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By Leslie Cook
October 28, 2021
A student receiveds cash from an ATM in the form of textbook.
Janice Chang for Money

The best bank accounts for college students accommodate students’ on-the-go lifestyles, while also helping them learn how to spend and save wisely. The good news: Many banks offer special accounts geared just for young people, with fee discounts and extra tools to teach financial literacy.

Look for student accounts with little or no fees, attractive interest rates on savings and easy access to your money. Automatic bill pay and the ability to use person-to-person payments apps like Zelle are also important, making it easy to split the cost of a restaurant meal or concert tickets with friends.

Our Top Picks for Best Banks for Students of 2021

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Best Banks for Students Reviews

PNC’s Virtual Wallet Student Account offers low fees, low opening balance requirements and the ability to combine checking and savings accounts into a flexible banking package that matches students' on-the-move lifestyles.

Pros:

  • Combines three accounts in one
  • Low opening balance requirement
  • No monthly maintenance fees for six years from date of opening account
  • Low Cash mode lets you know when your funds are running low.

Cons:

  • Bank branches aren’t available in all states.
  • Limited amount of ATM fee reimbursements

PNC’s Virtual Wallet account gives students flexibility in a way that other competitors don’t. You can link up to three different accounts into one with low opening balance requirements and no monthly maintenance fees. That means you can mix and match to meet your banking needs. Even better: PNC doesn’t charge a monthly fee on the Virtual Wallet Student account for six years from the date of opening provided you’re actively enrolled in an educational institution. The three accounts you can choose from are:

Spend Account: A basic checking account that doesn’t earn interest. It can be opened with $25 at a PNC Branch or $0 online.

Reserve Account: A checking account designed for short-term savings goals. There’s no minimum opening balance required and this account earns interest on balances as low as $1.

Growth Account: A savings account designed for long-term savings goals. There’s no opening balance requirement, and there are two interest-earning balance tiers — from $1 to $2,499 and balances above $2,500. Contact PNC for information on what interest rate is available on each account in your area.

PNC also provides plenty of tools to help you keep track of your spending. With Low Cash Mode, you’ll be alerted when the balance in your Spend Account is low, giving you extra time to add cash to the account so you can avoid overdraft fees. It also gives you the option of paying or not paying specific charges when your Spend Account balance is negative.

While PNC has a fairly large number of branches available (over 2,300), they are located in only 28 states, primarily on the East Coast and the Midwest. You will have access to over 18,000 PNC and partner ATMs around the country though.

With Bank of America, you’ll not only have two checking account options geared towards students under the age of 24, but you’ll also find advice on how to create a budget, tips for getting the most out of your checking account and tools to make saving money automatic.

Pros:

  • Two checking accounts to choose from
  • Secure ways of paying bills or sending money person to person
  • Money management tools

Cons:

  • Checking accounts don’t earn interest.

For many, going away to college means having to learn how to budget and manage spending. BoA‘s Better Money Habits program provides tools to help you learn about creating a budget, managing debt and creating a plan to pay off student loans. Plus, you’ll get tips on how to save on grocery shopping, transportation and entertainment. The Spend Analysis tool will point out areas where you can save money you may not realize you have.

Students banking with BoA have two checking account options to choose from. Each of these accounts waives the monthly maintenance fees for actively enrolled students under the age of 24.

Advantage SafeBalance Banking, designed to help students stay on budget, is a checkless account that can be opened with as little as $25. Many checking accounts pay charges to your account even if you don’t have enough in deposits to cover the expense, then charge you an overdraft fee. The SafeBalance Banking Account won’t cover your expenses if you don’t have enough money. While that might sound like a disadvantage, many inexperienced savers see overdraft fees -- which can amount to $30 to $40 per transaction -- quickly pile up. With Advantage SafeBalance, you won’t have to worry about that.

For a more traditional checking account, the Advantage Plus Banking account gives you the option of buying paper checks and can be opened with a minimum of $100. On the downside, neither of these checking accounts pays interest.

At BofA you’ll also have access to close to 4,200 bank branches and over 17,000 ATMs across the country, be able to make payments and manage your account via BoA’s mobile app and send money to friends and family via person-to-person payment app Zelle.

With the largest number of branches of all the banks we considered, a large ATM network and the opportunity to link a campus ID to your bank account for quick and easy access (at least at some schools), Wells Fargo is our choice for most convenient.

Pros:

  • Low opening balance
  • Ability to link a checking account to your college campus ID
  • Everyday Checking accounts with a linked Campus Card receive: No Wells Fargo fee for up to four cash withdrawals at non-Wells Fargo ATMs per month plus one courtesy refund of an overdraft or insufficient funds fee per month

Cons:

  • Campus Card program is not available at all colleges and universities
  • Checking account doesn’t earn interest

Being able to avoid unnecessary fees is important for any student on a tight budget. Wells Fargo will waive the monthly fee on its Everyday Checking Account for students between 17 and 24 years old who are enrolled in an educational institution. If the Everyday Checking account is linked to the Campus Card, it also provides up to four cash withdrawals from non-Wells Fargo ATMs at no charge by Wells Fargo.

And if you accidentally spend more than you have in your account, you get one courtesy refund of an overdraft or insufficient fund fee per month (usually a $35 fee).

This checking account can be opened at one of Wells Fargo’s 4,900 bank branches or online if you’re 18 years or older. The minimum opening deposit is a reasonable $25, although the checking account doesn’t pay interest. You’ll have access to the Wells Fargo Mobile® app, where you’ll be able to manage your accounts, set up alerts and send money to friends with Zelle®.

With the Wells Fargo Campus Card Program, you can use your official college ID as an ATM card to make purchases with a unique PIN or to withdraw money at no charge from any of Wells Fargo’s 12,000 ATMs. You’ll still be able to use it to access the usual campus privileges, which is handy since you can use one card for all your campus needs. Although this is a cool feature, the drawback is that it’s currently only available at 27 colleges and universities across the country.

You won’t pay a monthly fee with a student checking account at US Bank. You’ll also pay less than other banks for using out-of-network ATMs, have free access to your credit score, and get your first box of checks for free.

Pros:

  • Low non-US Bank ATM fees
  • First box of checks free
  • Free credit score monitoring

Cons:

  • Bank branches available in a limited number of states.
  • Website doesn’t provide a lot of details, must contact the bank for more complete information.

US Bank is our choice for Best Bank for Low Fees because of the free perks you can enjoy with a student checking account. Monthly maintenance fees are waived for students enrolled in educational institutions. You’ll also have the option of doing all your banking online through US Bank’s mobile app, including access to Zelle, For, those who prefer paper checks, you’ll get your first box of checks free.

While ATM transactions at over 30,000 US Bank and MoneyPass network ATMs are free, US Bank will charge $2.50 for transactions at out-of-network ATMs, slightly less than the more common $3 charged by many national banks. However, you’ll get the first four non-US Bank ATM transactions for free for every statement period. If you’re looking for in-branch banking, US Bank has about 2,200 branches. But these are all in just 27 states, mostly in the Midwest.

Like Wells Fargo, US Bank also offers a campus card program, where your college ID card can be linked to US Bank’s Student Checking Account, allowing you to use the card to access to ATMs across the country. US Bank’s version of the program is available at 47 colleges and universities in 16 states.

You’ll also have free access to Transunion’s CreditView Dashboard, where you can check on your credit score, receive alerts on activity that may affect your credit and use the Score Simulator to see how changes you make to your spending and saving habits can affect your score in the future.

With Chase, you’ll be rewarded for opening a new student checking account. The bank provides a sign-up bonus on its checking products, including its College Checking Account. A little bit of extra cash to start school is always welcome.

Pros:

  • $100 sign-up bonus when opening a new student checking account
  • Access to large ATM and branch network
  • Get rewarded for referring a friend.

Cons:

  • Eligibility period is shorter than those of other banks considered.

The biggest draw of this account is the sign-up bonus. New customers opening an account will earn a $100 bonus. This offer is valid until January 19, 2022, so there’s time to get some extra cash before the next semester starts. (Chase frequently begins new offers after old ones expire.)

There are a couple of requirements to earning the bonus, but these aren’t out of reach for most students. You must be a new Chase customer and you have to make at least 10 qualifying transactions within the first 60 days of opening the account. Qualifying transactions include debit card purchases, online bill payments, mobile check deposits, person-to-person payments via Zelle and direct deposits.

If you already have a Chase College Checking account you can still earn some extra cash. You can earn $50 for each friend you refer who opens a Chase checking account, up to a maximum bonus of $500 per year. Aside from cash bonuses, you’ll also have the convenience of banking at over 4,700 branches nationwide and more than 17,000 ATMs.

Chase’s College Checking account is available to actively enrolled students between the ages of 17 and 24. The $6 monthly maintenance fee is waived for five years from the date the account is opened, which is one year less than the six-year waiver provided by other student checking accounts.

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How we chose the Best Banks for Students of 2021-2022

To pick winners the Best Bank for Students, Money started with the 25 largest retail-focused banks by assets and looked for accounts designed specifically for students or that offered special perks for students or young people, such as fee waivers. Money then partnered with data provider Curinos to review account minimums and qualifications, interest rates, monthly service fees, ATM fees, overdraft fees, overdraft protection fees, insufficient funds fees, debit card replacement fees, domestic wire transfer fees, and online banking capabilities.

When selecting finalists, priority was given to checking and savings accounts with no or easily waived monthly fees, free ATMs, and higher interest rates. In naming free accounts, we assumed customers would be okay with receiving e-statements to avoid a monthly fee.

The interest rates are as of October 25, 2021.

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