Checking accounts tailor-made to meet the needs of college students feature lower fees, free debit cards, access to fee-free ATM machines, and mobile technology. Banks may not make money on bank accounts for college students, but young people will need for-fee services like loans, mortgages, credit cards, and investments after graduation. A student checking account offers a great way for banks to establish a relationship with young people. There are advantages for students, as well. Some accounts for college students offer cashback rewards and a no-fee structure.
Best College Student Checking Accounts
- Chime Free Checking
- Discover Debit Cashback Debit
- Radius Bank Rewards Checking
- HSBC Choice Checking
- BBVA Free Checking
- Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking
- Chase College Checking
- USAA Classic Checking
Here are some of the best options for college students who want a feature-rich checking account that meets their needs.
Chime Free Checking
Chime offers an online-only checking account option that’s open to everyone, regardless of their student status. There’s no minimum amount of money required to open an account, no fees, and no ongoing minimum balance requirements. You’ll get access to a network of 30,000 fee-free ATM machines across the country. Their app makes accessing your financial information on the go easy.
With Chime, you could get your paycheck up to two days earlier than with other banks when you set up a direct deposit from your employer into your Chime Free Checking account. Chime also offers fee-free overdrafts up to $100 for some members.
Discover Cashback Debit
There are no fees with this account, and you can get up to 1% cash back on up to $3,000 of debit card purchases every month. With access to over 60,000 fee-free ATMs and no-fee check ordering, this is a great choice for a student who wants a no-fee account that comes with a simple rewards program.
Radius Bank Rewards Checking
MINIMUM OPENING DEPOSIT
INTEREST RATE ON BALANCE
0.10% APY on balances $2,500 – $99,999; must have a minimum average balance of $2,500 to earn interest
DEBIT CARD & PERKS
1% cashback rewards on all eligible purchases. Unlimited ATM fee reimbursement.
Radius Bank Rewards Checking pays interest if your average balance is more than $2,500. You’ll need $100 to open an account, but there’s no minimum balance requirement to keep the account open. There aren’t any ongoing monthly maintenance or debit card fees.
You’ll get 1% cash back on debit card purchases, which is a nice feature of a student account.
HSBC Choice Checking
The HSBC Student Checking account is a great option for international students studying in the United States. Unlike many other banks, applicants don’t need a U.S. permanent residential address, U.S. credit score, or Social Security Number. HSBC is an international bank, so they can use other criteria to verify a student’s identity.
In fact, having an HSBC Student Checking account can help establish a U.S.-based credit score. You can set up the account remotely.
HSBC also offers a Mastercard credit card for students with 1.5% cashback rewards. Applicants who list “student” as their occupation don’t need an established credit history to get approved.
BBVA Free Checking
MINIMUM OPENING DEPOSIT
$0 (There is a $3 per month paper statement fee charge, but you can avoid the fee by opting out.)
INTEREST RATE ON BALANCE
DEBIT CARD & PERKS
Free debit card. Simple online banking interface and a limited cashback rewards program
BBVA Free Checking is a no-frills checking account that doesn’t impose monthly fees and offers an ATM network that includes more than 55,000 ATM machines nationwide. Its simplicity makes it a great fit for college students who want the advantages of having a checking account without having to jump through hoops to get fees waived or mess with minimum balance requirements.
The BBVA Mobile Banking App helps you keep track of transactions and get personalized alerts that help you manage your money and control spending.
BBVA’s Simple Cash Back Rewards program offers rewards that you must activate through the app or through BBVA’s website. You can earn rewards by making a qualifying purchase with certain merchants with your BBVA debit card.
Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking
Bank of America is a full-service bank with physical locations all over the country. This account doesn’t have any non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees or overdraft fees. You must be a student under the age of 24 or enroll in Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards program to avoid the Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking account’s $4.95 per month maintenance fee.
Chase College Checking
Students between the ages of 17 and 24 don’t have to pay maintenance fees for up to five years with the Chase College Checking account. There are more than 16,000 fee-free ATMs and 4,900 branches in the United States.
You’ll get a free savings account if you agree to link it to your checking account as overdraft protection. After graduation or five years from opening the account (whichever comes first), you’ll need to set up a direct deposit from an employer or maintain an average daily balance of at least $5,000 to avoid the $6 per month maintenance fee.
USAA Classic Checking
The USAA Classic Checking account is a great option for college students who qualify. You’ll have to be enlisted in the U.S. Military or a family member of someone who is or was enlisted to be eligible to open an account with USAA.
This bank has a network of over 60,000 fee-free ATMs. They’ll refund up to $15 per month of ATM fees imposed by other banks.
Still have questions about the best college student checking accounts? (FAQs)
What information do you need to open a college student checking account?
Banks that offer special no-fee accounts to students may require that you prove your status as a college student. You can do with an acceptance letter or your student ID. Here are the other things you may need to open a checking account:
- Social Security Number
- Drivers license
- Permanent (home) address
- Date of birth
- College name and expected graduation year
- Phone number
- Secondary contact information
How can college students avoid overdraft and NSF fees?
While many banks don’t advertise it, you can opt-out of overdraft protection. Without overdraft protection, your transaction will be declined automatically. While this may seem intimidating, it’s better than finding out that you’ve incurred a $30 overdraft fee. Banks can cover recurring debit transactions or checks if they choose to do so, even if you opt out of overdraft protection. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) debit card transactions cause the majority of overdraft fees.
Setting up automatic alerts when you balance reaches a certain level can help warn you that you need to either stop spending or make a deposit. Keeping track of your balance is crucial if you want to avoid steep fees.
If your bank offers no-fee overdraft protection transfers, set it up right away. The Discover checking account has free overdraft protection via a linked account and zero overdraft fees. Link your checking account to a savings account with a larger balance. If your checking account balance is negative, the bank will transfer money automatically and you’ll avoid overdraft fees.
Use a no-fee bank like Chime to ensure that you never pay an overdraft fee or NSF fee.
What should you look for in a college student checking account?
College students may not have much income. They may rely on financial aid, have irregular paychecks, or receive money from parents or caregivers to help them pay for necessities. Bank accounts that require direct deposit or require monthly maintenance fees aren’t ideal for people who are full-time students. Here’s what to look for in a college student account:
- No overdraft fees
- No NSF fees
- Easy online access
- No minimum balance requirements
- No monthly maintenance fees
- Cash back rewards
- Access to fee-free ATM machines
- 24/7 customer service support
- Free debit card
- Reimbursement for ATM fees imposed by other banks
It may be impossible to find a student checking account that offers all of these perks and advantages, but if you know how you’ll use your account you can figure out which attributes are most important.
How does a cashback rewards debit card work?
If you have a checking account with a debit card that offers cashback rewards, you’ll get a certain percentage of your total qualifying purchase back as a cash bonus. For example, the Discover checking account offers 1% cash back on monthly purchases up to $3,000. So, if you spend $3,000 with your Discover debit card in a month, you’ll get a $30 cashback reward added to your account balance. If you have cashback rewards through a Discover credit card, you can transfer those rewards directly to your Discover checking account, as well.
Some programs, like Bank of America’s BankAmeriDeals program, offers up to 15% cash back from certain merchants.
Certain cash back checking accounts impose more restrictions than others. Axos Bank has a cashback debit card that offers 1% cash back on purchases that require a signature, but only if your daily account balance is at least $1,500.
Is it safe to use an online-only bank?
If you choose an online-only bank that’s federally insured, your money is safe. Online banks don’t have any physical locations, so make sure they offer 24/7 US-based customer service and an easy-to-use app that will help you manage your money. Double-check their ATM fee policies, too. Make sure you have easy access to fee-free ATMs at school and at home.
Are there advantages to choosing a small local bank or credit union?
If you are more comfortable with face-to-face banking at a local branch, you may prefer a bank or credit union with a physical location in the town where you attend school. Many smaller banks and credit unions have no-fee accounts for college students that they don’t advertise widely.
Community banks may support the local college and other community organizations. You’ll get personalized service as the bank tellers get to know you, as well.
Nearly every bank has an app where you can check your balance, make mobile deposits, pay bills online, and monitor your transactions. Small banks may charge lower fees than national banks, but they’ll probably offer many of the same services.
Can I change my mind if I don’t like the student checking account I choose?
A checking account is a service that you can terminate at any time. If you aren’t getting the customer service you need, don’t feel that the account is meeting your needs, or simply want to try another bank, you can open a new account with another institution.
Before you close any bank account, make absolutely sure that every transaction has cleared. In fact, it’s smart to leave some money in the account for a month after you think everything has gone through the account just to be safe. You can have more than one bank account with different financial institutions.
Don’t open an account just to get the bonus reward, though. Choose the account that you think will best meet your needs and save yourself the hassle of having to switch your automatic deposits and withdrawals over to a new bank.
The bottom line
The best free checking accounts for college students come with a number of perks that make it easy for students to manage their money without having to pay extra fees. Ideally, it would be simple to convert a student account to a regular checking account with different attributes after graduation. A student’s financial management needs may change dramatically over time.
Finding a no-fee account with perks like cash back rewards or interest on the balance may be a bit of a challenge, but it’s worth the effort.