Back-to-school spending is on the rise. Teens plan to spend $913 million of their own money on school items this year, according to the National Retail Federation. More than ever, parents need to consider how best to educate their children about financial responsibility. One place to start is with a student checking account to help students manage their finances, especially as they enter college.
For a smooth financial experience, parents and their children alike should shop for the best deals on checking accounts. The ideal student account combines low or no minimum required balances, minimal fees and opportunities to earn interest. Look for extra perks as well such as “forgiveness” programs that wipe out the first overdraft fee or rewards programs that offset some of the daily spending. Financial institutions offer additional benefits to students in order to establish new business that they expect will transition into the long term. But also read the fine print to make sure there are no caveats.
With back-to-school season in gear, we compared 500 checking accounts of varying types — personal, online and student — to identify those offering the best fees and features for the (hopefully) budget-conscious student. When shopping for a checking account, don’t focus on brand and whether the account has a “student” prefix. In our picks below, we looked at accounts for both students and general consumers, either of which students can apply for. By doing so, you can expand your options and maximize the amount of your offer. Last but not least, make sure to compare our picks with accounts offered by your local bank or credit union, as we selected only accounts that most students can qualify for, not just students in particular localities.
No monthly fee together with the ability to earn a 1.5% APY on all balances up to $10,000 (0.5% after) provided you use your debit card 10 times per month AND enroll to receive online statements. There is no charge for using other banks’ ATMs, but you will receive a $25 monthly worldwide refund for the surcharge assessed by the owners of these ATMs.
The Evantage Bank Rewards Checking is the AmericaNet Rewards Account’s identical twin in terms of charges and benefits. Like the former, there’s no monthly fee, and you can earn a 1.5% APY on all balances up to $10,000 (0.5% after) provided you meet the same requirements: post and clear 10 check card (debit) sales transactions AND enroll to receive online statements. There is no charge for using other banks’ ATMs. And you’ll receive the $25 monthly worldwide refund for the surcharge assessed by the owners of these ATMs.
The Bank of Internet Rewards Checking account is accompanied with a host of benefits: For one, it doesn’t charge any monthly fees, overdraft fees or NSF fees. For two, ATM withdrawals also are free, as Bank of Internet will reimburse charges incurred at out-of-network ATMs and doesn’t assess fees for in-network withdrawals. In addition, the account offers an APY of up to 1.25%, but you’ve got to earn that maximum rate. Bank of Internet gives you a bump in APY for each one of the following qualifications that you meet: you must receive over $1,000 in direct deposits monthly AND use your debit card at least 10 times per month. Keep in mind that your balance will not accrue interest if you don’t meet any of those qualifications. The Bank of Internet Rewards Checking is therefore a great choice for students who have a part-time job that allows them to get via direct deposit.
Simple is an online financial institution associated with The Bancorp Bank. The company offers a single checking account product notable for its lack of fees for account overdrafts, insufficient funds and ATM withdrawals at Allpoint’s 55,000 locations. This account comes with a couple of caveats. For starters, Simple customers can only send checks electronically, which means you won’t get a paper checkbook. What’s more, after 180 days of no activity on your account, you will be charged a $5 monthly inactivity fee until the next transaction you make. Ultimately, this account — which can be opened with no initial deposit and has no monthly fee — is a great option for cost-conscious consumers. It has one of the most straightforward — dare we say, simple — fee structures of all the checking accounts we examined. It also offers a lower foreign transaction fee than the Bank of Internet Rewards Checking. Finally, Simple leverages an ATM network that is large enough to avoid withdrawal fees.
This free account gives a 1.5% APY (up to a $10,000 balance) as long as you use your debit card 10 times per month AND enroll to receive online statements. Similar benefits can be obtained by applying for the Evantage Bank Rewards Checking. If one of your family members works for an airline, you may also want to consider the American Airlines Federal Credit Union Priority Checking which offers a 2.27% APY on all balances up to $5,000 (0.05% after).
For students that travel abroad or even like to shop from foreign merchants, what makes this account truly unique is the fact that it does not charge a foreign transaction fee and will reimburse ALL ATM surcharges worldwide. In other words, you can use any ATM around the world for free. The only caveat, is that the Charles Schwab Bank’s High Yield Investor Checking Account is automatically linked with a Schwab brokerage account, but that should not be a reason to dismiss the offer. Neither account has a minimum balance requirement or monthly fees.
In the past few years, checking accounts have stopped providing much in the way of rewards. Most banks advertising rewards programs really only offer discounts on merchandise from specific retailers. In fact, credit card rewards programs often provide more than five times the cash value of checking account rewards programs. That said, if you’re looking to avoid credit card use and prefer a checking account with rewards, this account offers 1 point for every $3 spent in signature transactions. When redeemed for gift cards, this rewards program gives you the equivalent of approximately 0.28% cash back. There is no monthly fee and you won’t have to worry about the first five non-bank ATM charges, either. Another interesting rewards program belongs to Rockland Trust Company Free Eco Checking . The no-monthly-fee account can earn up to $300 a year ($25 per month) — you receive 10 cents for every purchase over $10. Provided you make a lot of small purchases throughout the month, this account may end up offering close to 1% cash back. It is available in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.