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The best bank accounts for college students in 2021
Banking should be affordable for college students, so none of our top picks charge monthly fees for students. We’ve also chosen either banks with large branch and ATM networks, or ones you can access online.
Below you’ll find our top picks for bank accounts for college students, split into checking accounts and savings accounts.
Our expert panel for this guide
We consulted banking and financial planning experts to inform these picks and provide their advice on finding the best bank accounts for your needs. You can read their insights at the bottom of this post.
We’re focusing on what will make a bank most useful, including customer service, fees, rates, and more.
Learn more about our top student checking account picks
Why it stands out: Chase has over 4,700 branches and 16,000 ATMs nationwide. You’ll likely be able to find a branch/ATM when you’re at school, as well as when you visit home or go on a trip.
There’s no monthly fee during your first five years in school. Should you be enrolled for more than five years, you can waive the monthly charge by either setting up one monthly direct deposit or maintain an average daily balance of $5,000.
You can earn a $100 sign-up bonus if you make 10 transactions in the first 60 days. Plus, Chase ranks No. 2 on JD Power’s US National Banking Satisfaction Study.
What to look out for: Overdraft and out-of-network ATM fees. You’ll pay $34 when you overdraw from your account if you aren’t enrolled in overdraft protection. You’ll also pay a $2.50 fee when you use a non-Chase ATM.
Why it stands out: TD Bank has over 1,300 branches and 2,800 ATMS along the East Coast. Many branch locations are open seven days per week, which is great if you struggle to make it to the bank during the workday.
If you’re between ages 17 and 23, then you won’t pay monthly fees on this account, and you can set up a TD savings account with no monthly fee. There’s no minimum amount to open an account, and unlike Chase, TD Bank doesn’t charge an out-of-network ATM fee.
TD Bank ranks as No. 4 on JD Power’s US National Banking Satisfaction Study.
What to look out for: Overdraft fee. You’ll pay $35 if you overdraw your account unless you’re enrolled in overdraft protection.
Why it stands out: Alliant Credit Union provides access to over 80,000 fee-free ATMs. You’ll get up to a $20 per month ATM rebate if you use an out-of-network ATM. There is no monthly service fee or minimum balance requirements.
Alliant also has significant interest rates for its checking accounts, paying
What to look out for: Alliant only has one physical branch location, located in Chicago, Illinois, so if you prefer to do your banking in-person, it may not work for you.
Learn more about our top student savings account picks
Why it stands out: Bank of America has over 4,200 branches and 16,000 ATMs nationwide. You may be able to access a branch/ATM when you’re at school, visiting home, or going on a trip. There are no monthly fees with this account if you’re a student under age 24.
Bank of America’s Keep the Change® program helps you save automatically if you also have a Bank of America checking account with a debit card. When you swipe the card, Bank of America rounds up your purchase to the nearest dollar and deposits the spare change into your
This can be an easy way to save a little money here and there; even if you receive a paycheck, you may not be able to afford to put a huge chunk into savings.
What to look out for: Minimum opening deposit and low interest rate. You’ll need at least $100 to open an account. Like many brick-and-mortar banks, Bank of America pays a low APY on your savings balance. If you value earning a good interest rate, you’ll want to look at an online bank.
Why it stands out: Ally is an online-only bank that pays one of the highest savings APYs in the industry, and there’s no minimum deposit or monthly service fee. You can speak to a live customer service representative 24/7, either over the phone or via online chat.
Ally is part of the Allpoint ATM network, so you have free access to over 40,000 ATMs around the US. Ally also reimburses up to $10 per month in out-of-network ATM fees should an ATM provider charge you for using a machine.
Ally makes it easy to save for specific goals. Assign each account a nickname, like “Next Semester’s Tuition,” “Study Abroad,” or “Emergency Fund” to track your progress and stay motivated. You may decide to open a separate account for each goal, but Ally has a bucket feature that allows you save for multiple goals in one account.
What to look out for: No physical branch locations. If it’s more important to you to be able to visit a branch in person than to earn a high APY or have separate savings goals, then you may prefer saving with Bank of America or another brick-and-mortar bank.
Why it stands out: This is an online-only account that combines some of the benefits of Bank of America and Ally – it helps you save automatically and pays a high interest rate. Like Ally, there’s no minimum opening balance and no monthly service fee.
Chime provides two ways for you to save automatically. You can round up to the nearest dollar when you swipe your debit card and put the spare change into your savings account. Or you can set up a percentage of your paycheck to go directly into savings.
Chime is part of the MoneyPass and Visa Plus Alliance ATM networks, so you’ll have free access to over 38,000 ATMs nationwide.
What to look out for: No physical branch locations, and required checking account. This is an online account, so it might not be a good fit if you prefer in-person banking. You’re also required to set up a
Other bank accounts we considered for college students
Discover Cashback Debit Account(Member FDIC): You may like Discover if you want a cash back account and are comfortable banking digitally, but to get the most out of your cashback benefits, you need to spend $3,000 per month. Golden 1 Credit Union Student Checking(Member FDIC): This is a solid student account with no monthly fee, but there are only physical branch locations in certain parts of California. PNC Virtual Wallet Student Account(Member FDIC): This account comes with budgeting features, but they aren’t as robust as what you’ll get with Simple. BB&T Student Checking Account(Member FDIC): This is a worthwhile option for a student account, but there are only branches in 16 states. US Bank Student Checking Account(Member FDIC): This is a good no-fee student checking account, but Chase has more branches, and Chase and TD Bank both rank above US Bank on JD Power’s US National Banking Satisfaction Study. Synchrony High-Yield Savings Account(Member FDIC): Unlike most savings account, this one comes with a debit card, and Synchrony reimburses up to $5 per month in out-of-network ATM fees. But Synchrony’s features aren’t as robust as what you’ll get with Ally or Chime. Capital One 360 Performance Savings(Member FDIC): If you go to school near a branch, Capital One is a good option for a combination of digital and in-person banking. But its rates and features aren’t quite as impressive as Ally’s and Chime’s. Wells Fargo Savings Account(Member FDIC): You might like Wells Fargo’s Way2Save program that moves a dollar from checking to savings each time you swipe your debit card. But depending on a) how often you swipe your debit card, and b) how strict your budget is, then moving over a dollar at a time could become overwhelming.
Are these banks trustworthy?
The Better Business Bureau grades companies’ trustworthiness by looking at responses to customer complaints, honesty in advertising, and transparency about business practices. Here are the BBB scores for each of our top picks:
|Alliant Credit Union||A+|
|Bank of America||A+|
Ally and Chime have the lowest BBB scores on our list. The BBB cites the banks’ high number of customer complaints about both grades.
The banks on our list with recent scandals are the national brick-and-mortar banks: Chase, TD Bank, Chime, and Bank of America.
In 2020, the Department of Justice required Chase to pay $920 million for wrongful trading. In 2018, JPMorgan Chase & Co. paid the Securities and Exchange Commission $135 million for mishandling American Depisitary Receipts, certificates that let Americans invest in foreign stocks.
The US Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection said TD Bank has been breaking the law by charging customers for its Debit Card Advance service without their permission. Customers have to enroll in this overdraft service, but TD Bank has been charging for DCA without proper consent.
Chime used the URL “Chimebank.com” and the words “bank” and “banking” even though it’s not licensed as a bank. Instead, it is a banking platform that is insured through a bank.
The Department of Justice charged Bank of America in 2020 for unfairly denying home loans to adults with disabilities, even though they qualified for loans. Bank of America paid around $300,000 total to people who were refused loans. In 2019, the Department of Labor required Bank of America to pay $4.2 million to people who claimed the bank discriminated against women, Black, and Hispanic applicants in the hiring process.
If these scandals worry you, you may prefer one of the online banks on our list. Most of Ally’s customer complaints have been closed, and Alliant has a great BBB score.
Frequently asked questions
Why trust our recommendations?
At Personal Finance Insider, we strive to help smart people make the best decisions with their money. We spent hours comparing and contrasting the features and fine print of over a dozen accounts so you don’t have to.
We understand that “best” is often subjective, however, so in addition to highlighting the clear benefits of an account – no fees, for example – we outline the limitations, too.
How did we choose the best bank accounts for college students?
Banking should be affordable for college students, so we either chose accounts that charge no fees or waive fees for students. We also looked at minimum opening deposits, and we chose savings accounts that don’t require a minimum balance to earn a high APY.
We selected brick-and-mortar banks with a large national presence so it could be easy to access branches/ATMs when you’re at school, visiting home, or going out of town. For online banks, we chose accounts with robust features, such as a budgeting tool or savings buckets.
Why choose a student bank account over a regular account?
Brick-and-mortar banks typically waive monthly fees for students under a certain age – however, not all banks do this for regular accounts. With a student account, you can be sure your fees will be waived. Plus, some student accounts include perks that might not be available for regular accounts, like no minimum opening deposits or waived ATM fees.
For online banks, there usually isn’t much benefit to opening a student account over a regular account – and many don’t even offer student accounts. Most online banks already don’t charge monthly fees and don’t require minimum balances (or the minimum balance is very low), so you’re already getting the perks of a college account.
What happens to a student bank account when you graduate?
Most student bank accounts become regular accounts after a certain point. This may be when you graduate, when you turn a certain age, or after a certain number of years.
How do you open a student bank account?
You’ll likely need to show proof you’re a student, such as a student ID or acceptance letter. If the bank requires you to be under a specific age, then you’ll probably need an official document that shows your birthday, like a driver’s license or birth certificate.
The experts’ advice for choosing a bank account
To learn more about what makes a good bank account and how to choose the best fit, four experts weighed in:
- Tania Brown, certified financial planner at SaverLife
- Roger Ma, certified financial planner with lifelaidout® and author of “Work Your Money, Not Your Life”
- Mykail James, MBA, certified financial education instructor, BoujieBudgets.com
- Laura Grace Tarpley, associate editor of banking, Personal Finance Insider
Here’s what they had to say about bank accounts. (Some text may be lightly edited for clarity.)
How can someone choose a bank that’s the right fit for them?
Tania Brown, CFP:
“Obviously, you want to make sure it’s FDIC insured. Also, your banking experience – do you like walking into a bank? Well, then you need someone local. Do you just not care if you ever see your bank? Then you’re okay online. Do you write checks? Do you not write checks? So it’s thinking through how your experience with it is going to be before you make that decision.”
Laura Grace Tarpley, Personal Finance Insider:
“I would look for the bank that charges you the least in fees. This means either no monthly fees, or you qualify to waive the monthly fees. If you never overdraw from your account, then a bank’s overdraft fees won’t matter much to you. But if you occasionally overdraw, then I’d look at the fees or overdraft protection options.”
What should someone look for in a brick-and-mortar bank?
Tania Brown, CFP:
“How can that bank grow with you? If you are 25, single or newly married, and all you need is a checking account, that’s going to look very different 15 years from now when you may have had a couple of jobs, you may have an IRA roll over, or you may want a financial adviser.”
Mykail James, CFEI:
“How accessible it is. So where are the branches? And if I am to go out of town or something, how accessible is my money to me?”
What should someone look for in an online bank?
Tania Brown, CFP:
“With an online bank, absolutely online customer service, because you do not have the advantage of walking inside and talking to a human being. How often are you able to get them? What are their hours?”
Roger Ma, CFP:
“How onerous the transfer process is, transferring money in and transferring money out. Is it same day, next day? Is it pretty easy to sync a brick-and-mortar checking account to this particular high-yield savings account?”
Mykail James, CFEI:
“When it comes to online banks, you want to be a little bit more strict about what type of interest rates they’re providing. That’s the biggest thing, because online banks are supposed to have the higher interest rate because they don’t have the overhead of the brick-and-mortar. You want to make sure that it’s well above the national average. What type of securities do they provide? Do they have two-factor identification? If it’s an online bank, they should definitely have – at the bare minimum – two-factor authentication in how easy it is to change your passwords and things like that, because you want to be a little more hypersensitive about the cyber security for a strictly online bank.”
What makes a checking account good or not good?
Roger Ma, CFP:
“I would look at the ATM branch locations and then minimum balance amounts to not incur a monthly fee … I think there’s other stuff that could make life easier, whether it’s a free checks, online bill pay, are they in the Zelle network?”
Laura Grace Tarpley, Personal Finance Insider:
“I would make a list of the top three to five things you want out of a checking account. Is it a great mobile app, 24/7 customer support, no ATM fees? Then research the best banks for those features.”
What makes a savings account good or not good?
Roger Ma, CFP:
“It might not be as seamless to get your money out of an online savings account as it is a brick-and-mortar, but you don’t want to have so much friction where it’s such a pain to get the money out when you need it.”
Mykail James, CFEI:
“Anything with a fee is not a good high-yield savings account. Anything that restricts how much you can save is, to me, not very good. If I can’t save more than $10,000 in this account, and then I have to move it over somewhere else – to me, that’s not a really good savings account, because it’s not really prepared to help me expand and grow, which is what a savings account is supposed to do. I also look at interest rates, definitely. I look to see when the interest is paid. Is it quarterly, or is it monthly? How often do they pay out interest, and what are the interest rate stipulations?”
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