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Did Your Bank Make the Cut?

Bank Accounts

Did Your Bank Make the Cut?

If you’re a high school or college student and you haven’t opened a bank account yet, you’ve likely been putting off opening a bank account. 

True, it’s a busy time of life. But life’s only going to get busier. 

Paying for rent and food and your social life and maybe even your tuition on limited funds can be difficult. Luckily, many banks offer checking and savings accounts specifically for students, with simpler offerings and, therefore, lower fees. 

If you look hard enough, there’s a good chance you can find an account that will give you everything you’re wanting from a bank during your pre-working years for free, or close to it. 

We did that looking for you, and these are the five best banks we’ve found for high school and college students in 2020.

How We Chose the Best Banks for High School and College Students

For this list, we made a few assumptions about your financial needs as a student.

  1. It’s not time for saving yet. While we do provide some basic information about the savings account options at each bank on this list, we prioritized the checking account features to narrow the field. 
  2. Maintenance fees are a deal breaker. Most high school and college students have low discretionary funds, so a monthly charge can take its toll. 
  3. You may overdraft a lot. No shame. It can take some time to learn how to live off close to nothing without occasionally crossing into the red.
  4. The more branches and/or free ATMs, the better. You may currently be, or soon be, splitting your year between your college town and your hometown. 
  5. You may not have funds to put down for a minimum deposit. Having to save cash to open a bank account can be another reason not to open a bank account.

But since it’s time to begin this process, here are the five best banks for students.

The 5 Best Banks for Students in 2020

Now that you know what to look for in a bank account while you’re still in school, here are our picks for the five best bank accounts for students.

Best Bank for High School Students: Alliant Credit Union

  • Minimum opening deposit: $0
  • Overdraft fee: $25 per charge

As you may know, credit unions operate a little differently than traditional banks. For one, they’re member-owned, which means you’ll need to become a member to open an account at Alliant. 

Credit union accounts also typically offer higher interest rates — you’ll notice Alliant’s annual percentage yield, or APY, is the highest on this list at 0.65%. To get that rate in a given billing cycle, your account will need at least one electronic deposit during the cycle. 

The Alliant Teen Checking Account is available to members ages 13 to 17. There are no minimum opening deposits or maintenance fees. 

You’ll have access to 80,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide, and Alliant offers a $20 rebate for out-of-network ATM charges each billing cycle. Alliant will also replace your ATM card for free. 

What about the savings account? Alliant’s High-Rate Savings Account requires a $5 opening deposit (and a $5 balance to remain open). If you can keep an average daily balance of $100, your account will earn 2.1% interest — a good rate for a traditional savings account. 

The downside? Overdrafts will cost you $25 per transaction — not unreasonable, but ideally, a student account would be a little more forgiving. There’s also a $10 “inactivity fee” if you don’t use the account for a year, so this may not be the spot to deposit that one-time check from your aunt.

Best Bank for College Students: Chime

  • Minimum opening deposit: $0

Chime isn’t limited to students, but the mobile bank’s barebones approach should cover the needs of most college students. 

The thing is, lots of banks advertise their lack of fees. Oftentimes, on closer inspection, you’ll find that the charges have been redirected more than waived. What we like about Chime is that when they say fee-free, they’re being serious.

There’s no minimum opening deposit or account balance requirement. You won’t pay a monthly service fee. Your card will not allow overdraft charges, which means no overdraft fees. Replacement cards are free. It’s free to use 38,000 in-network ATMs. 

There are no foreign transaction fees, which can run as high as 3% at major banks. (Looking at you, travelers.)

And for the thinly stretched college students, Chime deposits payments into your account as soon as it receives notification of the transaction. This puts the funds in your account up to two days earlier. 

What about the savings account? There is no minimum deposit to open a savings account through Chime, but if your balance is $0 for nine months, it will be considered an inactive account. Chime savings accounts earn just 0.01% interest.

The downside? This account doesn’t earn interest. Although checking accounts are not typically known for their high interest rates, something is obviously better than nothing. 

Best Online Bank for Students: Ally 

  • Minimum opening deposit: $0
  • Overdraft fee: $25 per charge

Admittedly, some of these features might sound less exciting now than they did when you started reading this, but Ally’s Interest Checking Account requires no minimum opening deposit and charges no monthly service fee. 

You’ll have access to over 55,000 ATMs for free, and Ally will reimburse $10 per statement for charges at out-of-network ATMs.

Incoming wires are also free (including international transfers). 

What about the savings account? Predictably, there are no maintenance charges or minimum balance requirements for Ally’s savings account

But the account’s APY of 1.9% compounds daily — meaning your money will grow faster than it would in an account that compounds quarterly or annually.

The downside? Much like Alliant, Ally doesn’t offer an overdraft safety guard, except that it won’t charge you more than one overdraft fee in a single day.

Best National Bank for Students: Capital One 

  • Minimum opening deposit: $0
  • Overdraft fee: You’ve got four protection options (see below)

It’s true that the Capital One 360 Checking account ticks the boxes we’ve been laying out so far — there are no minimum account balances or maintenance fees. The annual interest is competitive.

But it’s the bank’s size and overdraft protection options that top this list.

Captial One has 775 branches across the country, and your card will give you access to over 80,000 ATMs fee-free. If you are splitting your time between towns or looking at moving soon, you can be assured you will have access.

You’ll also have the option to handle your overdrafts in one of four ways:

  • The bank can decline any charge that exceeds your balance; 
  • Capital One can automatically transfer funds from your savings account to cover the charge at no extra cost; 
  • You can direct Capital One to create a line of credit for any overdrawn funds, which you’ll be required to pay back with interest; or 
  • You can get a “next day grace,” which allows you a full business day to cover the overdrawn balance before you incur a charge of $35. 

What about the savings account? There’s no minimum deposit to open a savings account and no monthly fees associated. The account will earn 1% interest. 

The downside? An outgoing wire transfer will run you $40 per transfer — the highest fee from the five banks on our list.

Best Bank for International Students: PNC

  • Minimum opening deposit: $25
  • Maintenance fees: $0 (for six years)
  • Overdraft fees: One courtesy refund for your first overdraft. After that, it will cost you $36 per charge.

PNC’s option for student banking is the Virtual Wallet Student, which is actually a bundle of three accounts: a non-interest-earning checking account, an interest-earning checking account and a more standard savings account.

When you’re working with a new currency, there’s a learning curve. And PNC offers a few helpful features.

Interpreters speak 240 languages on PNC’s customer service line, which is available 24 hours per day. While the bank does charge a steep overdraft fee, your first charge will be waived. The Virtual Wallet Student also provides a digital calendar that will show your upcoming paydays and payments — it will even display potential Danger Days to help you avoid an overdraft. 

It will take $25 to get started with the Wallet, but you won’t pay any fees for six years. You can receive one incoming wire transfer (domestic or international) per statement period at no cost. 

You’ll also have access to over 2,400 PNC locations and 15,000 in-network ATMs.

What about the savings account? Contact PNC for current interest rates and APYs.

The downside? Card replacement will cost you $7.50, and the overdraft fee is the most of the five banks on our list. If your account stays overdrawn for five days, you’ll be charged an additional $7 per day up to the maximum penalty of $98. 

Which all means this is likely not the best option if you question your level of responsibility.

But since you chose to study in a foreign country and you just read this article, we assume you’re on top of things.

Jake Bateman is a writer and editor in Florida. 

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