Want to learn about your options and find out who has the best bank account for college students?
I went to college in the early 2000s, back when mobile banking was something brand new and bankers hours were 9am-4pm on weekdays only. What was my bank of choice? Wachovia. Why? Because they had an ATM in my student union center. While that seemed like an acceptable choice to me at the time, I quickly learned how important it was to read the fine print and understand how a bank handles overdraft fees, deposits, and the perks or rewards they may offer simply for choosing to bank with them.
In today’s world, banking has morphed into one of the easier processes in life with the ability to use mobile banking, online bill pay – and even with connections to Zelle, PayPal and Venmo services – banks are making it as easy as a few swipes on a touch screen to move your money around. So, why not go with a bank where you can earn reward points (or even cash back) to make your money work for you while it’s sitting in your account.
In this article, we’ll break down a checklist of items you will want to consider before choosing a bank or banking product.
We’ll also give you our top 10 college student accounts based on the latest consumer research and account information.
How Do I Choose The Best Bank Account for College Students?
There are many factors that go into deciding which bank you want to use, but, here are a few that we think you will want to consider:
Does the bank have physical branches or is it online-only?
While both of these options are certainly viable in today’s technologically advanced world, you may have a preference on the type of banking you want to have access to. The proximity of a branch to where you’ll be going to school and/or living is important to consider.
We suggest finding a bank that blends both in-person banking as well as online banking so that you are able to have access to multiple ways to communicate with a banking professional about your account.
What are the requirements to open the account?
Is there a minimum deposit amount? Will they check your credit score? What information will you need to supply to the bank in order to open the account?
Are there any on-going fees associated with the account?
Some accounts will charge ongoing monthly or yearly service (or maintenance) fees. And although you may be able to waive them by meeting depository requirements or maintaining a minimum monthly balance, sticking to a “free” option is usually preferable for college students.
Does the account offer Automatic Deposit?
Do you want to be able to deposit money into your account each month without having to remember to? Then, automatic deposit will be an important feature for you!
What is the interest rate and annual percentage yield (APY) on the account?
You’ll want to consider the interest rate, APY, and how often it compounds. Higher interest and APY can help you earn more money back on the funds you are keeping in your account.
You may find that the interest on many checking and savings accounts is considerably low. The best rates are often available from local credit unions, which also often offer the additional advantage of having no fees as well as tools to help you analyze your spending habits.
Are there any taxes or government regulations to consider?
If you earn more than $2,100 in interest in a year, you may have to pay taxes. If that interest is your only income and it is less than $10,500, your parent/guardian/spouse can just include it on their own tax return if you are being claimed as a dependent by them.
But, if you make more than $10,500 a year in interest, you’ll have to file a tax return in your own name.
Are there any educational tools available?
Ask if the bank has any analytical tools to help you learn about what it takes to achieve financial success.
Are there withdrawal limitations?
Some accounts will let you withdraw money as needed, while others can place daily, weekly or monthly limits on the amounts you are able to withdraw.
How To Open A Bank Account For A College Student
Account set up procedure can be different based on the bank. But, generally you’ll need to visit a physical branch location or fill out a quick online application.
Here is a list of items you will need to open a bank account:
- Firstly, your Social Security number and date of birth
- Secondly, picture identification (such as your driver’s license)
- Thirdly, personal details such as your address, email address, and phone number
- Lastly, your initial deposit, including cash or checks
It is also important to know:
They may also run a credit check before the account is set up.
Top 10 Best Bank Accounts For College Students
The Bank Professor team rated over 160 banks and scored each institution based on their APY, financial education tools, monthly fees, minimum deposits and current customer reviews.
1. Discover Cashback Debit – Best Bank Account for College Students
If in-person banking isn’t necessarily important to you, and you are OK with handling your banking needs via phone or email, check out Discover’s cashback debit option. It is great for college students between the ages of 17 and 24 because it offers no monthly fees, no overdraft fees, no ATM fees, and no minimum balance requirements and gives you access to over 60,000 ATMS in the Allpoint ATM network. Furthermore, if you lose your debit card you’ll be able to get a free replacement.
You’ll also earn 1% cashback on all of your purchases (up to $360 a year)!
After you graduate, you can also choose to keep this account open and continue earning the same cashback and the same no fee perks as you had in your college days!
Visit Discover.com to apply for an account!
2. Chase College Checking
If you live in AZ, CA, CO, CT, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KY, LA, MI, NJ, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, TX, UT, WA, WI, WV:
Chase Bank has a special account type specifically for college students between the ages of 17-24.
This account offer in-person as well as mobile banking options. $0 minimum deposit is required to open and it offers no fees for 5 years! Chase will also give you $100 bonus if you open an account, register for paperless statements and complete 10 qualifying transactions within the first 60 days of opening your account.
Though, if you overdraft, you’ll be faced with a steep $34 fee (with a cap of $102).
Visit a local branch or Chase.com to open your account!
3. Bank of America (Advantage Safe Balance and Advantage Plus )
If you’re a stickler for tradition and need access to in-person as well as mobile banking services, Bank of America is one of the most trusted names in the industry that you may want to check out.
Bank of America’s Advantage SafeBalance account offers access to a wide network of branches for in person customer service, highly rated mobile app and online platforms.
For college students between the ages of 17 and 24, they will waive the monthly account fees and will waive any overdraft fees (Advantage Plus Account) if your transactions are declined due to insufficient funds. The downside is that if you attempt to use a Non-BofA ATM, you’ll be charged a $2.50 if the ATM is outside of Bank of America’s network.
All it takes to open the account is completing a quick application and funding your account with at least $25 for the Advantage SafeBalance, or funding with at least a $100 minimum deposit if you opt for the Advantage Plus account.
You can also opt-in to BofA’s “Keep the Change” program, which rounds your debit card purchases up to the nearest dollar and deposits the “change” into an accompanying savings account.
Additional advantages for college students are the balance text/email alert options and spending tracker tools to help you create a monthly budget.
However, if you hang on to this account after you graduate, you will have to pay the monthly maintenance fees: $4.95 per month for SafeBalance and $12 per month for Advantage Plus.
Visit a local branch or bankofamerica.com to apply for an account!
4. U.S. Bank Student Checking – Best Bank Account for College Students
US Bank’s Student Checking offers $0 monthly fee and has a free debit card issued upon sign up, which gives students access to over 3,100 branches and 4,800+ ATMs. wit free withdrawals at U.S Bank supported ATMs. online and mobile banking are also available and they’ll even waive the ATM fees up to 4 times per month if you use a non-U.S. Bank supported ATM.
To open this account, all you will need is the minimum deposit of $25 and to fill out a quick application either online at U.S. Bank’s website or in-person at a branch.
You also have the ability to link your account to your student ID at participating schools to use for ATM and PIN purchases on campus. And, if you want checks, your first order is free.
The downsides of this account are that there is no ability to earn interest on your money and the overdraft fee is a steep $36, which can be charged up to four-times per day (max of $144 per day). Also, if you use a non-U.S. Bank ATM, you could be charged up to $2.50 per withdrawal transaction.
Visit a local branch or usbank.com to apply for an account!
5. BB&T Student Checking
If you’re 23 years old or younger, you may want to check out the Student Checking account at BB&T.
There is no minimum deposit required to open the account, no monthly fees, and you’ll gain access to over 1,700 in-person branches and over 15,000 ATMs (in 15 states). BB&T even waives the fee associated with non-BB&T ATM transactions two times per statement cycle, although you will not be reimbursed for the other bank’s fee.
BB&T also has a highly rated mobile app that makes banking on-the-go simple and carefree. You can customize your homepage dashboard with whatever aspects are most important to you, check your credit score, and pay your bills with their online bill pay system.
You can also set spending limits and savings goals, gain free access to Zelle to pay friends and colleagues quickly and easily online, and even connect with personal banking reps if you ever encounter any issues or have any questions.
BB&T is only available in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
And, one of the major downsides is that their overdraft fees can be pretty steep at $36/overdraft – which can be charged up to 6 times per day ($216!)… so you’ll want to pay extra attention if you keep a low balance.
To open an account, visit a local branch or visit them online at BBT.com
6. SoFi Money
SoFi Money isn’t a bank, but it offers a “cash management account” where you can hold your funds at one of their partner banks. They currently offer $50 cash back if you open and account and deposit at least $500. There’s no account fees or balance minimums that you would have to keep up with and once your funds are transferred to one of their partner banks, you’re money is covered by the FDIC.
SoFi also offers a “Vault” program, where you can open up sub-accounts within your SoFi account in order to save for emergencies, or any big bills you may have coming up… (textbook purchases, new car, etc). The best part about having Vault accounts is that if your “main account” runs out of money, you can set it up so that one of your vault accounts will cover any overdrafts. If you don’t set this feature up, any transactions that would cause you to overdraft would automatically be declined.
The downside of this account is that SoFi limits the amount of transactions (12 per day) to prevent fraud – For peer to peer withdrawals, you are limited to $250 per day and $3,000 per month. Bill pay is limited to $10,000 per transaction. You are also limited to $610 (Ally Bank limits you to $1,000 per day). Over-the-counter cash withdrawal is limited to $150 and your Point of Sale spend limit is $3,000. Lastly, SoFi does not allow wire transfers.
To open an account, visit SoFi.com. From there you can add your personal contact information, select which partner bank you’d like to transfer your money to, make your initial deposit — and then you’re ready to start using your SoFi account!
7. USAA – Classic Checking For College Students- Best Bank Account for College Students
USAA has a great checking account option for college students. There are no monthly fees and no minimum balance required. Additionally, the first 10 ATM fees that you incur will be waived. What’s more, if you have to use ATMs outside of USAA’s network often, they will reimburse you up to $15 of any fees you incur on each statement cycle.
Another plus to the USAA College Checking account is that you can earn cashback rewards on your debit card purchases.
In order to be eligible for this account, you or any of your eligible family members must be a current or former service member of the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, National Guard or Reserves.
*Veterans, cadets and midshipmen are also eligible to apply.
One of the downsides about USAA’s college checking account is that you have to OPT-IN to overdraft protection. Although, USAA will automatically decline debit card transactions and ATM withdrawals if you don’t have sufficient funds to cover, and there typically are no overdraft transfer fees or additional fees if you link your checking account to another USAA checking or savings account.
To open a USAA College Checking Account, simply visit a local branch or usaa.com to apply.
8. Ally Bank – Online Checking
Ally is an online-only bank that has a nice option for College student who don’t mind banking on the go and prefer an online-only customer service experience. And, while this is not a “college student only” account, Ally does not have any balance minimums or account fees that you’ll need to keep up with, and because they are an online-only bank, they don’t incur a lot of the same fees that brick-and-mortar banks do — so they pass the savings on to you in the form of higher interest earning potential and low or no fees on their accounts.
Ally’s associated ATM network (Allpoint) does contain over 43,000 ATMS – but if you need to use ATMs often outside of Ally’s network, Ally even offers $10 reimbursement of those out of network ATM fees each statement cycle.
The downside to this account is that if you overdraft, you can be charged up to $25/day for those transactions… but that rate is comparably low to other banks.
Visit ally.com to apply today!
9. PNC Bank – Student Virtual Wallet – Best Bank Account for College Students
PNC has a great program for college students called “PNC Virtual Wallet Student”. It’s a nice way to open multiple accounts at once. With the PNC Virtual Wallet Student, you’ll get 2 checking accounts (one is baseline and the other earns interest), and 1 savings account that earns interest too.
For the first six years that the account is open, there are no monthly fees, minimum deposits or balances required. PNC will also reimburse you for up to 2 out of network ATM fees (up to $5) each statement cycle.
The downside to this account bundle is that PNC’s out of network ATM fee is $3 and overdraft fees are $36/each.
But, the good news is that the first time you overdraft, PNC will reimburse you for it — they understand we all make mistakes sometimes!
To apply, visit a local branch or PNC.com for more information!
10. Capital One 360
Capital One 360 Checking and Savings isn’t college student specific, but it has a lot of perks and versatility that college students love!
There’s no minimum opening deposit required, no maintenance or monthly fees and you can use Allpoint’s ATM network for free (that over 43,000 ATM locations nationwide), plus easy online account management tools and highly rated mobile apps so you can bank on the go.
You also have the option to decide what you would like to happen with you account if you accidentally overdraft: including the ability to automatically decline all transactions you don’t have enough account funds to cover. That means avoiding overdraft fees (of $35/each overdraft!) altogether.
To open an account, visit a capitalone.com for more information.
Bottom Line For the Best Bank Account for College Students
The Best Bank Account for College Students is really an individualized answer, and depends on what aspects of banking are most important to you. You’ll want to look for accounts with no maintenance fees or monthly fees, good overdraft protection, and consider the methods you would like to have available if/when you may need customer support or help. Location of the bank may also play a key role in your decision-making.
Check out the banks below and their current APY offerings to see if any of these are a good match for you…
As of October 2021, here are some rates from competitors that you may want to check out:
- Aspiration Bank – 1.00% APY
- CIBC Bank – 0.52% APY
- Vio Bank – 0.51% APY
- Ally Bank – 0.50% APY
- Citi Accelerate – 0.50% APY
- First Foundation Bank Online Savings – 0.50% APY
- Goldman Sachs – Marcus Account – 0.50% APY
- Synchrony Bank – 0.50% APY
- TAB Bank – 0.50% APY
- TIAA Bank – 0.50% APY
- American Express Personal Savings – 0.40% APY
- Barclays Bank – 0.40% APY
- Capital One 360 Performance Savings – 0.40% APY
- CIT Bank Savings Builder – 0.40% APY
- Citizens Access – 0.40% APY
- Discover – 0.40% APY
- MySavingsDirect – 0.25% APY
- HSBC Direct – 0.15% APY