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Student Checking Accounts Comparison, May 2012

This article was written by in Banking. 20 comments.


As we head into summer, thousands of young adults will be heading to college for the first time. It’s important to get started on the right financial foot, and a free student checking account is an essential tool, particularly when combined with a savings account. Obtaining a student checking account that’s convenient for both students and their parents should be one of the first steps after deciding which school to attend and before moving in. For those students living at home, finding a convenient student checking account may be even easier.

The best student checking accounts often have desirable features, like no monthly fees, free checks, and low or no minimum balances. Completely free student checking accounts are a little difficult to come by, but many can be made free with a little effort. I often wish I could still qualify for free student accounts — and many adults can qualify if they are enrolled in courses at a college or university. After graduation or otherwise leaving the world of academics behind, you often find that you’ll need to pay fees or maintain a balance to maintain the same level of service from your bank.

Here are some of the features of common student checking accounts. There may be differences depending on where you live. Why focus on the big banks first? Consumerism Commentary readers check in from all over the country — well, all over the world, really — and at least one of these banks will be in everyone’s backyard. Big banks aren’t the only games in town, though, so continue reading for more options, some of which might be more attractive. If you’re more interested in free online checking accounts, read these reviews.

PerkStreet LogoPerkStreet Checking Account. Although PerkStreet’s checking account isn’t specifically titled for students, it is directed towards young adults. Unlike most large-bank checking accounts, PerkStreet offers no fees and great rewards. Customers with a PerkStreet account now earn 1% cash back on all non-PIN debit purchases, 2% cash back on online purchases at: Amazon.com®, iTunes®, Target.com, Apple.com, Walmart.com and Bestbuy.com.* The online purchase bonus perks are limited to $2,500 in spend every calendar year. Customers can earn 2% cash back in-store, with a current account balance of $5,000 or more at: Walmart, Target®, Best Buy® & Apple® stores.* Note the offline purchase bonus perks are limited to $2,500 in spend every calendar year. Earn 2% unlimited cash back when you and a friend use your cards together at the same restaurant, bar or coffee shop, however, these transactions must occur within 60 minutes of each other to qualify.

PerkStreet customers can also earn 5% cash back on special categories and merchants that PerkStreet announces every month via Twitter (@perkstreet), their Facebook page or other company communications.* PowerPerks bonus perks are limited to $5,000 in spend every calendar year.

This checking account has no fees as long as customers make at least one transaction each month. PerkStreet is operated by Bancorp Bank, a publicly-traded company listed on NASDAQ (TBBK).

Open online or walk into a branch.

Wells Fargo Checking Package with Checking & Savings for College Students. The “College Combo” includes a checking account and a savings account, linked together. Wells Fargo is one of the largest banks in the country, thanks in part to its purchase of Wachovia. With the package, students will receive a Visa Platinum Debit Card, free online bill payment services, free account alerts, and the ability to access accounts online and with mobile devices. There is a $3 monthly fee for the checking account, but it is waived if you maintain a $500 average daily balance, set up a direct deposit, or sign up for a Campus ATM or Debit Card. The savings account for college students has a $5 monthly fee, but the fee is zero as long as the savings account is linked to the checking account in this package.

If you use a non-Wachovia ATM to access your account, Wachovia will charge you $2.50 per ATM transaction.

The minimum deposits required to open the “College Combo” at Wells Fargo is $100 for the College Checking account and $25 for the savings account if you set up a recurring transfer from checking to savings. You should set up a recurring transfer if you have regular income to ensure you’re saving automatically. If you don’t set up a recurring transfer, the minimum deposit required to open the savings account is $100.

Open online or walk into a branch.

Chase Student Checking. Chase Bank is also a large nationwide financial institution with many branches throughout the United States. Chase Total Checking is the basic checking product offered, and the student version of the checking account adds to these features and reduces the fees. The Chase checking account for college students comes with a free debit card, online bill payment, mobile banking, and account alerts. You need only $25 to open a checking account at Chase. The monthly service fee is $6, but it will be waived for the first five years you own the account or if you create an automatic deposit at least monthly.

Chase offers a version of this account for high school students, too. For high school students, there is no monthly fee when the account is linked to a parent’s account. It’s easy to convert the account from high school checking to college checking once the student is enrolled in an institute of higher learning.

Open online or walk into a branch.

Bank of America Student Banking. Despite another large network of bank locations, Bank of America wants to direct its student-customers towards “eBanking.” These accounts are designed to encourage staying out of bank branches and banking completely with ATMs, online, and mobile. With the account, students will receive a free debit card, online and mobile banking, a savings account with “Keep the Change,” a feature that automatically rounds your spending up to the nearest dollar and places the remainder into a savings account for you.

There is no ongoing minimum balance, but there is a monthly fee of $8.95 and a minimum deposit of $25 to open. Customers can avoid that fee by choosing paperless statements and by avoiding stepping into a branch to bank with a teller. You’ll need to use ATMs or electronic transfers for withdrawals and deposits.

Open online or walk into a branch.

Citibank Student Account. Citibank has one of the largest networks of ATMs thanks to their partnership with 7-Eleven convenience stores, a popular college destination to satisfy those cravings for Big-Gulps and Slurpees. For students, Citibank provides a checking account with no maintenance fees, unlimited check-writing, a debit card, free online banking and bill payment, and account alerts. Citi also provides ThankYou rewards if you’re interested in linking Citi’s other products to your checking account. As long as you are enrolled in college, you can visit any non-Citibank ATM without Citi charging a transaction fee, but the bank or ATM owner might still charge a fee.

You’ll need a minimum deposit of $100 to open the account.

Open online or walk into a branch.

Your local community bank, regional bank, or credit union. These four banks are the largest banks in the United States in terms of assets. It’s likely one or more of the four banks above will be convenient to both students and their parents or guardians. These aren’t the only choices, however. Banks will continue to add fees, and as long as each major national banks feels they only need to compete with the other three major national banks, there won’t be much incentive for the big companies to offer the best products. Smaller banks don’t have the resources to mount strong marketing campaigns that can compete for your attention, and credit unions hardly advertise at all.

Find a local bank or credit union using Move Your Money Project’s search tool. It may take a phone call, but you might find that smaller banks offer better deals for students than what the large banks offer. As long as your checking account is protected by FDIC or NCUA insurance, you shouldn’t feel that smaller banks are riskier than larger banks.

Here is a list of more student checking accounts offered by national and regional banks. If you have a major national or regional bank to add to the table, leave a comment below.

Bank Monthly Fee Min. Initial Deposit / Min. Avg. Daily Balance Features
Bank of America Student Banking $8.95, waived with eBanking $25 debit card, bill payment, mobile banking, alerts
Chase Student Checking $6.00, waived with automatic deposit $25 debit card, bill payment, mobile banking, alerts
Citibank Student Account $0.00 $100 debit card, bill payment, mobile banking, alerts, free checks
Fifth Third Student Checking $0.00 $1 mobile banking, alerts, free non-bank ATMs
PerkStreet Checking Account $0.00 $1 rewards debit card, mobile banking, alerts, free non-bank ATMs
TD Student $0.00 $1 debit card, bill payment, mobile banking, alerts, free checks
US Bank Student Checking $0.00 $1 debit card, bill payment, mobile banking, alerts, free non-bank ATMs, free checks
USAA Free Checking $0.00 $25 / $0 rewards debit card, mobile banking, free non-bank ATMs, free checks, remote deposit
Wells Fargo College Checking $5.00, waived with linked savings account $25 debit card, bill payment, mobile banking, alerts

Photo: Npetten

Updated May 1, 2012 and originally published June 6, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar krantcents

Looking at the fee schedule, only TD student and US Bank give a break for students. Apparently, they realize if you get them early, they will stay with the bank. The large banks do not care about small customers as the fee schedule may indicate.

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avatar Financial Independence

Dude, how many people get registered following you links?

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,475 (Platinum)

I don’t know. There are no affiliate links in the article. I don’t track them and Consumerism Commentary isn’t paid for them. I included links to the bank’s pages because during this time of year many people are looking for this type of information.

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avatar Sean Hills

My Credit Union offers great accounts Checkings and savings for Students. I been with them since College as well.
http://www.mynefcu.org

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avatar Emerson

Forgot the big banks and find a credit union. You should never pay money for basic banking.

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)

i agree. i can understand if your are utilizing many different services at a bank, but, as you say, for basic banking, there should be limited, if any, fees.

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avatar Ricky D

Although not a “student” account, Capital One offers a Rewards checking account with no miminum balance requirement, no monthly fees, and it includes free online bill pay and a free mastercard platinum debit card, initial deposit of just $50. They also offer a Simple Savings account with no monthly fee, no minimum balance requirement, initial deposit of just $25 and .7% on any balance of $2500 or more.

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avatar Jim

US Bank does provide free non-bank ATMs, but only 4 transactions per month.

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avatar Tyler

I’m a college student who decided to get away from big branch banks. I have my checking and savings accounts through Ally. Their customer service is great, and you can use any ATM nationwide and they reimburse the fees the ATM charges. They also pay the highest interest rates in the industry on checking and savings accounts.

Going to a totally online bank is a big jump for some people to make, but there are great benefits in doing so.

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avatar David

I agree with Tyler – going to an online bank is the way to go. I think most young people don’t really have _that_ many uses for needing to go into a bank as it is.

I use Schwab which has free ATMs (worldwide), free checks, and now has check deposit through smartphones (what used to be the biggest downside to schwab was having to mail in checks for deposits)

They try to hook you onto schwab by making you open a brokerage account with the bank account, but you dont actually have to use the brokerage part…

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avatar Bill

I am opening a Schwab account for my son. They refund other bank’s ATM fees and the check deposit via iPhone/Android is great. No longer will he have to hold onto checks that he gets at school until he can get home to deposit them.

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avatar JB

M&T Bank also offers a solid student account called @College Checking:
-Monthly Fee: $0.00
-Minimum Balance: $0.00
-Features: debit card, bill payment, mobile banking, alerts, free checks, free access to non-bank ATMs (4 times per month), free incoming wire transfers

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avatar qixx ♦1,890 (Half-Dollar)

Am i missing why i’d want a “student” checking account when i can get free checking that is not directed toward students?

One thing to look at with national banks if you are setting up an account before you head off to school; make sure there are convenient locations to school and your new home. Should go without saying. I however did not realize this until i got out to school to find no Bank of America locations within 50 miles.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,475 (Platinum)

Accounts branded as “student checking accounts” generally have fewer limitations that standard “free” accounts. Many free, non-student accounts have minimum balance requirements or other restrictive features that are often missing from accounts directed towards students. While that’s the general trend, it’s not always the rule, so it’s worthwhile to examine the details.

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avatar Joe

Effective November 14th, all student checking accounts (aka “College Combo”) will be charged a $10 fee unless you keep a direct deposit of $500 or more in your checking account, OR $1500 minimum daily balance, OR a monthly automatic loan payment from this account to a WF home equity/personal loan or line of credit, or WF Home Mortgage loan. If you have a complete account with savings, then the fee is discounted by $2 monthly service fee.

Yeah WF sucks. :)

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avatar Noe

Happened to me this morning. I’m changing banks now.

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avatar Rebecca

The Berkshire Bank now offers a free college checking account, unlimited transactions and no fee on their end to use a non-berkshire ATM.

Great Account!

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avatar Rebecca

I should mention – its called Ultimate College Checking

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avatar Rebecca

The Berkshire Bank offers a new free college checking account called Ultimate College Checking. Unlimited transactions, no monthly maintenance fee and no Berkshire Fee to use a non-Berkshire ATM – Pretty great.

This community bank has locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, New Jersey and the Hudson Valley.

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avatar Andrea

i live in Los Angeles. Midcity/Midtown area. I want to open up my first bank account since my financial aid money is coming soon and would like to keep it in a savings account since i do not plan on spending much of it. After reading all these comments I’m thinking I’ll go to a credit union or local bank. just not a big bank. does anyone have any suggestions on where i should go? Or any feedback in general

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