Best checking accounts for college students

When students sign up for college, it's also a good time for them to sign up for something else - their first checking account.

This not only gives them a convenient way to handle routine expenses that come up throughout the semester, but it is also an opportunity to learn some of the personal finance basics they will need as young adults.

Between tuition, room and board, books, materials and equipment, there are already enough costs involved in going to college. The last thing you need is to add banking fees to that list. Fortunately, you may find a free checking account for college students that can help them avoid or at least minimize these fees.

What is a student bank account?

A student bank account is one that offers special terms to young people enrolled in college or other formal educational institution. For example, when it comes to checking accounts, some banks have special offers for students which entail charging no monthly fees. There might be other benefits as well such as low minimum balance requirements, somewhat forgiving overdraft fee policies, or the ability to link to a parent's account.

Along with the opportunity to learn about household finances, opening a student bank account is a chance to learn about being an informed consumer. Just because something is labeled as a "student bank account" doesn't necessarily mean that it offers particularly attractive terms to students. It is important to look past the label and dig into the details such as monthly fees and other policies.

What determines the best bank for college students?

MoneyRates.com looked at three criteria in identifying some of the best banks for college students:

  1. Monthly maintenance fees
  2. Minimum balance requirements
  3. Overdraft fees

According to the latest MoneyRates.com checking account fee survey, average monthly maintenance fees on checking accounts now total $158.88 per year. Since many students don't keep much more than that in their accounts, finding a bank that offers free checking accounts for college students should be considered a priority.

Similarly, since students are often on a limited budget, look for accounts with low or no minimum balance requirements. Finally, while it is best not to overdraft your account, the reality is that this is a learning experience. Since the occasional overdrafts might occur, it is a good idea to look for accounts which limit the cost of those mistakes.

10 best banks for college students

Based on the above considerations, MoneyRates.com identified 10 of the best banks for college students looking to open a checking account:

  1. TD Bank Student Checking
    Both this and the second-ranked checking account on this list offer free checking with no minimum balance requirement. TD Bank gets a slight edge because of its wider branch network, with locations in 16 states. That could be a convenience for students who go to school in a different state from their permanant residence.

  2. Beneficial Campus Checking
    This also offers free checking and no minimum balance requirement. While Beneficial is located in just 2 states (New Jersey and Pennsylvania) they somewhat make up for this by refunding ATM fees, which allows students to accounts from anywhere in the country.

  3. BB&T Student Checking
    Like the first two banks on this list, BB&T's Student Checking account has no monthly fee or minimum balance. It falls slightly behind those two because at $36, its overdraft fee is a dollar higher.

  4. Fifth Third Bank Student Banking
    With no monthly fee or minimum balance requirement, the only thing that lands this account in fourth place is its $37 overdraft fee.

  5. Fulton Bank of New Jersey Student Checking Account
    The top five accounts on this list all offer free checking with no minimum, but of those five this one has the highest overdraft fee at $39 per occurrence. Also, there is a $25 minimum to open an account if you apply online as opposed to at a branch.

  6. Cathay Bank Student Advantage Checking
    This account has no monthly maintenance fee, and the $10 minimum to open an account does not present a meaningful hurdle. The $25 overdraft fee is cheaper than the industry average of $32.84.

  7. First Midwest Bank Student Checking
    This account has no monthly fee, and a $25 minimum to start. They also promise to waive fees for accidental overdrafts.

  8. Ridgewood Savings Bank Student Advantage Account
    This offers no monthly fee, a $25 minimum balance requirement, and a cheaper-than-average $30 overdraft fee.

  9. Chase Student Checking
    This features a $25 minimum to open, and no monthly fee for up to five years in college.

  10. Sterling National Bank Start Checking
    Offers no monthly fee and a $25 minimum to open, though its $35 overdraft fee is higher than average.

The best bank for college students often depends on their individual circumstances, such as location and how they use the account. Since there are some other accounts - especially online accounts - that offer free checking with low minimum balance requirements, the best bank for your situation might not even be labeled specifically as a student checking account.

Still, the above list is a good place to start your search. These are good checking account deals for college students, and they give some examples of what to look for when choosing the right account for you.

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