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Opening a student checking account can be a smart option for many college students. However, you should also consider online banks because their accounts tend to have low or no minimum balance requirements, even though they might not have “student” in the product name. (You can find Bankrate’s selection of the best checking accounts here.)
Since online banks usually don’t have their own ATMs, some may offer refunds for ATM fees you incur. There could be a limit on this, so check with the bank.
What to look for in a student checking account
Most student accounts offer a maintenance-free banking option for your college years. Besides looking for an account without a minimum balance requirement, these are some other key features to look for in the best student checking accounts:
- ATM fee waivers
- How long student benefits last
- Overdraft forgiveness
- Free savings overdraft protection transfers
- Free checks
- Cash bonus
- Available to international students
Here are some of the top student checking accounts:
- Best for ATM fee waivers: Navy Federal Credit Union, $0 minimum balance required to open the account
- Best for overdraft forgiveness: PNC Bank, $25 minimum balance required to open the Spend account ($0 required to open the account online)
- Best for free checks: U.S. Bank, $25 minimum balance required to open the account
- Best for cash bonus: Chase, $0 minimum balance required to open the account
- Best for keeping your student account the longest: Santander Bank, $10 minimum balance required to open the account
Best student checking account for ATM fee waivers
You might not need cash often at school. But when you do, you’re probably going to use an ATM. Using an ATM that’s not in your bank’s network can be costly. It’s also smart to look at an online bank that reimburses ATM fees, since it doesn’t have its own ATMs. This account probably won’t be called a student checking account. But it might have features that you’re looking for in a bank, if walking into a physical location isn’t important to you.
The Free Campus account gives up to $10 in ATM fee reimbursements per monthly statement cycle to members with this account who are full-time students between the ages of 14 and 24. The checking account doesn’t require a minimum balance requirement and it doesn’t have a monthly service fee. The account also earns a little bit of interest.
What to watch: You’ll have to qualify for Navy Federal Credit Union membership to get this account. Membership is open to all Department of Defense and Coast Guard Active Duty, civilian, contract personnel, veterans and their families. Although the account offers interest, you can earn a higher yield in a savings account. Even if it’s not called a student savings account, you should be able to find one that doesn’t have a minimum balance requirement and has a competitive annual percentage yield (APY).
Best student checking account for overdraft forgiveness
We all make mistakes. That’s why it’s a good idea to decline overdraft services, as long as you have another emergency plan in place, or use overdraft services responsibly. A credit card or a savings account for overdraft protection are possible options. If using a credit card, it’s usually best to only use this for emergencies until you get a better grasp on managing your finances.
At PNC Bank, the Virtual Wallet Student account gives you one complimentary overdraft or returned item fee refund for your first overdraft occurrence on your Spend Account. This is a $36 value.
What to watch: Overdrafts or returned items will be $36 per item. So you need to make sure that you keep the courtesy refund for a one-time mistake. Also, the minimum to open the Spend account is $25. However, there isn’t a minimum if the account is opened online.
Best student checking account for free checks
College students typically don’t write many checks. But there may be certain occasions when having checks will come in handy. A landlord or a doctor may only accept checks in certain circumstances. Free checks are a nice perk, but they probably have a value of less than $20; checks can usually be purchased cheaper from non-bank vendors. So don’t base your whole banking decision around free checks.
If you do order checks through a third-party company, make sure it’s trustworthy since you’re providing your bank account information.
You get a free first order of checks with the U.S. Bank Bank Smartly account. These checks have the U.S. Bank Student Checking logo on them. If you want to customize your checks, you can get a 50 percent discount on your choice of design.
You also get 100 free trades each calendar year through U.S. Bancorp Investments.
The account also doesn’t have overdraft fees if your account has a negative $50 balance or less.
What to watch: While U.S. Bank waives its ATM fee on your first four non-U.S. Bank ATM transactions, the ATM will probably charge you a fee. Only around 16 states have colleges/universities that participate in the U.S. Bank Campus Banking program.
Best student checking account for cash bonuses
Some banks offer new customers a bonus for opening a new account. A cash bonus shouldn’t be the only reason for choosing a bank. But sometimes a reward is worth opening an account for, especially if it’s a good fit for your banking needs.
Chase will give you $100 when you open a Chase College Checking account and complete 10 qualifying transactions within 60 days of opening your account. The account doesn’t have a maintenance fee for up to five years, from the date the account is opened until after the expected graduation day for the student. Students 17-24 years old are eligible to open this account.
What to watch: You’ll need to be a new Chase customer for this offer. The $100 is considered interest, so it will be reported to the IRS. If the account is closed within six months after the account opening date, Chase will deduct the bonus amount. Also, you can only qualify for the monthly service fee waiver for up to five years. After your expected graduation date, you’ll either need to make a direct deposit into the account or keep an average ending day balance of $5,000 or more in this account to avoid the $6 monthly maintenance fee.
Best student checking account for account duration
Student checking account age requirements vary at every bank. Generally, they’re for students between the ages of 18-23. Though there are some exceptions. Banks generally require a parent or guardian as a joint signer, if the student is under 18 years old.
Students between the ages of 14-25 can get a Student Value Checking account at Santander Bank. You have access to in-network ATMs at almost all CVS Pharmacy locations in the Northeastern U.S. and Florida. This could be a good banking option if there’s a CVS Pharmacy near campus.
What to watch: A legal guardian co-owner is required for students between 14-18 years old.
What is a student bank account?
A student bank account is one designed for students. Sometimes, these are the first bank accounts that high school and college students have.
A first job or going off to college are two of the life events that may motivate a person to open a student bank account. These accounts are also great opportunities for younger people to learn about banking and managing their finances.
Do you need to choose a student checking account?
A student checking account might be a good fit for you. But an account that doesn’t have a monthly fee or a minimum balance requirement while you’re a student doesn’t have to be a student account for it to be the perfect fit. Look for accounts with these features instead of only focusing on the student checking accounts offered by your local bank.