5 traits the best student checking accounts have

College-age female sits at her desk in her dorm room. Her laptop is open in front of her, and she is looking at her phone, smiling.
October 08, 2020 | Claire Hegstrom

If you’re like most new college students, the bank or credit union account you had growing up was likely chosen for you by your parents. While those teen accounts are useful to help you learn the basics of managing your money, it’s also likely that those accounts won’t serve you well in college. Now’s your time to do the research and decide what factors are most important to you in picking your primary financial institution.

Before you begin your hunt for the perfect checking account to take you through college and beyond, you’ll need to know what secret perks to look for. A checking account should save you money, make accessing your funds from anywhere simple, and should never charge you unnecessary fees.

Here are some checking account features you can’t live without:

1. No minimum balance fees

Plain and simple, your financial institution should never charge you a minimum balance fee. College is all about learning, and you don’t want one mishap or financial emergency to leave you with pricey fees while you still have money in your account. While overdraft fees—fees charged when you spend more money than you have in your account—are normal, other monthly service charges aren’t. Some accounts, like Alliant’s High-Rate Checking, help you earn interest on your money, and don’t charge minimum balance fees so you can earn more without the fear of getting charged if your balance falls below the interest-earning threshold.

Pro tip: If you chose an account specifically made for college students, make sure to ask if you’ll be charged any monthly service fees for having the account once you graduate.

2. ATM fee rebates

College will likely take you to a lot of places you’ve never traveled to before. Whether you’re attending a school out of state, planning post-COVID travels, or attending a concert at a cash-only venue, you’ll want to be able to access your money without racking up pricey ATM fees. Search for an account that offers monthly ATM fee rebates. On average, ATM fees cost $4.72 per transaction. Suddenly that $10 cover charge at the concert now costs you almost $15 if you’re paying for out-of-network ATM charges.

3. Nation-wide access

For many folks, the checking account you open in college is the one you keep for the rest of your life. If you’re planning to frequently travel or even move after college, finding a checking account that is accessible anywhere is a must. You’ll want to look for an account that you can manage digitally with a great banking app. It will also be important for you to be able to get cash anywhere you need it! Alliant members have access to over 80,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide, and are even offered monthly ATM rebates for those situations where they must use an out-of-network ATM.

4. Digital wallet compatibility

If you’re planning on dinner outings with friends, or have committed to being better about tracking your spending, you’ll need an account that comes equipped with a mobile app that is compatible with the world’s best peer to peer apps. Apps like Venmo offer a quick way for you to send money to friends when you want to split the pizza bill, or even have your parents send over cash quickly for new textbooks. You’ll also want to make sure your credit union or bank’s mobile app can be connected to budgeting apps used to track spending and make filing your taxes easier.

5. Added security features

When you’re running between classes, study sessions, and extracurricular activities, you don’t have time to be constantly checking your account to make sure no sneaky fraudulent transactions have occurred. Search for a checking account that comes equipped with added security to protect your funds. Most financial institutions offer contactless debit cards for added protection while making purchases. Check and see if 24/7 fraud-monitoring text alerts are available to you so that you can be alerted right away if a fraudulent transaction occurs.

Overall, the two most important features to look for in a student checking account are accessibility and fee-free earning and spending. You’ll want to be able to travel wherever your degree takes you, while getting rewarded for mastering the art of being financially savvy.

Claire Hegstrom is an advocate of the credit union movement through and through. Passionate about financial education, she approaches money conversations from a candid and inclusive space focused on growth and awareness. As our credit union founding father, Ed Filene, once said, “Progress is the constant replacing of the best there is with something still better.” Claire hopes reading Money Mentor will help transform your life from the best to even better.

You might like

Sign up for our newsletter

Get even more personal finance info, tips and tricks delivered right to your inbox each month.