5 best bank websites

Partly open laptop computer

Most Americans today prefer to do their banking online over any other method, according to the American Bankers Association. But not all banking sites have kept pace with the rapidly changing online environment.

We separate the best from the rest with our Fab Five bank websites.

It's true, most bank sites allow you to do everything a teller can do and more, 24/7, from virtually anywhere: pay bills, view statements, transfer funds, pay your friends, deposit checks remotely and nag yourself with auto alerts when your outflow threatens to exceed your income.

As for their ease of use, customization and homogeneous display across desktop, tablet, PDA and mobile device platforms, let's just say there is ample room for improvement.

Which banks rule online? Here are our picks for the five best bank sites:

1. USAA Federal Savings Bank (www.usaa.com)

No branches? No problem for members of the military and their families who bank with USAA, our top pick of the Fab Five (Yes, civilians can bank here, too.). The fact that its customers are stationed around the world was incentive enough for USAA to get online early and it has led the pack ever since.

For a site that features stripped-down, totally intuitive navigation, one-click access to most features and a complete absence of dancing bears and other marketing litter, USAA is still one of the warmest and most engaging sites out there.

You can practically see the drill sergeant hovering over the development team with a stopwatch, timing each move to gain seconds of personal time for the troops and their equally busy families back home. Each functional tab opens with the same two options: to learn more and to read reviews by fellow account holders, some of which run into the thousands.

Bragging rights: Easy Deposit remote deposit capture; Deposit@Mobile smartphone app; Money Manager to track spending; streamlined design across devices.

2. Ally Bank (www.ally.com)

There's a working-class vibe about the purple-licious Ally Bank site that may be residue from its origins as GMAC Bank. Ally's site is no Cadillac or Corvette, but it's well equipped and fun to drive.

There's little doubt that Ally a) welcomes your business and b) respects your sanity. You can quickly open virtually any account with $0, no minimums or fees, and you won't be inundated with disclaimers and legalese. You can even open a CD now and fund it later. If you get stuck, there's a helpline, live chat and a human available toll-free 24/7.

Bragging rights: Easy navigation; up-to-date rate comparisons; "Sleeping Money alerts" tell you when your money could earn more in another account.

3. ING Direct (www.ingdirect.com)

Dutch-owned ING Direct helped set the pace for online-only banks back in 2000 and still delivers one of the most enjoyable online banking experiences.

Yes, like USAA and Ally, the branchless ING Direct typically offers more competitive savings and CD rates and fewer fees than its brick-and-mortar counterparts.

But the playful dashboard and above-average wit of the site contents make you wonder if you shouldn't just chuck the bigs altogether and go all in with ING.

We'll have to see if the fun continues following its June acquisition by Capital One. Perhaps the website's lively orange bouncing balls will be replaced by Vikings!

Bragging rights: Best-in-class navigation; online payment with all the bells and whistles including an address book that remembers everyone you've ever paid; fluid person-to-person payment.

4. Integra Bank (www.integrabank.com)

If you want to actually walk into Integra Bank, you'll need to visit one of its 52 branches in Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky (You must be a resident of Missouri, Ohio or one of the states with branches to bank online.). But this tiny regional's BankAnytime online portal is as clean and intuitive a site as you're likely to find, with twists that even the major banks haven't thought of.

For instance, its bill pay function not only shows you the actual bill, it allows you to file it and even make a note to yourself about the bill, all just one click away. You can set up categories and manage files with the same ease.

Bragging rights: Organization; worksheets; simple elegance.

5. Wells Fargo (www.wellsfargo.com)
Would a big bank make our list? Even we were wondering. And while it was a close call, Wells Fargo beat the rest by a nose.

While Wells Fargo's site offers much the same functionality as Bank of America, Chase and Citigroup, it pulls ahead with its robust and surprisingly useful My Money Map personal financial management section, which offers real-time snapshots of your spending, budgeting and savings in easy-to-grasp bar graphs. If you want to micromanage your spending or meet a saving goal, this feature makes it a breeze.

Bragging rights: Clean interface, all the bells and whistles plus a money management tool you might actually use.

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