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:
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 .)