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Best Checking Accounts for College Students

See a list of the best student checking accounts, and learn what to look for when choosing a student checking account.
By Richard Barrington | MoneyRates.com Senior Financial Analyst, CFA

high-fashionA simple checking account can be an essential tool for college students.

Many banks have products labeled "student checking accounts," but that doesn't necessarily mean they all offer good deals for students.

The "student checking account" label is partly just marketing. There are actually several checking accounts available to all customers that have better terms than some student checking accounts.

Finding the right checking account can be worth hundreds of dollars in fees saved every year.

To take the guesswork out of picking the right student checking account, MoneyRates.com studies checking account offers that are available to the typical student (regardless of whether the account is specifically labeled as a student checking account) every year.

This article highlights ten of the best checking accounts for college students in 2021 and includes some tips on choosing the right account for your needs.

10 Free Checking Accounts for College Students

Methodology: How We Chose the Best Student Checking Accounts

MoneyRates looked at a field of over 300 checking accounts for this study. Below are the primary factors used to narrow the field and find the ten best checking accounts for college students:

  1. Free checking

    This generally means an account has no monthly maintenance fee.

    Most checking accounts charge these fees and, on average, they add up to nearly $170 a year. That would make a serious dent in the average college student's budget, so free checking was considered a must.

  2. No minimum balance requirement

    Some accounts require a minimum amount of money in order to open. These minimums can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.

    Since college students are likely to have relatively small amounts of money, accounts with no minimum balance requirement are the best fit.

  3. Low overdraft fees

    It's important for college students to learn good banking habits so they avoid overdrafts. However, some mistakes are bound to happen when a student is working with a checking account for the first time.

    Low overdraft fees (and a couple accounts don't charge them at all) make this learning experience less expensive.

  4. Low overdraft fee cap

    If multiple transactions happen an account is overdrafted, it can result in several overdraft fees.

    Some checking accounts protect customers from this by putting a cap on the number of overdraft fees that can be charged on any one day. The lower the cap, the better the account is for college students.

  5. No other account requirements

    Some checking accounts with attractive terms are available only to customers who do other business with the bank or make regular deposits. Since college students often can't meet these requirements, only accounts that didn't have these additional strings attached were considered.

Interest checking

Given the current interest rate environment, the interest rate on checking accounts was not a factor in this study. Many checking accounts these days do not pay interest at all; and those that do, pay rates that are so low they would not add up to much over the course of a year.

Under the circumstances, minimizing fees is much more important for checking accounts than comparing interest rates.

10 Best Banks for College Students

Discover Bank Cashback Checking

Having no overdraft fees as well as no minimum or monthly maintenance fees is ideal for young people who are just learning how to handle a checking account.

Monthly fee: $0

Minimum to open: $0

Overdraft fee: $0

Overdraft fee cap: N/A

Online access: Yes

This Discover checking account also offers 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases per month.

Consumers should not be encouraged to spend more simply to get cash back. Still, in this context a student using the debit card to make necessary purchases like text books and other school supplies could effectively be getting a 1% discount on those purchases via this cash back offer.

(Note: This account is not limited to students; so if you choose this account, you won't have to worry about switching once you leave school.)

Axos Bank Essential Checking

As with the Discover Bank account, the combination of no overdraft fees, no monthly maintenance fee and no minimum to open is ideal for younger customers - and a good deal for consumers of all ages.

Monthly fee: $0

Minimum to open: $0

Overdraft fee: $0

Overdraft fee cap: N/A

Online access: Yes

This account offers unlimited fee reimbursements on all domestic ATM transactions, which is very convenient for students who might be going to school in a different area from their home town.

(Note: This account is not limited to students; so if you choose this account, you won't have to worry about switching once you leave school.)

Ally Bank Interest Checking

This account is very accessible to college students because it charges no monthly maintenance fees and does not have a minimum size requirement for opening an account.

Though it does charge overdraft fees, the $25 fee is below the industry average. Perhaps more important, capping the overdraft fees that can be charged on any given day at one can limit the damage considerably.

Monthly fee: $0

Minimum to open: $0

Overdraft fee: $25

Overdraft fee cap: 1 per day

Online access: Yes

This account also pays interest, though at a small rate: 0.10% on balances below $15,000 and 0.50% on balances above.

(Note: This account is not limited to students; so if you choose this account, you won't have to worry about switching once you leave school.)

State Farm Bank Checking

With no monthly fee or minimum to open, this account is well suited to students with limited bank balances.

The $25 overdraft fee is lower than the industry average, and the cap of three such fees per day somewhat limits the potential damage from overdrafts.

Monthly fee: $0

Minimum to open: $0

Overdraft fee: $25

Overdraft fee cap: 3 per day

Online access: Yes

(Note: This account is not limited to students; so if you choose this account, you won't have to worry about switching once you leave school.)

The Bancorp Bank OnePoint Checking

This account offers easy access to college students because it has no monthly fee and requires no minimum balance to open.

One concern is that the $33 overdraft fee is slightly higher than the industry average and there is no cap on the number of transactions per day that could trigger overdraft fees. That makes it essential for the account owner to quickly adopt good banking habits.

Monthly fee: $0

Minimum to open: $0

Overdraft fee: $33

Overdraft fee cap: None

Online access: Yes

(Note: This account is not limited to students; so if you choose this account, you won't have to worry about switching once you leave school.)

Chase College Checking

Besides offering easy access with no minimum opening balance requirement and no monthly service fee, this account also has a temporary offer that can provide a $100 bonus for opening a new account.

Getting this bonus requires making 10 qualifying transactions within 60 days of opening the account. (See the Chase website for details.)

This account waives a monthly fee only for up to five years of college enrollment.

Monthly fee: $0

Minimum to open: $0

Overdraft fee: $34

Overdraft fee cap: 3 per day

Online access: Yes

TD Bank Student Checking

Like all the accounts on this list, the TD Bank Student Checking account offers easy access with no monthly service fee and no minimum to open. However, the $35 overdraft fee is on the high side, so good banking habits are essential.

Monthly fee: $0

Minimum to open: $0

Overdraft fee: $35

Overdraft fee cap: 5 per day

Online access: Yes

Age requirement: You have to be between 17 to 23 years to be eligible for this account, so older students would need to find another option.

BB&T Student Checking

Having no fee and no minimum to open are great features for students, but note that the $36 overdraft fee is well above the industry average.

With the cap on daily overdraft fees at six, this account could be very expensive unless you can avoid overdrafts.

Monthly fee: $0

Minimum to open: $0

Overdraft fee: $36

Overdraft fee cap: 6 per day

Online access: Yes

Age requirement: This account is available to students up to age 24, so you would have to find another checking account after that.

Fifth Third Bank Student Banking

All of the accounts on this list have no monthly fees and no minimum opening balance requirement, which is great for students with limited account sizes.

However, this account does have a high overdraft fee; so it may not be the right option unless you are confident you an avoid overdrafts.

Monthly fee: $0

Minimum to open: $0

Overdraft fee: $37

Overdraft fee cap: 5 per day

Online access: Yes

Age requirement: Eligibility expires on December 31 of the year the customer turns age 23, though it can be extended from year to year if you verify that you are still in school.

Chemical Bank Green Account

Though having no monthly fee is a good start, this account would only be cost-effective if you can avoid overdrafts. Otherwise, the high overdraft fee coupled with a high cap of ten per day could get very expensive.

Monthly fee: $0

Minimum to open: $0

Overdraft fee: $37

Overdraft fee cap: 10 per day

Online access: Yes

(Note: This account is not limited to students; so if you choose this account, you won't have to worry about switching once you leave school.)

How to Find the Best Student Checking Account for You

Banks on this list are worth considering, but the best choice for you may vary depending on how you use your checking account.

For example, the location of branches and ATMs might be a deciding factor for some students. Using an ATM within your bank's network can help you avoid additional fees.

As an alternative, some banks have a policy of reimbursing certain ATM transactions.

Another question you might ask is, Can you open a bank account at 17?

In some cases, age is a factor. Many student checking accounts have age limits, so check on the eligibility requirements before you sign up.

The biggest message here is to do some comparison-shopping before you choose a checking account. This article highlights some of the factors you should look at, so see which account has the best list of features for your needs.

Here are leading offers from other online banks

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