Best Checking Accounts For College Students

July 30, 2011

The best checking accounts for college students are those with no fees, no minimum balance, online banking, and good interest rates. If you’re leaving for college soon and you don’t have a checking account opened up, you should start thinking about it now. You’ll definitely need a place to stash the little cash that you’ll have during your college career.

Be aware, not all checking accounts are free, and some of them have hidden fees; those are the ones you want to stay away from. Below are four reviews of checking accounts that are worth your time to consider opening up before you leave for school.

ING Electric Orange Checking Account

ING DIRECT electric orange

If you missed my article about the ING products, go checkout the electric orange checking and orange savings account review. This is a great checking account for college students. You can do all of your banking online, which is definitely a benefit for college students, and there are absolutely NO fees associated with it.

The main downside is that you have to mail in checks for deposit, or set up another checking account to transfer money. (Or you could sign up for direct deposit into your Electric Orange account.)

The Campus Edge Checking Account by Bank of America

Bank of America has some good financial products. This is the account that I had while I was in school at the University of Florida. There are no fees, and all you need is $25.00 for an initial deposit to open up the account. After that, there is no minimum balance. BOA will also enroll you for free into their “keep the change” program which rounds your purchase up to the nearest dollar and puts the change into a separate savings account for you.

They’ll also match give you a 100% contribution match for the first three months. This could make it easier for you to balance your check book, because all of your purchases will be rounded to the nearest dollar, making it easier to figure out your balance. Convenience is the biggest advantage to a Bank of America checking account. Bank of America has a ton of branches so an ATM isn’t usually hard to find.

USAA Free Checking

The free checking account from USAA is only available if you, your spouse, or your parents served in the military or are USAA members.  Since USAA is used to serving service members deployed around the globe it’s easy for them to provide the same great service to you while you’re away at school.  With features like USAA Deposit@Home and Deposit@Mobile it’s easy to deposit checks from school.  The account is very competitive, with free overdraft protection, free checks, free billpay, and no monthly fees.

Perkstreet Financial

An option for college students who want to earn rewards when they spend is the PerkStreet Financial cash back debit card. This checking account provides you with a debit card that allows you to earn cash back on your purchases. There are no fees and no minimums with this FDIC-insured account, and you can withdraw cash from a network of more than 37,000 ATMs. You can have money directly deposited into this online bank account, or mail deposit checks (or transfer from another account). A great way to earn rewards and get a little extra cash as a student.

College Student Checking Accounts

One of the most important things you can do as you establish your independent financial identity is to open your own checking account. If you are a college student, you want to be able to find the best checking account that meets your needs while at home and away. While many banks and credit unions offer “student” accounts, recent developments in banking make it possible for you to open a superior checking account that may not be labeled specifically as a student account.

You will want to consider what is most important to you in a bank as you shop around. If you prefer to be able to go into a bank, an online checking account may not be best for you. However, if you deal mostly electronically, and have no need to enter a brick and mortar bank, an online account can help you dodge the fees that seem to be cropping up everywhere these days. Look for a bank account that has no minimum balance or activity requirements, and try avoid those with monthly fees. If you plan to write checks, look for a bank with unlimited check-writing privileges. You should also consider the reputation the financial institution has for customer service.  Your bank can make a big difference in how you manage your money; choose carefully.

Opening a Student Checking Account
So, get on it. Go and check out these checking accounts. Believe me, sticking your money under your dorm bed won’t work. You never know when your roommate or their friends might need some extra cash and decide to help themselves. Watch out with your debit card, though – it’s so easy to swipe that thing. Make sure you set up a budget for the month, and take out cash for items like entertainment and food. Otherwise, you’ll debit card swipe yourself to oblivion, and non-sufficient fund charges are no fun.

If you’re getting ready to head off to school, check out this article on decorating your dorm room on a budget. We also review the best student credit cards as well as student health insurance options and how you can compare them with eHealthInsurance. If you’re looking for some cash to put into your new checking account, look through the list of ways you can make extra money in college.

This review of the best checking accounts for college students is part of the College Student Money Guide.

Erik

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Erik
Erik Folgate is a husband and father living in Orlando who's been writing about money online for 6 years. Digging himself out of $20k of debt after college and his former experience in the insurance industry give him some useful insights into personal finance issues.

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18 Responses to Best Checking Accounts For College Students

  • Peter E Wolfe

    I have banked at pnc for a long time. Why am I getting this page. I need to look at my acct. now.

  • RateNerd

    We published a list of the best checking accounts paying as much as $220 for new customers to sign up. And we have featured banks offering the best checking accounts paying as much as 5.01% APY interest on checking account balances up to $25,000.

    We’ve divided this list into two parts: 1) the best checking accountsfrom banks offering attractive deals for new customers, and 2) the best checking accounts if you are looking for high interest rates.

  • JustSayNoToBofA

    Never EVER open an account with Bank of America especially if you are a student or anyone on a fixed income or live paycheck to paycheck. They have no heart, no sympathy. I lost hundreds of dollars to them that I could have used to pull myself out of the hole. Never again. Bank of America is the Devil.

  • Ben

    bob, I agree you can find some good accounts at credit unions and banks are in business to make money. However, since they’re competing for your business, online banks offer some pretty useful features that you can’t necessarily find at credit unions.

    For example, when I was in school my credit union didn’t have online banking so I primarily used an online bank. The credit union hopefully has online banking by now but the point is they didn’t have it when I needed it.

    A more current example is mobile banking. Many of the big banks either have or will have soon the infrastructure and technology to allow customers to bank from mobile devices. This is a great feature for the highly mobile and connected college students of today, something they probably won’t get from their local credit union for some time.

  • bob

    The best checking accounts can usually be found at your local credit union. Don’t do business with banks – they’re profit centers and they’re very skilled at setting up all kinds of little traps and snares for you to fall into (so you’ll have to pay the exorbitant fees that are buried in the fine print). Forget about banks! Credit unions exist to serve their customers and are almost always a better option than banks. Using banks is “penny wise and pound foolish”.

    And Schwab… are you serious? Schwab is a mess – they’d screw up a two-car funeral. I wouldn’t wish Schwab on my worst enemy.

  • Richard @ Student Scrooge

    I was pretty happy with the Bank of America Campus Edge account, certainly had no real complaints. I think the most important thing, hands down, is access — too many college students eat ATM fees like they don’t matter, and so picking a bank with convenient ATMs will help save money. Branch access is important, but not as important as ATMs.

    I hadn’t looked at the Charles Schwab account before… I’ll have to check that out.

    Anyway, nice list.

  • ToughMoneyLove

    As the parent of a current college student, let me add that if you are supporting a child at college, it helps immensely to have an account that allows easy electronic transfer of funds from the parent account to the child account. Bank of America makes it easy for us to do this.

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