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When you graduate from college armed with a degree, a strong work ethic and an open mind you can do anything — even navigate your banking future. Your financial needs are going to change in the “real world” and that means your bank account should too.
“There’s not necessarily a difference in the products, but what’s different is how you’re using these banking instruments,” says Bellaria Jimenez, CFP and managing partner at MetLife Solutions Group in New Jersey. “After college your first emphasis is on understanding your budget.”
Since your inflow of money, your bills and even your location might be different, you need a bank account that reflects your new life situation. As you get ready to switch bank accounts, there are a few factors to consider.
If you already have a student checking account or savings at a bank and you’re happy with the service so far, then switching over to a non-student account will be simple. Choosing a new bank and a shiny new account will take a little more thought.
Choosing a bank
Think about your physical banking needs.
- Go local. If you plan to live and work in one place, you could consider a local credit union or bank.
- Think national. if you plan to travel or aren’t sure where in the country you’ll end up, then a national bank might be the way to go.
- Look for broad access. If you want to stick with a local bank, but you plan to travel, find one that partners with ATM or other networks that have nationwide access.
- Online only. If you don’t need a bricks-and-mortar location, then an online only bank could be the right fit too.
Next, learn about the ATM network your bank is in to ensure you’ll have access to cash wherever you go. Then, get a feel for its mobile offerings. Banking apps may offer ATM locators, bill pay, mobile deposits, person-to-person payments and more.
Compare checking accounts
Not all checking accounts are created equal, Jimenez says. She adds, “There are so many banks competing for your money so there are great opportunities to see what banks are giving you the best opportunities.”
Compare accounts based on balance requirements, fees and any possible additional benefits. Check the fine print for these fees:
- Overdraft protection
- Debit cards
- Bounced checks
- Minimum balances
Finding a bank account that doesn’t charge a minimum balance fee should be your No. 1 priority, says Phil Schuman, director of financial literacy at Indiana University. “You probably don’t have a whole lot to put into an account to begin with, so research accounts to make sure they’re not going to charge you for the money you have,” he says.
Opening the account
To get your new bank account started, close your current checking account first or take out only enough money for an initial deposit in your new account. If you keep your old account running and it requires a minimum balance, avoid fees by making sure the amount you have there doesn’t drop below the requirement. The minimum initial deposit amount will vary on an account-by-account basis. You’ll also need to provide a bank with your Social Security number as well as photo identification, such as a driver’s license, state identification card or passport.
Change your settings
Once you have a new bank account, remember to switch account information on any automatic bill payments you have and remove any linked accounts on shopping websites. To make sure you receive your paycheck, change over your direct deposit from work, or find out if it’s offered.
Make monitoring your bank account either online or through a mobile app part of your routine to check on balances, avoid overdrafts and ensure no errors are made.
What about savings accounts?
When you start working, it’s time to kick off good saving habits. A basic savings account with low minimum balances will be a good way to transfer money from your checking into a rainy day fund. Your savings may not be much of an investment, however — typical accounts offer annual percentage yields of 0.01% on all balances. Higher-yield savings accounts are possible, you just have to look. Start with the NerdWallet high-yield savings account comparison tool.
“The interest rate on savings accounts is so small that it’s not going to accumulate much. The fees are what to look out for,” Schuman says.
When you’re thinking about graduating from your current bank account, take the time to do your homework. This way, when you enter the working world, you’ll have the banking savvy to take control of your finances.
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