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7 Best Banks for Students in 2021

Information about 7 Best Banks for Students in 2021

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High school and college students may have us adults beat when it comes to calculus and diagramming sentences, but one thing that is severely lacking from most school curricula is personal finance.

In recent years, Raddon Research Insights found that only 33% of Gen Zers aged 14 to 22 have their own bank account with a bank or credit union. Another 34% share a joint account with a parent, and 4% had one but closed it.

What’s troubling is that 21% have never had a bank account at all — and even more troubling, 8% don’t know if they have a bank account.

Why Students Should Have a Bank Account in 2021

College students should have a bank account to pay for rent, a car if applicable, food, school supplies (those books are expensive) and, yes, the occasional party splurge.

Even more importantly, college students who are able to work should be saving as much money as possible now so they are ready when those student   kick in.

And as for high school students? The time to learn banking basics —how to write a check, how to avoid overdraft fees, how to accrue interest, etc. — is while they have the safety net of their parents to fall back on. High school students can learn the hard lessons of banking when the stakes are so much lower.

But how do you know which student bank account is right for you? Many major banks and credit unions offer checking and savings accounts specifically designed for students, with simpler offerings and, therefore, lower fees. Think of it as an introduction to banking.

7 Best Banks for Students in 2021

Keep in mind that we call the institutions listed here “banks” because that’s how they are referred to generally and by most customers. Some, however, are technically not banks. If this is the case, we will tell you in the synopsis of the institution. They all offer savings and checking accounts which we believe is most important to novice bank customers.

Our roundup of the best banks for students:

Overall Best Bank for Students: Bank of America

The Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking account is the best for high school and college students. It is a checkless student checking account (quite the oxymoron), and while it doesn’t have a specific student savings account, there are great benefits to opening one of Bank of America’s Advantage Savings accounts.

Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking Account: Key Features

  • No monthly maintenance fees
  • No overdraft fees
  • Physical branch locations for easy access to banking services for students who need more help
  • Award-winning mobile app with mobile deposit, easy navigation and plenty of education features in partnership with Khan Academy
  • Tie-in to the Advantage Savings with Keep the Change program, which rounds up purchases to the nearest dollar and deposits that extra change into your savings account
  • Easy debit lock/unlock for students who have a habit of losing their card

Pros

  • Monthly fee: $0
  • Overdraft fees: $0
  • Physical branches: 4,300

Cons

  • ATM fees: $2.50 out-of-network ATM fees
  • Minimum opening deposit: $100
  • APY: 0%
  •  Savings account: None specifically for students

Fine Print

The monthly maintenance fee is waived only for enrolled students under 24. At that point, the monthly fee becomes $4.50 for the Bank of America account.

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Best Bank for High School Students: Alliant Credit Union

Alliant Credit Union offers a Teen Checking account that is ideal for high school students. It is only available to students from 13 to 17 years of age. Because it is a joint ownership account, a parent must also have an account with Alliant.

Alliant Credit Union Teen Checking Account: Key Features

  • Comes with a contactless Visa debit card for the parent and the teen
  • Award-winning mobile app makes it easy to teach responsible personal finance
  • Earns strong annual percentage yield and has no monthly service fees

Pros

  • APY: 0.25%
  • Minimum balance required: $0
  • Minimum deposit requirement: $0
  • Monthly fee: $0
  • ATM fees: Access to 80,000+ fee-free ATMs, plus $20 in ATM fee rebates
  • Non-sufficient fund item: Free

Cons

  • Stop payment fee (if verbal or in writing): $25
  • Savings account: None specifically for students

Fine Print

  • To earn the 0.25% APY, you must opt out of paper statements and receive at least one recurring monthly electronic deposit (direct deposits, ATM deposit or transfer from another financial institution).
  • When the member turns 18, the account automatically rolls over into an Alliant Checking Account. Parents remain joint owners until the primary owner (student) removes them.
  • Alliant Credit Union does offer a high-yield savings account, which is one of the best on the market. It is not targeted specifically at students.

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Best Bank for College Students: Chase Bank

Chase Bank offers the Chase College Checking Account, which is fee-free during college years. The mobile app makes digital banking simple, especially for those just learning the ropes about banking. Access to physical Chase branches is also important, as beginners can likely benefit from discussing their finances with someone in person.

Chase College Checking Account: Key Features

  • Typically offers a new customer bonus ($100 at time of writing)
  • Easy-to-use mobile app with bill pay, transfers, account alerts, an Autosave feature and tailored educational experiences and content for beginners
  • No fees from 17-24 for up to five years

Pros

  • Monthly fee: $0
  • Physical branches: 4,700
  • Non-sufficient fund item: Free

Cons

  • APY: 0%
  • Overdraft fee: $34 with a max of three per day
  • Savings account: None specifically for students

Fine Print

The lack of a monthly maintenance fee only lasts five years and is only available to college students ages 17-24. Sorry, doctoral students, you’ll have to shell out for that monthly service fee.

To avoid monthly fees once you have aged out of the grace period (or when your five years are up), you must have a monthly electronic payment, such as a direct deposit from an employer or the government, or maintain a daily balance of at least $5,000. (Most students should not keep $5,000 in their checking accounts, however.)

If you do not meet this criteria, the monthly service fee is $6.

Chase also offers a High School Checking account. In addition, the national bank offers a Chase Savings account. It is not targeted specifically at students.

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Best Bank for Cash Back: Discover

Though not a student account, many students take advantage of the Discover Cashback Debit account, an online checking account that earns you 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month instead of an annual percentage yield.

There are no fees for this account. No monthly service fee, no insufficient funds fees, no account closure fees, no replacement debit card fees and free access to 60,000+ ATMs.

Even though the Discover Cashback Debit account is not a student-specific account, the Discover it Student Cash Back credit card is. Though it’s not a checking or savings account, this card is the No. 1 credit card for students who are responsible enough to handle a credit card.

Discover it Student Cash Back Card: Key Features

  • Earn 5% on select debit card purchases all year on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter
    • 5% at grocery stores and convenience stores January through March
    • 5% at gas stations and wholesale clubs plus select streaming services April through June
    • 5% at restaurants and PayPal July through September
    • 5% on online retailers like Amazon October through December
    • Check out the 2021 calendar and look for 2022 extensions.
  • Earn double the cash back during the first year
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other debit card purchases year-round
  • Earn $20 statement credit each school year that you maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher for five years

Pros

  • Cash back: Plain and simple, this is some of the best cash back available
  • Annual fee: None

Cons

  • Bank accounts: While you can also get the Discover Cashback Debit account, that is not specifically for students, the Student Cash Back card is a credit card, which carries inherent risks
  • Interest rate: The biggest inherent risk is interest rates; if students don’t pay it off the card balance each month, they’ll be racking up credit card debt in addition to debt from student loans
  • Introductory APR: 0% for six months
  • Standard APR: 12.99% to 21.99%

Fine Print

The card can stay open after you graduate, but you will no longer qualify for the great perks you get as a student. It makes sense to leave it open but not use it often. This will help build your credit score by lowering your credit utilization. Now is a great time to start thinking about your credit score, as buying a house may come soon after college.

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Best Bank for Online Banking: PNC

PNC Bank offers a Virtual Wallet Student account that operates as savings and checking accounts, giving students the best of both worlds.

Even better? It has one of the best mobile apps available, which is ideal for busy students on the go. As an online bank, it is simply the best. The account does offer one free overdraft forgiveness, which is great for beginners but also assumes it only takes one offense to learn the lesson. The penalty is steep, though, after that.

PNC Virtual Wallet Student Account: Key Features

  • One free overdraft refund
  • No monthly fee
  • Primary checking (Spend) combined with short-term planning (Reserve) and long-term savings account (Growth)
  • Leading mobile app with new Low Cash Mode and all the typical features of online banks (account balance, mobile check deposit, etc.)

Pros

  • Monthly fees: $0
  • Minimum balance requirement: $0
  • Physical branches: In roughly half the country
  • Overdrafts: First instance forgiven
  • APY: 0.40% for funds in Growth

Cons

  • Overdraft fees: $36 after the first forgiven fee, with the potential for four in one day
  • ATM fees: Only $5 per month ATM surcharge reimbursement and only 18,000 in-network ATMs.

Fine Print

The overdraft forgiveness is what sets this account apart from the other Virtual Wallet accounts. However, it’s a one-time deal, and the other Virtual Wallet accounts get 4 times more ATM fee reimbursement. If ATM usage is important, just opt for the regular account.

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Best Bank for Learning Personal Finance: Chime

Chime is by no means a student-exclusive bank account, but it’s definitely geared toward newer savers who prefer an online bank. Its educational content and helpful saving features make it great for those just figuring out personal finance.

The online bank proudly boasts no hidden fees, early direct deposits, credit-building tools and more. We recommend both the Chime Spending Account and the High Yield Savings Account.

Chime Bank Accounts: Key Features

  • Easy way to grow savings with respectable APY for high-yield savings
  • No monthly fees
  • No minimum balance requirements
  • “Round up transfer” feature that rounds up Spend account purchases to nearest dollar and deposits in the savings account
  • Access to direct deposit paychecks two days early
  • SpotMe overdraft protection up to $200
  • Access to 60,000 fee-free ATMS

Pros

  • APY: 0.50%
  • Monthly fees: $0
  • Minimum balance requirement: $0
  • Minimum deposit requirement: $0
  • Overdraft fees: None if purchase is under $200
  • ATM fees: 60,000 in-network ATMs

Cons

  • Checking account: No interest earned
  • Physical locations: None
  • Customer service: Not highly rated

Fine Prints

  • Certain conditions apply to the SpotMe overdraft protection. Out-of-network ATM surcharges apply with no reimbursement.
  • Chime is an online-only bank; well, actually, it is not a bank at all. It is a financial technology, or fintech, company. This makes customer service challenging and limits access to banking services.

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Best for Young Students: Capital One

Through the bulk of this article, we have talked about student accounts for high schoolers and college students. But the Capital One MONEY Teen Checking is actually great for parents who want to start teaching their kids responsible money management early. You can open a Capital One MONEY Teen Checking for kids 8 and older. When they hit 18, they can roll the account over into a Capital One 360 Checking account, which is actually a great account to have as an adult.

Capital One MONEY Teen Checking Account: Key Features

  • For kids 8-18
  • Super convenient with branches nationwide; ideal for the transition when moving away for college
  • Checking account APY
  • Access to 70,000+ ATMs
  • No monthly fees
  • No minimum balances

Pros

  • APY: 10%
  • Monthly fees: $0
  • Minimum deposit requirement: $0
  • Minimum balance requirement: $0
  • ATM fees: Access to 70,000+ in-network ATMs
  • Parental controls: Yes

Cons

  • Savings account: None specifically for students
  • College students: Not available; must roll into new account

Fine Print

Parents do not need a Capital One account to open the Teen Checking account, though it would certainly be more convenient. There are also no foreign transaction fees, which makes the account convenient for study abroad opportunities.

How We Chose These Student Bank Accounts

  • We focused primarily on student checking accounts. Ideally, students will also open their own savings accounts, but first and foremost, they need to get comfortable with managing money for paying bills. The savings can come later. Thus, student checking accounts were the top consideration. Along these lines, we did not consider money market accounts.
  • Maintenance fees are a deal breaker. Most high school and college students don’t have a lot of discretionary funds, so a monthly charge can take its toll.
  • Many students will overdraft. A lot. It’s OK, no shame. The best student checking accounts have some kind of overdraft protection or forgiveness.
  • The more branches and/or free ATMs available as part of a student bank account, the better. Students may currently be (or soon be) splitting the year between their college town and hometown, so easy access to funds is important. As a point of comparison, mega-institution Bank of America has 16,000 in-network ATMs. Capital One has 70,000 and Chime has 60,000.
  • Some students don’t have the funds for a minimum deposit, so we prefer student accounts without a minimum deposit requirement.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Student Bank Accounts

Have questions about opening your new bank account? We’ve answered some of the most common questions that students are asking.

Why Should I Open a Student Account Instead of a Regular Account?

In general, student bank accounts are fee-free or have lower fees that benefit students who may not be dealing with as much money as older customers. In addition, many banks now offer educational content within their mobile apps that can help students navigate the intricacies of personal finance. Finally, they often have no or a low minimum opening balance, which can be great for students just starting out on their savings journey.

What Happens to My Student Account When I Graduate?

This varies by bank. Some banks and credit unions will roll the account over into their typical checking or savings accounts while others will leave the account as-is but will begin charging different monthly maintenance fees.

Pay attention to what the terms are based on age and student status. Chances are good, once you’ve graduated, you should be looking into closing the account and finding a high-yield savings and checking account combo that rewards you for smart banking.

What Are the Best Banks for Students?

This really depends on your needs as a student. In our list of the best banks for students, we’ve given you our overall pick, but we also have specific winners for college students, high school students, savers, spenders and more. Think about what you want most out of your student bank account before deciding.

How Do I Open a Student Account?

Most banks allow you to open an account online. You’ll just need basic info, like a social security number. However, there are a couple of caveats:

  • Some student bank accounts require joint ownership with a parent, meaning you’ll need to work with them to open it.
  • If you have selected a bank with physical locations, I highly suggest opening in person so you can ask questions as you go.
  • International students who want to bank in the US generally must open an account in person.

Timothy Moore covers bank accounts for The Penny Hoarder from his home base in Cincinnati. He covers a variety of other topics, including insurance, taxes, retirement and budgeting, and has worked in the field since 2012. Former contributor Jake Bateman also contributed to this report. 




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