Minimums to avoid fees on basic accounts:
• $1,500 monthly balance or $500 monthly direct deposit for basic checking
• $300 balance for basic savings
• $1,000 balance for money-market account
• 0.05% on basic savings
• 0.05% on up to $10,000; 0.10% for $10,000 and up via money-market account
Why it's a winner for basic accounts: None of the mammoth banks offer truly free checking, but U.S. Bank -- fourth by number of branches -- waives the $7 to $11 monthly charge on its basic checking accounts with a relatively low direct deposit, an easier hurdle than the minimum balance since you can set it and forget it.
Other fees are lower than those of peer banks (for example, $2.50 to use an out-of-network ATM compared to $3). Plus, the bank is among only a handful offering remote check deposit via its mobile app.
Best of all? U.S. Bank ranked first for employee professionalism and competence in this year's ath Power Ideal Banking study.
Caveat: A measly rate on saving -- less than the industry average of 0.12%. But other big banks are paying even less.
Why it's a winner for senior checking: The simplest option for people 65 plus who want free checking from a big brick-and-mortar bank. Though a recent Pew study found that some senior accounts come with sneaky terms, U.S. Bank's version is in a different league. Seniors are entitled to a Premium Checking account with no maintenance fee (everyone else has to maintain a $5,000 balance or pay up to $13 a month). The account doesn't levy fees for using another bank's ATM and comes with free money orders, free cashier's checks, and a 50% discount on a safe-deposit box. And there's no minimum to avoid fees.
Caveat: It doesn't have some of the perks of our other picks -- such as paying interest or reimbursing fees that other banks charge for using their ATMs. Seniors comfortable banking electronically may be better off with Ally's package.
Don't let the shaky economy stress you out. A grand can still improve your career prospects, lower investment risk, make your home safer and more.