The best student checking accounts go beyond holding your money and help you manage your finances, even when there is a noticeable lack of funds to balance. Checking accounts for college students are ideally free or low-cost options with no minimum balance requirements. They are also a step above basic services to provide value-added features like credit monitoring or goal tracking for savings. Ideally, a college account also grows with you after your last exam, to make choosing a bank with an extensive network key. Add in access to a decent return on any savings you accumulate, and you have a killer checking option for the present and a future full of possibilities.
The 8 Best Student Checking Accounts of 2020
- Chase College Checking: Best college tailored option
- Capital One 360: Best overdraft protection
- Discover Cashback Debit: Best easy access to cashback
- USAA Classic Checking: Best out-of-network ATM policy
- U.S. Bank Student Checking Account: Best added-value services
- Ally Interest Checking Account: Best bonuses for saving
- Chime: Best mobile checking
- Bank of America Advantage Banking: Best for the grad school bound
|Bank||Students Only?||Minimum Deposit||APY|
|Capital One 360||No||$0||0.20% for accounts under $50,000|
|Ally||No||$0||0.10% for accounts under $15,000|
|Bank of America||Yes||$0||N/A|
What Are Student Checking Accounts?
Student checking accounts are checking options designed for high school and/or college students. For students still in high school, the accounts are often fairly rigid vehicles for savings with a great deal of parental oversight. For the college crowd, they are typically basic checking accounts with courtesy fee waivers for those currently pursuing a degree.
As the number of banks offering free checking has climbed, accounts designed for college students specifically have declined. However, the bigger banks — think Chase, Bank of America and U.S. Bank — still provide custom student options to provide a stepping stone to a long-term relationship with the company.
A number of basic checking accounts also fill the niche once occupied by college-specific accounts. From mobile to online banks, no-fee checking is available in a variety of options. The new kids on the block also can pack a powerful punch in the value-added category by cutting fees or maximizing the interest earned by a meager checking account balance.
Capital One 360 vs HSBC Choice Checking
HSBC Choice Checking is a classic example of a bank offering a traditional checking account to college students with minimum fees waived. Off the top, it sounds like a good deal to avoid minimum deposits and monthly charges. However, the best-case scenario for college checking helps you go a step beyond saving money to making money. With a Capital One 360 checking account, all account holders earn 0.20% interest on balances of $49,999 or less. It’s a low-barrier way to earn a return on an account balance when your financial situation won’t allow you to contribute towards a long-term monetary goal with a full savings account.
Chime vs Acorns
If you like the idea of rounding up purchases to save, chances are you have heard of both Chime and Acorns. Both provide access to a bank account and easy round-up savings. However, Chime is more rooted in banking while Acorns provides checking as a way to invest more through its service. Acorns invests your funds in a portfolio of stocks and bonds. While this is a long-term financial win, it may not be the best step forward on a low, fixed budget. Unless you have substantial, regular earnings, Chime redirecting your round-up savings to an easily accessed savings account is a good way to keep your cash close for a rainy day.
Chase College Checking vs Wells Fargo Everyday Checking
Wells Fargo and Chase are both well-known and respected banks with free checking options for college students. Wells Fargo waives the monthly service fee on its Everyday Checking account for owners of Wells Fargo campus ATM or debit card accounts. Chase, meanwhile, offers a college-specific checking option that rolls into a traditional account after graduation. While Wells Fargo boasts more physical locations with 8,600 worldwide compared to Chase’s 5,000 branches, Chase wins at ATMs. For the college student on the go, access to over 16,000 ATMs is a major plus. Wells Fargo ATMs number 3,000 or less as of March 2017.
The Best Checking Accounts for College Students
Chase College Checking – Best college-tailored option
Chase College Checking provides the classic “off to college” checking experience. It is a student-specific option that can eventually become a full-featured Chase account after graduation. To receive a waiver of the $6 monthly fee for up to 5 years, you only need to provide proof of student status. What makes this account a major winner is the ability to continue with a waiver of the monthly fee after 5 years with a monthly direct deposit. As long as you have at least a part-time gig during grad school, the account can stay with you without becoming a financial drain.
Capital One 360 – Best overdraft protection
There is a lot to like about Capital One 360. It provides an easy entry to a basic checking account and access to interest earnings on your checking balance — 0.20% as of November 2019. It also offers four different overdraft protection optionsto cover your back if you make a bookkeeping error or experience a brief shortfall. Auto-decline can keep you from overdrawing while free savings transfer will bring in funds from your savings to cover a withdrawal. An overdraft line of credit provides low-interest access to a small loan to cover the unexpected, and next-day grace provides you with one business day to repay an overdrawn amount before a $35 fee is charged.
Discover Cashback Debit – Best easy access to cash back
Cash back often feels like a miracle. You spend money on necessities and the occasional want and accumulate a little nest egg to cash in or splurge with later. Discover Cashback Debit provides the key features of a traditional checking account while also offering 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in purchases per month. For $1,250 in monthly debit spending on rent, food and utilities, annual cash back would total $150. Need an added bonus? The account is Zelle-compatible for when you need a quick cash infusion from your parents or sell old dorm furniture on Facebook.
USAA Classic Checking – Best out-of-network ATM policy
USAA Classic Checking is really classic checking, and a great account to utilize long-term if you serve in the military or are an eligible family member of a service member or veteran. There are no monthly service fees, and no minimum balance is required. For the college student leaving home for a distant university with plans for a career in another city, portability is key. USAA provides access to 60,000 preferred ATMs across the United States. Should you end up in the rare spot without a connected ATM, USAA provides a waiver of up to $15 in other ATM fees for users each month.
U.S. Bank Student Checking Account – Best added-value services
U.S. Bank packs a big punch with additional services for students in addition to checking all the usual boxes, such as zero fees and zero balance requirements. For additional value, U.S. Bank provides free access to its own ATMs and MoneyPass ATMs while covering up to four out-of-network ATM transactions per monthly statement. For the best value, U.S. Bank also provides free credit score access and allows you to simulate ways to improve or reduce your score based on money-handling decisions. Thinking about getting a new credit card? Test it through the simulator first to see how it will impact your credit.
Ally Interest Checking Account – Best bonuses for saving
If you regularly hustle for extra money or maintain a steady side gig, you may have a little extra cash in the bank from time to time. Ally’s Interest Checking Account helps you earn money on those dollars with a 0.10% annual percentage yield as of November 2019 on balances less than $15,000 — all without removing the money from your checking account. Ally also offers easy Zelle access and does not require a minimum balance or monthly fee. For those heavily reliant on ATMs, Ally customers can use Allpoint ATMs; but Ally still reimburses $10 per month for fees charged at out-of-network ATMs.
Chime – Best mobile checking
Chime was designed for smartphone banking and appeals to the cash strapped and eager saver alike. Chime maintains a no-fee image and does not charge for overdrafts, monthly maintenance or not maintaining a minimum balance. The account is easily accessed at over 38,000 ATMs. For the credit poor, Chime is a low-barrier way to access checking and bills itself as a second chance banking option. College students living paycheck to paycheck will also appreciate that many direct deposit users receive their funds up to two days earlier through Chime.
Bank of America Advantage Banking – Best for the grad-school-bound
Students with over six years of college ahead of them can appreciate the Bank of America Advantage Banking account for providing a monthly fee waiver for students up to age 24. Fees are waived for both university and vocational program students. Two Advantage Banking options — SafeBalance and Plus — are eligible for the waiver. This makes it possible for you to opt into overdraft protection or avoid potential overdrafts and choose whether it is important for you to have access to paper checks. When you age out of school waivers, a monthly direct deposit of $250 or more or a $1,500 minimum balance keeps the account free.
The Final Word
Student checking accounts are a great option for first steps into banking with a traditional financial institution and can help you establish a long-term relationship with a bank while you get your education. Free basic checking accounts also provide easy access to bill pay and paycheck management for college students while providing significant perks. The best college checking account is a no-monthly-fee option with a wide ATM network for access to cash when you need to buy gas for a drive home or splurge on a coffee date. For the rare college student who is financially secure and unconcerned about splurging, aim higher and opt for a premium checking account with built-in access to higher interest rates or a money market account for the best, easy returns.