Each fall, countless retailers run back-to-school specials that promise big savings. But the best money-saving opportunity for students may just be at their local bank.
The best checking accounts for students can yield substantial savings over typical checking accounts. Based on the latest MoneyRates Bank Fees Survey, the average maintenance fee on checking accounts is nearly $145 a year. Luckily, students can save themselves that $145 by choosing one of the checking accounts on the list below -- all of which charge students no monthly maintenance fee.
Making the cut
The MoneyRates Bank Fees Survey looked at a total of 541 checking accounts in 2012. Here's how that number was cut to reveal nine great checking accounts for students:
- Of those 541 accounts, there were 23 banks offering free checking to students.
- Fourteen of those 23 accounts offered free checking to students with no onerous obligations. For example, one bank was eliminated because it required students to sign up for overdraft protection, and as you'll see in the section on banking tips, this generally isn't a good idea. Several banks were eliminated because they required higher minimums to open an account. The banks that made the list require a starting minimum of $25 or less.
- From those 14, nine banks were chosen because they have multi-state operations. College students often attend school outside their home state, so banks that have a greater geographic reach may prove useful to many.
Nine great checking accounts for students
Here are the checking accounts that made the cut (in alphabetical order):
- Citibank Student Account
- First Bank of Colorado Student Package
- M&T Bank College Checking
- Sovereign Bank Student Checking
- Susquehanna Bank Student Checking
- TCF Bank Student Checking
- TD Bank TD Student
- US Bank Student Checking
- Valley National Bank Student Reward Checking
While there may be other accounts that meet your needs as a student, the above list offers an excellent place to start your search for an account. If you check out other banks, focus on accounts with little or no minimum balance requirements, no monthly fees, and no other strings attached, such as requiring direct deposit, a minimum activity level, or enrollment in certain products or programs.
Six banking tips for students (and their parents)
Aside from insisting on free checking, here are six other banking tips students and their parents should keep in mind:
- Check out online checking accounts. The accounts listed above were chosen because they are specific to students, but the fact is that online banks often have free checking for all their customers. Such accounts are worth considering for students and non-students alike.
- Consider the ATM network. Banks often charge a fee if you use another bank's ATM, so consider the scope of ATM locations when choosing a bank -- especially if you are going to college outside of your hometown. Pick a bank with an ATM network that fits well with your regular travels.
- Don't sign up for overdraft protection. Protection sounds nice, but at an average fee of nearly $30 per transaction, it isn't worth the price. Plus, some banks layer on a steep daily charge for as long as the account is overdrawn. You need to learn not to overdraft your account anyway, and saying no to overdraft protection will help you do that.
- Keep your own, up-to-date records. One way to avoid overdrafts is to keep your own set of account records that you regularly compare against the bank's records. It's not enough to simply check your balance online or at an ATM. Different transactions are recorded at different times, so you need to know how much money you'll have left after all pending transactions have been recorded.
- Remember that a dorm room is not a secured location. All account information needs to be kept well-hidden and completely confidential. Other security tips include not banking online in a public location, such as a library or student lounge, and always remembering to log off when you leave an online banking site.
- Review your account status with parents when visiting home. Going transaction-by-transaction may be unnecessarily invasive, but reviewing the balance and seeing if the account register is up-to-date is a good way to ensure responsible handling of the account.
Along with the knowledge to be gained in the classroom, college is a good time to learn responsible banking habits. You can start by saving yourself $145 a year in bank fees by looking for a free student checking account. After all, $145 can come in handy when it's time to pay for books -- or at least for pizza.