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Best checking accounts for college students

MoneyRates.com Senior Financial Analyst, CFA
November 12, 2010

It's a rite of passage that many an American college student has gone through. No, it doesn't involve a beer keg. We're talking about finding a bank that offers the best checking account.

Ah, the lowly checking account. They're all pretty much the same, right? Wrong.

Think about the many financial transactions that run through your checking account: receiving student loan payments and paying tuition, withdrawing cash from the ATM, getting direct deposit from your part-time or full-time job, getting (if you're lucky) a little replenishment from your parents. Your checking account enters your life more often than you may realize, so if you chose one based solely on the bank's proximity to campus, you may be getting an A+ banking experience... or a big fail.

Just say no to checking account fees

Most checking accounts charge a monthly maintenance fee. Avoiding this fee should be your top priority in choosing a bank.

Here's a quick finance lesson that illustrates why: let's say you get charged $5.85 per month, which is the average monthly fee for checking accounts in New York state, according to a recent survey conducted by MoneyRates.com. Seems like small potatoes (or maybe a burger and fries), but if you add it up, that "small" fee on a $150 average balance is a 46.8 percent loss in a single year. Ouch.

Many banks waive the monthly fee if you keep a minimum balance deposited, but on average, the minimum balance to get the fee waived is $4,410. (This is based on the same survey of banks in New York state.) Chances are you don't have that kind of cash lying around.

Best checking accounts for college students

Fortunately, a lot of banks offer great checking account products specifically for cash-strapped students who want to avoid fees. It's a bid to make you a loyal customer for life. Maybe you will be, maybe you won't -- the point is that you should take them up on the offer.

The best checking accounts for college students feature little or no initial deposit minimum, no ongoing balance minimum, and no monthly fees. MoneyRates.com's bank fee survey turned up the following:

Bank of America Campus Edge

Citizens Bank Student Checking

Key Bank Key Student

M&T Bank College Checking

TD Bank Student Checking

JP Morgan Chase Bank College Checking

Wachovia Bank Free Student Checking

Provident Bank Free College Checking

Most of these accounts limit you to four or five years and will require that you verify your student status. Not all accounts are offered in all areas of the country, so check your area for similar student-friendly offers.

More tips on college checking accounts

The following are some things you should do -- and things you should avoid -- with your checking account:

DO:

  • Choose a bank with a presence not just in your college town but also in your hometown. This will help you avoid extra ATM fees for using an out-of-network bank's machines.
  • Keep your checkbook, debit card and any other account materials out of sight, and if possible, under lock and key.
  • Develop a habit of regularly comparing your records with the bank's records. This will help you keep an eye out for unauthorized transactions in your accounts and avoid unexpected fees.

DON'T:

  • Ever lend out your debit card or share account access information.
  • Leave bank statements lying around the dorm room. If you are using online access instead of paper statements, then the same goes for passwords and other access clues.
  • Opt in for overdraft protection. Protection might sound good, but at around $30 a pop, a few overdraft fees can quickly wipe out your checking account balance. You might as well save the money and develop good banking habits to avoid overdrafts from the start.

Finally, even if you'd already set up your checking account when you first started college, always be open to switching banks. Who knows what deals you may be missing? Check out the banks in the list of best checking accounts for college students, or compare checking accounts in your zip code with MoneyRates.com.

(Got an older relative who's looking for a better checking account? Tell them to check out MoneyRates.com's best checking accounts for baby boomers.)

Featured Checking Accounts
 Zip Code

Type: Checking

Minimum to earn APY $100

0.76%APY

Rates as of 10/31/2014
FDIC Insured

Advertiser Comments

  • Flexible Online Checking. ATM Rebates. Online Bill Paying.
  • Free Checking & Low Service Fees.
  • Hassle Free Checking.

Type: Checking

Minimum to earn APY $1500

0.50%APY

Rates as of 10/31/2014
FDIC Insured

Advertiser Comments

  • Convenience of a Checking Account with the Earnings of a Savings Account
  • Low Minimum Opening Deposit of $100
  • Free Online Banking and a National Network of 22,000 ATM's

Rates / APY terms above are current as of the date indicated. These quotes are from banks, credit unions and thrifts, some of which have paid for a link to their website. Bank, thrift and credit union deposits are insured by the FDIC or NCUA. Contact the bank for the terms and conditions that may apply to you. Rates are subject to change without notice and may not be the same at all branches.

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