administration) rather than the state.
In addition to bank insolvencies despite being licensed and regulated, even solvency is no guarantee of good customer service, communication, and high client satisfaction, however all banks and credit unions bearing The Prime Buyer's Report—TOP 10 symbol have passed all of the requirements for Prime Buyer's Report TOP 10 status, such as our research phone calls to their clients to verify high satisfaction, hiring only documented workers, best business practices, clean complaint record, and more.
Credit Unions and Banks in Sonoma County CA
Convenient banking is important to residents in Sonoma County, so the best banks and credit unions offer ATM machines (automated teller machines) for cash withdrawals. Many credit unions and banks also offer internet banking services including direct deposits, online bank statements, online bill paying and linked bank accounts that allow Sonoma County bank customers to easily transfer money between their savings accounts and checking accounts.
When looking to find good credit unions and best banks in Santa Rosa CA, your first step should be to visit local banks and talk with bank representatives to decide among the banking services that are best for you. There are many types of bank services to choose from, and each Sonoma County bank and credit union offers a unique combination of banking and financial services.
The most popular bank services in Sonoma County CA area are checking accounts and savings accounts. Checking accounts are bank accounts that allow you to deposit money and withdraw funds at any time by check, ATM cards or debit cards. Savings accounts are bank accounts at Sonoma County banks where money is stored for a period of time with limitations on withdrawal amounts. Savings accounts return different levels of interest depending on how much money is set aside.
Other popular bank services include personal loans, issuing credit cards, providing wire transfers (also known as electronic fund transfers) between banks, overdraft protection, cashier's checks and certified checks. Some Sonoma County banks and credit unions also offer currency exchange and international wire transfers.
Before you decide which banks and credit unions to open bank accounts with, it's best to talk directly with a banking representative from the banks or credit unions that you are considering. They can evaluate your banking needs and help you choose the bank services that will benefit you most.
Types of Banks in Sonoma County CA
Sonoma County CA is home to many types of banks. Retail banks work directly with banking customers. These local retail banks offer savings accounts, checking accounts, bank loans, credit cards and debit cards. Retail banks are grouped in the following categories:
• Commercial Banks deal mostly with deposits and loans from large companies rather than individuals.
• Community Banks are local banks with the power to make decisions locally that directly affect their customers and community bank partners. Unlike national banks, Sonoma County community banks have community-based boards and leaders who make decisions on a local level.
• Community Development Banks in Sonoma County CA provide banking services and credit lines to bank customers in underserved locations in low- and moderate-income areas. Community development banks are often certified as Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) through the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund through the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
• Private Banks are banks owned by individuals or partners. Private banks are not incorporated banks. The term private banks can also refer to non-government owned banks or non-nationalized banks. There are few private banks still in existence, as most have become incorporated banks. These private banks are different than and shouldn't be confused with banks that specialize in private banking, which provide bank services to wealthy individuals.
• Offshore Banks are those banks with main offices located outside the U.S., in countries where taxes are lower and banking regulations less strict. These offshore banks are often private banks that serve wealthy individuals.
• Sonoma County Savings Banks accept and hold savings deposits. Savings banks may be known as savings and loan banks and mutual savings banks. Savings bank investors are often voting members with control over the direction and financial goals of the savings banks. Mutual savings banks protect banking customers' bank deposits, investments and savings interest.
• Ethical Banks in Santa Rosa CA are also known as social banks, alternative banks, civic banks or sustainable banks. Sonoma County ethical banks are part of the local movement toward social and environmental responsibility and often take part in ethical investing, corporate social responsibility and fair trade banking. Many ethical banks operate with high levels of banking transparency and have narrower profit margins. This means local ethical banks in Santa Rosa CA may have fewer physical banks and operate mainly by phone and internet.
• Universal Banks are combination retail banks and investment banks. Universal banks lend to commercial and retail companies, offer offshore banking and are involved in other diverse services.
Savings Banks or Credit Unions:
Which Type of Banking is Best for You?
If you are looking for long-term banking relationships with friendly, customer-centered bank staff, some Sonoma County consumers say to choose among the smaller banks and community credit unions in Santa Rosa CA. However, national banks and regional banks may be better for you if you travel frequently due to their convenient multiple bank locations in Sonoma County, as well as throughout the areas where you regularly travel.
Banks are financial institutions that accept and hold money in personal savings accounts and checking accounts. Because many banks in Sonoma County are larger financial institutions owned by stockholders, they may offer more banking services and banking options than some smaller banks or community credit unions, but often have lower interest rates than local credit unions because banks are for-profit corporations.
The banking services at larger banks in Santa Rosa CA might include ATM machines, direct deposit services, and internet banking solutions (also referred to as online banking) such as online bill paying. Other good banks in Sonoma County CA offer linked bank accounts that allow you to easily move money between your savings accounts and checking accounts.
Some bank customers prefer the personal banking experience offered at smaller banks and community credit unions and employees credit unions.
Credit unions, including federal credit unions and community credit unions in Sonoma County, are cooperative financial institutions owned and controlled by local credit union members. Member-owned credit unions are not-for-profit organizations. Because they don't have shareholders like federal banks and commercial banks, credit unions often have higher banking interest rates for savings accounts and better bank loan terms than federal banks.
Many credit unions have special membership requirements, such as residency in Sonoma County CA. Other local credit unions in Sonoma County serve consumers who work in specific professions (such as teachers' credit unions) or belong to specific groups such as a church, school or place of work. These community credit unions include employees' credit unions, state employees' credit unions, teachers' credit unions, service credit unions, campus credit unions and firefighters' credit unions. Typically, credit union members' families can also join the credit unions even if they don't meet all of the other membership requirements.
Regulatory Agencies for Banks & Credit Unions
When you have questions about banks in Sonoma County CA or you have complaints with local banks or credit unions, it helps to know which banking regulation agency has authority. Use the list below to get in touch with the appropriate banking regulation agency regarding your Sonoma County bank or credit union.
National Bank Chains in the Sonoma County CA: All national banks located in Sonoma County are regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. National bank branches in Santa Rosa CA have the words national or national association (sometimes referred to as NA) in their names. Examples of these national banks in Sonoma County CA include Wells Fargo Bank NA and City National Bank..
State Bank & Credit Unions: California state banks, including all state licensed banks, state licensed credit unions and state licensed trust companies are regulated by the California Department of Financial Institutions (DFI).
Some state banks are state-licensed banks that have headquarters in other states but operate local banking offices in California. These out-of-state banks are regulated by the state that licenses them.
Federal Savings Banks in Santa Rosa CA: Federal savings banks are regulated by the Office of Thrift Supervision. Federal savings banks and savings and loan banks are designated with the words federal or federal association (FA). They may also have the terms federal savings bank (FSB) or federal savings and loan association (FSLA) in their names.
Federal Credit Unions in Santa Rosa CA: Federal credit unions are regulated by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). These federal credit unions use federal or FCU in their names.
FDIC Insurance Banking Customer Rights
The FDIC, or Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, is a corporation sponsored by the federal government that insures bank accounts against bank failure (including checking accounts, savings accounts, NOW accounts, certificates of deposits / CDs, and money market deposit accounts) at national banks and other qualified financial institutions.
All banking customers who open FDIC insured bank accounts or credit union accounts have certain rights that include:
• Automatic deposit insurance on all deposit accounts at FDIC insured banks up to $250,000. That FDIC insurance amount remains at that level until January 1, 2010. On that day, FDIC deposit insurance will cover bank deposits of up to $100,000.
• FDIC insurance coverage for all bank deposits at different FDIC insured banks and credit unions.
• Required notification if the bank accounts a customer opens is not covered by FDIC insurance.
• Access to your insured bank deposits if the credit unions or banks fail.
For specific information on FDIC insurance and FDIC coverage on deposits at banks & credit unions, talk with your local credit union or bank managers.
How to Open Bank Accounts at Banks & Credit Unions in Santa Rosa CA
Banking services vary among banks and credit unions in Sonoma County. That's why it's important to decide which banking services you need and do some research on banks and banking practices by talking with bank representatives before you sign up with a savings bank or employees credit union.
Before opening savings accounts or checking accounts at credit unions and banks, visit each local banks and credit union you're interested in and talk with financial representatives about their banking services. Banks and credit unions offer unique combinations of banking and financial services, and narrowing down the list to the bank services you will really use can help you make the best decision on the credit unions and banks that are best for you.
When you are ready to open new savings accounts or checking accounts at banks or credit unions, you will be asked to provide identification (such as a driver's license), Social Security number or Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), and make a minimum initial deposit (either cash or check). Other identification or personal banking information may be required, so talk with banking representatives at credit unions & banks about their requirements to set up new bank accounts to be sure you qualify.
Some banks and credit unions offer the option to open bank accounts online. This may require you to print, sign and mail official documents before your new bank account is created, so read the fine print carefully. It's important to check with the banking services representatives to find out what information you will need to bring with you in order to open new bank accounts.
How to Save Money on Banking Fees at Credit Unions & Banks in Santa Rosa CA
Most people open bank accounts at credit unions and banks in Sonoma County to safely store and save money. But if you're not careful which banks and banking options you choose, you can end up wasting money on high banking fees. The researchers and editors at The Prime Buyer's Report have compiled this helpful list of ways you can save money on bank fees at community credit unions and savings banks in Sonoma County.
Opt Out of "Overdraft Protection": Fee based overdraft programs are a growing source of profits for banks. This is because they are not subject to the same laws as traditional lines of credit which put caps on the amount of interest that lenders can charge. For example, if you bounce a $20 check and the bank automatically allows the check to clear in return for a $25 overdraft protection fee automatically debited from your account, you've just paid over 100% interest, something that would otherwise be considered illegal usury.
In times past, the check would be returned and there might be a $5 fee for bouncing the check. But with "overdraft protection", the bank is allowed to make automatic debits which take precedence over other checks you've written, meaning their application of the overdraft protection fee may actually cause more of your checks to bounce, with each one racking up another hefty fee, leading to a cascade effect that can end up suddenly costing you hundreds of dollars. Many bank customers are unaware that each account they open automatically comes with this controversial aspect. Ask the bank if the account includes this fee program and consider notifying them you want to "opt out" of overdraft protection. By opting out, bounced checks should be handled the way they used to be, overdrawn checks will be returned and only a small fee assessed. Confirm that is the case with the Sonoma County bank or credit union you choose.
No frills checking options / Flat fee checking accounts: If you're like many bank customers in this age of ATM cards, credit cards and debit cards, chances are you don't write as many checks as you used to. Many of the best banks in Santa Rosa CA can offer no-frills checking accounts, also called flat fee checking accounts. These bank accounts save you from paying checking fees.
Linked bank accounts: Many local community banks and employees credit unions offer linked bank accounts. This service ties your checking accounts and savings accounts together so you can easily transfer money between your bank accounts. These linked bank accounts can help you maintain the minimum checking balance that some banks require by automatically transferring funds from your savings account to your checking account when your bank account balance drops below minimum bank account balances.
ATM / Automated Teller Machines: Make sure the Sonoma County banks and local community credit unions you're considering have free ATM withdrawals if you commonly make cash withdrawals at ATM machines. Some banks in Santa Rosa CA charge several dollars for all ATM transactions at ATM machines from their banks or competitor banks.
Direct deposit bank accounts: Direct deposit banking is a time-saving banking service that most good banks in Sonoma County now offer. Direct deposit allows your employer to send funds directly to your bank accounts instead of writing out traditional checks. Many of the best banks in Santa Rosa CA offer free checking or low-cost checking if you have set up a direct deposit checking account.
NOW bank accounts / interest bearing bank accounts: Some banks require high minimum balances on checking accounts and savings accounts. If you have a hard time maintaining these minimum bank account balances, look into lowering the interest rate on your savings account. Even though you won't earn as much interest on these NOW bank accounts and interest bank accounts, you may save money by avoiding high bank account balance fees.
How to Deal with Credit Unions & Banks in Santa Rosa CA
Consider several banks or credit unions in Sonoma County before making your decision. There are many different types of credit unions and banks in Santa Rosa CA, and if you take time choosing among them, you'll be much more likely to find the best banks and credit unions for you.
The Prime Buyer's Report lists these banks and credit unions in Sonoma County: North Coast Bank Santa Rosa CA, Exchange Bank Santa Rosa CA, Sonoma Valley Bank Sonoma CA, North Coast Bank Healdsburg CA, Sterling Savings Bank Sebastopol CA, Summit State Bank: Rohnert Park Rohnert Park CA, Cal State Central Credit Union Rohnert Park CA, First Community Bank Petaluma Petaluma CA. Other credit unions and banks that might still serve Sonoma County CA include: Sonoma Federal Credit Union Santa Rosa CA, Redwood Credit Union Santa Rosa CA, Community First Credit Union Santa Rosa CA, Sonoma County Grange Credit Union Santa Rosa CA, First Republic Bank Santa Rosa CA, US Bank Santa Rosa Santa Rosa CA, Bank of America Santa Rosa CA, Wells Fargo Santa Rosa Santa Rosa CA, Sonoma Bank Sonoma CA, Sterling Savings Bank Healdsburg CA, Wachovia Bank Petaluma Petaluma CA.
Questions for Sonoma County Banks and Credit Unions
Decide which banking services are most important to you before you choose among the many good banks and community credit unions in Sonoma County CA. Use the following questions as a guide when you talk with banking representatives from each of the best commercial banks and city credit unions in Santa Rosa CA.
• Do the savings banks and community credit unions have ATMs? Are there ATM fees associated with those banks?
• Are you allowed to "opt out" of their overdraft protection fee process?
• Do you meet the membership requirements at the federal credit unions and community credit unions?
• Can you open savings accounts and checking accounts at the commercial banks and credit unions?
• What are the current interest rates on savings accounts at savings banks and financial credit unions?
• Do the credit unions and banks offer special banking services such as direct deposit banking, online bill paying services or free checking?
• Do the banks or employees credit unions have national bank or regional bank branches? If not, how can you access your bank accounts if you are out of Sonoma County CA?
• Ask bank representatives and credit union staff to tell you details about their bank fee schedules, bank service charges, overdraft fees and minimum bank account balance requirements.
• What are the bank hours for the credit unions & banks?
• Are the banking funds you deposit at federal banks and community credit unions FDIC insured?
Final Decisions Among Sonoma County Banks & Credit Unions
Once you've talked with some of the good banks and credit unions in Sonoma County CA, you should have an idea of which are best able to meet your banking needs.
Narrow down your list by comparing your notes from each of the banks or credit unions, and take into account the various banking services offered at each. It should be clear which banks and credit unions are the best fit for your banking needs.
Get Bank Service Details in Writing From Prospective Banks & Credit Unions
Make sure you get the banking agreements in writing from the banks and credit unions. This includes bank service details such as minimum balance requirements, overdraft fees, ATM fees, savings account interest and bank fees for additional banking services and online banking service.
Know Your Rights When it Comes to Banking in Sonoma County CA
Because you're dealing with banks and credit unions in Sonoma County CA, you are protected by various services including the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
If you have complaints or problems with any of the banks in Sonoma County CA, the first step is to contact an officer at your Sonoma County bank or credit union and direct the complaint with them. If your local credit union or bank is unwilling or unable to work with you, contact the California Department of Consumer Affairs or the California Department of Financial Institutions or the bank regulatory agency that is responsible for oversight of your Sonoma County bank or credit union.
For help deciding which banking regulation office is responsible for oversight of your Sonoma County bank, call your banking representatives directly or see the above Prime Buyer's Report article, "Financial Institution Regulation Agencies for National & Sonoma County Banks."
Resources About Local Banks & Credit Unions in Santa Rosa CA
Regulatory Bodies & Trade Associations for Local Credit Unions and Banks in Sonoma County CA:
CBA California Bankers Association (http://www.calbankers.com/)
DFI California Department of Financial Institutions (http://www.dbo.ca.gov/About_DBO/organization/dfi.asp)
CIB California Independent Bankers (http://www.cib.org/)
CBC Community Bankers of California (http://www.cboca.org/)
CCUL California Credit Union League (http://www.creditunionswork.org/)
ABA American Bankers Association (http://www.aba.com/default.htm)
ACB America's Community Bankers (http://www.acbankers.org/)
ACAMS Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (http://www.acams.org/)
BAI Bank Administration Institute (http://www.bai.org/)
BAFT Bankers Association for Finance and Trade (https://www.baft.org/home)
BBB Better Business Bureau (http://www.bbb.com/)
CSBS Conference of State Bank Supervisors (http://www.csbs.org/)
CBA Consumer Bankers Association (https://www.consumerbankers.com/)
CEBP Council for Electronic Billing and Payment (http://www.ebilling.org/)
CUNA Credit Union National Association (http://www.cuna.org/index.html)
Diamond Certified www.diamondcertified.org
ICBA Independent Community Bankers of America (http://www.icba.org/)
NAFCU National Association of Federal Credit Unions (http://www.nafcunet.org/)
NCUA National Credit Union Administration (http://www.ncua.gov/)
SOFE Society of Financial Examiners (http://www.sofe.org/)
WCCU World Council of Credit Unions (www.woccu.org/)
Media Publications for Credit Unions & Banks in Santa Rosa CA
Business Finance Magazine
Credit Union Journal
Credit Union Times
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Pensions & Investments
Wall Street Journal
The Prime Buyer's Report provides information for TOP 10 Banks & Credit Unions in Sonoma County CA within the following zip codes:
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