Most Canadians are aware of the Big Five banks: RBC, TD, Scotiabank, BMO and CIBC. And some may even know that occasionally National Bank of Canada sneaks in and expands that list to six. But even with these accounted for, there are dozens of banks in this country, each offering its own suite of personal banking products and services. Finding the “best” is tricky, especially because it depends on the individual’s needs. Nonetheless, there are some standouts. In this article, we take a look at customer offerings from some of the best, so you can decide which works for your personal banking needs.
Best best banks in Canada
- Scotiabank — Best big bank
- Tangerine — Best for no-fee banking
- EQ Bank — Best for everyday savings
- PC Financial — Honourable mention
The best big bank for everyday banking: Scotiabank
Scotiabank was founded in 1832 and has since grown its assets to more than $850 billion, which puts it in the number three spot among the Big Five by asset size. For its customers, this translates into stability, a broad portfolio of financial products, and the convenience of thousands of physical bank branches and a network of more than 3,500 ATMs across Canada.
While any of the Big Five could claim similar advantages, Scotiabank shines in the details. They’ve created six different types of accounts with perks and benefits designed for Canadians at any stage of life. Customers under 18 years of age and students enrolled in a post-secondary institution can access its no-fee account. For adults, Scotia offers four options that balance banking needs and benefits, from the minimal Basic Banking Account at $3.95 per month, right up to the perk-laden Ultimate Account that lets you earn rewards and get credit card rebates, among other benefits, for $30.95 monthly.
Speaking of credit cards, Scotiabank carries 18, including some of the highest-earning rewards credit cards in Canada. As with their bank accounts, Scotiabank has cards tailored to a variety of Canadians, from those looking for a no-fee card, to travellers, to cash-back collectors. Notably, Scotiabank is the only Big Five bank to offer cards with no foreign transaction fees.
In addition to everyday banking accounts and credit cards, Scotia provides mortgages, loans, and lines of credit. They even have their own investing platform and offer investment accounts including RRSPs and TFSAs.
One of the main benefits of banking with a Big Five bank is that you can keep all of your financial products with one, trusted institution. With this in mind, Scotiabank offers the widest variety with the best perks and benefits.
- ATMs: 3,500+
- Bank accounts: 6
- Credit cards: 18
- Other products: Mortgages; insurance; loans; lines of credit; RRSPs, TFSAs, and other types of investment accounts
Compare Canada’s best chequing accounts
Best bank for no-fee everyday banking: Tangerine
Over the past several years, online-only banks have grown in popularity, appealing to many of the 76% of Canadians who do most of their banking digitally. Online-only banks operate their services through their website, on the phone, and on their phone apps. You don’t speak to a teller or visit a branch. Without having to meet the massive investment in those overhead costs, online-only banks have been able to offer customers no-fee everyday banking. Our favourite no-fee bank is Tangerine, an (almost) online-only bank that’s owned by Scotiabank. Although Tangerine is virtual, it does operate a handful of Tangerine Cafés in Canada’s largest cities (Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver), where customers can get in-person advice and assistance.
Tangerine’s No-Fee Daily Chequing Account gives you all of the functionality you’ll need for your everyday banking—for free. When you open an account you have to link it to an external account so you can transfer money in. Then you’ll receive a debit card that you can use to make purchases or withdraw money. All transactions take place online, on the phone, or at any of the more than 3,500 national Scotiabank ATMs (and 44,000 associated international ATMs), so you don’t have to visit a bank in person. With the No-Fee Chequing Account, you receive unlimited debit transactions and Interac e-transfers, as well as pre-authorized payments and bill payments.
The Tangerine chequing account does everything you need it to with no monthly fees, but this bank also offers savings accounts* (including RRSPs and TFSAs) and investment accounts such as GICs. And, even though they’re an online bank, they provide mortgages, loans, and lines of credit so you can take advantage of having all your accounts in one place. You can even operate a business account through Tangerine.
Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card*
- Annual fee: $0
- Earn rate: 2% cash back on up to 3 bonus categories of your choice; 0.5% on all other purchases
- Income requirement: $12,000
- Additional benefits: Purchase assurance and extended warranty
Get more details about the Tangerine Money-Back Card*
Finally, Tangerine has one of the best cash-back credit cards in Canada. The Tangerine MoneyBack Card lets you earn 2% cash back in up to three spending categories of 10: groceries, restaurants, hotel-motel, furniture, gas, recurring bill payments, home improvement, entertainment, drug store, or public transportation and parking. For those who earn a minimum of $60,000 annually (or $100,000 for the household), the World Mastercard adds Boingo Wi-Fi access, car rental and mobile device insurance, and Mastercard Airport Experiences. Neither card charges an annual fee.
- ATMs: More than 3,500 Scotiabank ATMs in Canada and 44,000 Scotiabank-affiliated international ATMs; plus Tangerine Cafés in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver
- No-Fee Daily Bank Account features: Free, unlimited debit transactions, Interac e-transfers, pre-authorized payments and bill payments
- Credit cards: 2
- Other products: Savings account; RRSPs, TFSAs, and GICs; mortgages; insurance; loans and lines of credit
Best bank for everyday savings: EQ Bank
EQ Bank is an online-only bank owned by Equitable Bank, the ninth largest in Canada. EQ is an absolute standout for its high interest savings account. At 1.50%, EQ Bank’s Savings Plus Account has a return of more than 30 times the regular rate of interest offered by most of the big banks—exciting news for those wanting to park their money in a safe and secure place without withdrawal restrictions. The EQ Savings Plus Account has no minimum deposit, no everyday banking fees, and free Interac e-transfer, EFTs, and bill payments. Every customer is eligible for up to $200,000 in deposits, and the accounts are set up for joint use. Plus, EQ Bank partners with TransferWise to give you affordable international money transfers.
EQ Savings Plus Account
- Minimum balance: None
- Free transactions per month: Unlimited
- Fee for Interac e-Transfers: Free
- Promotional Rate: None
- Interest Rate: 1.50%
Perhaps the reason why the Savings Plus Account is worth mentioning on our best banks list is that EQ Bank is focused on savings. They don’t offer a chequing account or credits cards (though you can also put your money away in one of their high-interest GICs). This means that you’ll need additional accounts with other institutions to cover chequing, credit cards, mortgages or loans. However, given the ease of their website and app—you can transferring funds at the click of a button—this seems a small price to pay for these great rates.
EQ Bank is also CDIC-insured, so your deposits are federally insured for up to $100,000, just like with the big banks. If you’re looking for safety and security, a great rate and no volatility, an EQ Bank Savings Plus Account is the best option.
- EQ Banks Savings Plus Account interest rate: 1.50%
- Features: No minimum deposit; no everyday banking fees; free Interac e-transfer; free EFTs; free bill payments; joint accounts
- GIC options: 1.8% for three months; 1.5% for six months to three years; 1.6% for four years; 1.8% for five years; 2.3% for six years; 2.35% for seven years; and, 2.7% for 10 years
- CDIC Insured: Yes, up to $100,000
Honourable mention: PC Financial
Founded in 1996, PC Financial is the financial branch of the President’s Choice (PC) flagship brand of Canada’s largest food retailer, Loblaw Companies Limited. Although not a Big Five bank, PC Financial does offer some of the security and crossover in products that you might find from others on that Big Five list. Loblaws is a massive retailer with food, drug, clothing, travel and home merchandise subsidiaries. PC Optimum Points, the currency from the bank’s loyalty program, can be redeemed towards the purchase of an array of everyday items and services. The points can be redeemed starting at 10,000 points and in increments of 10,000 points, worth $10, and they never expire. PC Financial is a natural fit for avid PC Optimum points collectors and for Canadians who regularly shop from Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaws banner stores like No-Frills, Real Canadian Superstore, Fortinos and Joe Fresh.
PC Financial has a roster of credit cards: PC Financial Mastercard, PC Financial World Mastercard, and PC Financial World Elite Mastercard. None of which carry an annual fee. Depending on which card you’re eligible for, you’ll earn anywhere from 25 to 45 PC Optimum points per dollar at Shoppers Drug Mart, 10 to 30 PC Optimum Points at Loblaws banner stores, and 10 per dollar on most other everyday purchases. This comes out to an earn rate of earn anywhere from 1% up to 4.5% in PC Optimum points.
|PC Financial World Elite||PC Financial World||PC Mastercard|
|Shoppers Drug Mart||4.5%||3.5%||2.5%|
|Esso & Mobil||3%||3%||3%|
|Income requirement||$80k or $150k/household||$60k or $100k/household||None specified|
Get more details about PC Financial credit cards*
In a recent move, PC Financial announced the PC Money Account, a no-fee bank account you can use wherever Mastercard is accepted, in person or online. The PC Money Account comes with a prepaid credit card (which effectively acts like a debit card) and includes unlimited transactions and unlimited Interac e-transfers. New account holders will get up to 50,000 bonus PC Optimum points ($40 value) and after they earn an impressive 25 Optimum points per dollar (or 2.5%) at Shoppers Drug Mart and 10 Optimum points per dollar (1%) everywhere else—rates that even rival some credit cards.
- ATMs: 700
- Features: 25 PC Optimum points per dollar at Shoppers Drug Mart and 10 PC Optimum points per dollar spent on most purchases; unlimited debit transactions and Interac e-transfers.
- Credit cards: 3
When it comes to banks and banking options, Canada has an embarrassment of riches. In our roundup, Scotiabank tops the Big Five with its wide array of products and services, Tangerine takes the cake for no-fee everyday banking, and nobody can touch EQ Bank when it comes to savings accounts. Our honourable mention, PC Financial, because it shows that innovation is alive and well in the banking sector, which is excellent news for Canadians.
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