Never pay for anything you don't have to.
That's a fundamental rule of personal finance that's worth learning before opening your checking account at college. The number of free checking accounts on the market is dwindling, with average checking account fees running in excess of $140 a year.
However, banks offer students options that can help them avoid paying these fees. Special student checking accounts often waive monthly service fees and offer other student-friendly features.
MoneyRates.com monitors a large sample of banks in the MoneyRates Index, which includes 50 of the biggest banks in the U.S. and a similar number of mid-sized banks. From this sample, MoneyRates.com looked at student checking accounts and compiled a list of 11 of the best checking accounts for college students.
Student checking accounts: what to look for
When comparing student checking accounts, you should look for the following:
- No monthly service fees. According to the most recent MoneyRates Index bank fee survey, monthly maintenance fees average $11.75 per month. That would wipe out a $100 account balance in fewer than nine months.
- Low account minimums. Since college students are often short on cash, look for accounts that don't require a high minimum balance to open. All the accounts making our top 11 list require $50 or less to open.
- No direct deposit requirements. Some accounts will waive the monthly fee if you have a direct deposit arrangement with the bank, but college students often don't draw a regular paycheck throughout the entire year. Look for a checking account that doesn't require direct deposit to waive the service fee.
College students don't have to choose a student account to get free checking, but free checking options for the general population are more limited now. Just over a third of the checking accounts surveyed in the MoneyRates Index are offered without a monthly service fee. Honing in on checking accounts aimed at students may help you identify likely prospects. Moreover, student accounts sometimes offer additional benefits, such as no charge for your first order of checks, limited forgiveness on overdraft fees and free ATM usage.
11 best checking accounts for college students
As a college student, you are someone who could turn out to be a long-term bank customer with above-average earning ability. These 11 banks, listed in alphabetical order, recognize the value in offering a good deal now to attract your business and loyalty.
- Bank of the Commonwealth Student/Senior Citizen Checking
- Cathay Bank College Checking
- Fifth Third Bank Student Checking
- First Bank of Colorado Student Package
- M&T Bank College Checking
- Regions Bank LifeGreen Checking for Students
- Sovereign Bank Student Checking
- Susquehanna Bank Student Checking
- TD Bank TD Student
- US Bank Student Checking
- Valley National Bank Student Reward Checking
Don't forget that there may be local banks in your campus' area offering worthwhile student checking accounts. The banks chosen for the list above operate in multiple states, which could be helpful if you go to school far from your hometown.
Other features to consider
Besides avoiding those monthly fees, here are some other checking account features you should think about:
- Parental access. Opening an account jointly with a parent, or at least giving a parent access to account information, is a great way of letting a parent "run alongside" a student for a while to make sure good banking habits are being developed.
- Don't opt in to overdraft protection. Speaking of banking habits, overdraft protection can lead to bad banking habits, and overdraft fees can be very costly. Don't play the bank's game--the bank wants those overdraft fees. Opting out of overdraft protection is the surest way of making sure they don't get any.
- ATM network. Using another bank's ATM can be expensive, so make sure the bank you choose has convenient ATM locations both in your hometown and where you go to school.
- Online checking accounts. Broadening your search beyond brick-and-mortar accounts can give you access to great deals. Online checking accounts also give you the portability you need as you move from one location to another.
- Privacy and security. College often involves communal living, but your banking information is among the things you need to keep totally private. Make sure you follow common-sense habits to ensure the privacy of your account information and that your bank offers secure online or mobile access.
By weighing all these features, college students can find the best checking account for their needs.