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City Survey: Chicago

the best banking options in the banking capital of the Midwest

Chicago is the third most populous city in the US and the largest financial hub in the Midwest. It has a unique and diverse banking landscape, reflecting its diverse demographics of significant Black, white and Latinx populations in the city. However, like many American cities, Chicago is still highly segregated, as is apparent in this map from PBS’ Chicago network WTTW and South Side Weekly. This segregation was achieved through building racial discrimination into the way every institutional power in our society functions, and a big part of this was banks’ systematic denial of housing loans to Black families.

With the big banks STILL actively denying mortgage loans to Black families, it’s more important than ever to move your assets to a Better Banking Option. Although all of the Better Banking Options on this list may not work to fight the effects of segregation, they’re all providing considerable quality lending to Chicago residents. And as we emphasize heavily on this blog, almost ANY option is better than one of the mega banks. Find one below!

Self-Help Federal Credit Union is one of the first Better Banking Options we ever featured on this blog, and is one of the top ten options when you look up Chicago in our search engine. Founded in 1980, Self-Help Credit Union began by helping cooperatives of farm workers procure local mills as corporations were shutting them down, individuals who had been turned down for loans in conventional financing. Self-Help has continued to grow substantially over the past twenty years through mergers with like-minded institutions that may not have enough capital to continue on their own. Self-Help is technically two credit unions--Self-Help Credit Union, which works primarily in the Deep South, and Self-Help Federal Credit Union, which works mostly in urban areas in the Midwest and West Coast—that work together to extend lending options to underserved populations across the nation. They’re a designated CDFI, as well as being designated an LICU and an MCU. We highly recommend them to those in the Chicago area, as they have a strong history of helping underbanked populations in the most capital-deprived neighborhoods, along with mobile and online banking options. Eight of their nine Illinois locations are located in or close to Chicago, so they’re a convenient choice as well as an ethical one.

Mutual Federal Bank is the first option that comes up when you look up Chicago in our search engine, meaning that based of our metric, it’s the highest scoring in the area. They’re a long-standing, local banking option in Chicago, having served the Pilsen neighborhood since 1905. Transitioning from an immigrant area mostly occupied by Eastern Europeans, Pilsen experienced an influx of Mexican-American residents in the 1960s that still defines its community and culture. Mutual Federal is truly a local bank; with only one branch, they strive their best to serve their unique community and to build strong bonds with their customers. However, despite being small, they’ve still made an effort to modernize, offering both online and mobile banking. They also partner with AllPoint to offer fee-free ATM services through 55,000 locations across the country. Although they have no official designations, we would recommend them to anyone in Chicago looking for their money to provide quality loans in the Pilsen neighborhood.

Pulaski Savings Bank shows up right after Mutual Federal when looking up Chicago in our search engine, and for good reason: they make a remarkable amount of quality loans, mostly mortgage loans. On the surface they look like a “traditional” bank, with only one location and a history stretching back to its establishment in 1890. However, they’re located in the Bridgeport neighborhood, which is one of the few ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Chicago, and their commitment to this neighborhood and its residents is above and beyond what traditional banking options accomplish. They’re a designated CDFI, meaning that a higher-than-average percentage of their loans are going to low- and moderate-income families. Although they don’t offer online banking options, we would recommend them to anyone who frequents the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, as depositors can be sure that their assets are being used to expand home-ownership in this community.

American Metro Bank is also in the top ten results when you look up Chicago in our search engine, primarily because of their quality lending. Established in 1997 to serve growing immigrant populations in Chicago, they’re an Asian majority bank and a designated MDI, meaning they’re recognized by the FDIC as being a bank whose ownership or clientele is of a particular ethnic minority. Both of their locations are in low-income census tracts, and one is in Chicago’s Chinatown, providing services in both Chinese and English. They offer both online and mobile banking options. We would recommend this Better Banking Option to anyone looking for their deposits to support Asian immigrant populations in Chicago.

International Bank of Chicago doesn’t show up very high in our search metric when you look up Chicago, but sometimes the components of our metric aren’t the only factors that can make a banking option better. Established in 1992 as Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants started moving to Chicago, they’re now the largest MDI (minority depository institution) in the Chicago area. They strive to provide home and small business loans to both immigrant and native residents, with a decent quality lending score in our metric and services provided in Mandarin as well as English. They’re a designated MDI as well as being a CDFI. They offer both online and mobile banking options, and five of their six branches being located in or near Chicago’s north side. We’d recommend them to anyone looking for a great local option for those looking to support Asian immigrant populations in Northern Chicago.

GN Bank has a long history of serving Chicago’s south side, the community most affected by the systematic segregation of the city. Since their inception in 1934, they’ve strived to fill in the gaps in quality banking services left by other financial institutions. In this way and more, they’re a truly local bank, with a focus specifically on the south-side neighborhoods they serve. They’re the largest Black-owned bank headquartered in Chicago, and as well as being a designated MDI, they’re also a designated CDFI. They have two locations, one in downtown Chicago and one in the Chatham neighborhood. They also offer both online and mobile banking options, so anyone looking to have their deposits make a difference for Black families in Chicago’s south-side can open an account with this Better Banking Option.

All of these Better Banking Options have open eligibility, and many offer online and mobile banking, so anyone can move their money and have their deposits used for quality lending in Chicago.

Segregation in Chicago isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so it’s important to consider the ways that your finances may be used by institutions which are contributing to it, especially if you’re a resident of the city. Moving your bank accounts can have a huge impact down the line, even though it takes only a few hours. Even if none of the options above work for you, consider looking up your zip code in our search engine to find more. There’s never been a better time to move your money and have it start making a difference in your community.


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