Student checking accounts: How to find and choose one that works for you

College students walking togetherImage: College students walking together

In a Nutshell

A student checking account could be the first step in establishing a long-term relationship with a bank. But it’s important to comparison shop. The best student checking accounts offer transparency and minimal fees for newer customers.
Editorial Note: Intuit Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our third-party advertisers don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. Information about financial products not offered on Credit Karma is collected independently. Our content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.

Whether you’re in high school, college or vocational school, a student checking account could be the beginning of a long-term banking relationship.

Student checking accounts are personal checking accounts that offer features intended to appeal to students. These accounts may have fewer fees or other beginner-friendly features.

When you search for the term “student checking accounts,” you may see results for many bank websites, and it can be confusing. Let’s explore the basics of a student checking account, and what you should look for when comparing accounts to decide which one is best for you.

What is a student checking account?

Student checking accounts are bank spending accounts specifically marketed for students. These accounts may be beginner-friendly for those with less banking experience. Here are some ways a student checking account may differ from a regular checking account.

  • Age restrictions — Unlike regular checking accounts, student checking accounts may have age limits.
  • Must be a student — You may need to show proof of high school, college or vocational school enrollment to qualify for a student checking account.
  • Account minimums — While some regular checking accounts have account minimums, student accounts may waive these requirements or offer lower minimums.
  • Monthly maintenance fees — Some banks charge a monthly maintenance fee to keep the account active. But many banks allow you to avoid  maintenance fees with a student checking account. 
  • ATM fees — There are typically ways to avoid ATM fees with a student checking account. You may have access to a large network of ATMs or reimbursements for ATM fees. 
  • Overdraft fees — Student checking accounts may have no overdraft fees or offer overdraft protection by linking another bank account.

Why does a student checking account matter?

As you begin a new semester or school year, a student checking account may not be your top priority. But having one may be a good idea for many reasons. In fact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends that students choose a bank account as soon as possible before starting school.

If you’re heading to college, you may rely on your school’s financial aid disbursement to help with tuition, housing costs and books. You generally have multiple options for how you’ll receive financial aid funds, including a paper check, cash a debit card through another bank, or direct deposit.

To expedite the process, you can open a student checking account and set up direct deposit with your school before the semester begins. By setting up direct deposit in advance, you may receive money weeks before the school would send a paper check. Plus, by having funds deposited into an account you chose after comparison shopping for the best offers, you may be able to avoid bank fees that can be associated with a disbursement account. 

A bank account may also be convenient if you want to use online banking for recurring bills like your cellphone. You may also have the option of making peer-to-peer payments, which allow you to transfer money to friends or family without the hassle of writing a check or carrying cash. 

What should I look for in a student checking account?

While a student checking account may be ideal for a beginner, you’ll still need to ask questions and read the fine print to avoid potential pitfalls before you open a bank account. After doing some initial research to find student checking account options, evaluate each account based on these factors (there may be others to consider, too).

  • How to qualify — You’ll need to ask about eligibility for each student checking account, including age restrictions and proof of enrollment requirements. Some accounts may only be for college students while others may also be available for high school students.    
  • Balance requirements — See if the student checking account has minimum balance requirements to avoid fees. It’s common for student checking accounts to waive minimum balance requirements.
  • Maintenance fees — Ask if the bank charges monthly service fees. If so, the bank may waive the fees for student checking accounts if the account holder meets certain criteria.
  • ATM fees — Find out how much it costs to use ATMs. If the bank doesn’t have a network of in-person ATMs, it may reimburse you for fees you’ll likely incur when using a non-network ATM. But keep in mind, the bank may also cap the amount it will reimburse.
  • Overdraft fees — Fees for overdrawing your account can be high. Some student accounts may not charge overdraft fees but will decline transactions if you don’t have enough money in your account — which could result in a nonsufficient funds fee. Others may waive a fee on the first overdrawn item. And some may offer overdraft protection, which generally covers a transaction by drawing money from a savings account if you don’t have enough in your checking.
  • Other fees — You should always review the bank’s agreement and disclosures to see a complete list of service fees. Some examples of lesser-known fees may include a per-check fee, check printing fee, returned deposit fee, stop payment fee and more.
  • Mobile banking and online bill pay — Learn about the bank’s mobile app and options for managing transactions online.

How can I open a student checking account?

Depending on the bank and your age, you may have the option to apply for a student checking account online or in-person. The bank will need to verify your identity to open the account. The process may include confirming your name, date of birth, address and Social Security number. To be eligible for a student checking account, the bank may need proof of your enrollment status through your student ID or acceptance letter.

Next steps

If you’ve never had a bank account before, one option for finding a student account is to check with the bank where your parents have accounts. You can also find student account options with an online search.

When you’re looking for a student checking account, there are plenty of choices, but the best options may have minimal or even no fees. Some fees to watch for include ATM withdrawal fees, monthly maintenance fees and overdraft charges.

About the author: Kate Dore is a Nashville-based personal finance writer and Candidate for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Certification. She teaches financial literacy with Junior Achievement and writes for Business Insider, Investopedia… Read more.