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Don't bank on a name

September 07, 2008|E. Scott Reckard

You probably think you know the name of the bank where you put your hard-earned money. But it's not always that simple.

Look up Wells Fargo on or and you'll find 10 banks with names that begin "Wells Fargo." They're all part of San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co., but they're technically separate banks with sometimes different ratings.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s online directory of institutions ( helps to sort this out.

Click on "Offices" and fill in part of your bank's name and where your branch is located, and you should get the complete name of the legal entity you're doing business with.

(Most deposits at Wells Fargo are actually held by a unit called Wells Fargo Bank, National Assn., which is based in Sioux Falls, S.D.) lets you search for ratings using a unit's unique FDIC certificate number, which you can get at your branch or the FDIC institution directory.

Some banks use more than one name, a potential danger for depositors if they're not aware of the practice. Pacific Capital Bank of Santa Barbara operates in five metropolitan areas in California, using a different bank name in each market.

But for purposes of federal deposit insurance they are all one bank -- important to know if you put money in more than one of the units. The bank says it's careful to explain that Pacific Capital Bank is the government-insured entity.

-- E. Scott Reckard

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