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Everything You Need to Know About Student Bank Accounts

Summer is winding down and millions of students across the country are headed off to college for the first time. If you haven’t done it already, opening a student bank account should be the at the top of your freshman financial to-do list. Understanding the basics of how these student accounts work can help you make the best choice when it comes to deciding where to put your money.

Find out now: Which checking account is best for me?

Checking, Savings or Both?

Depending on what you need, you can set up a checking account, savings account or one of each. If you’re planning to use a debit card for making purchases or write checks to pay bills, you’ll want to go with a checking account that’s designed just for students. Student checking accounts tend to have fewer fees than a regular checking account (some are even free!) and you generally don’t have to worry about maintaining a set balance each month.

Linking a savings account to your student checking account is a smart move if you want to stash away extra cash for a big purchase or just have a little cushion in case of emergencies. Even if you’re only setting aside $5 or $10 a week, it’ll add up over time and you’ll even earn a little interest on the money you’re saving.

You can set up your account to have money automatically transferred from your checking to your savings or you can use your savings account for overdraft protection in case you’re not able to cover a purchase. Just keep in mind that you’re limited as to how many withdrawals you can make from a savings account each month.

Picking the Right Bank

Student Checking Account

When it comes to choosing which bank to open a student account with, there are several things to keep in mind. First, you want to pay attention to the fees the bank charges. For example, some banks charge a monthly maintenance fee just for having an account, regardless of what your balance is. Other banks may charge a fee if your balance falls below a certain limit. If you overspend, you could get hit with an overdraft fee of $30 or more.

You also need to keep an eye out for smaller fees, which can eat away at your balance little by little. Hitting the ATM a few times a week may not seem like a big deal but if you’re paying a service fee every time you make a withdrawal you’re essentially throwing money away.

One other thing you want to look for when choosing a bank is accessibility. Small local banks and credit unions can offer great deals in terms of fees but they tend to be limited to just one geographic area. This can be a major inconvenience if you need to visit the branch in-person. Ideally, you should try to find a bank that has ATM or branch locations in your hometown and near campus so you’ll always have convenient access to your money.

Related Article: Banks with the Best Perks

Making the Most of Your Account

Student Checking Account

Keeping up with your bank balance is probably the last thing on your mind when you’re trying to juggle a full course load with working part-time, volunteering or having a social life. Fortunately, many banks offer services that make it easier for students to keep track of their spending on the go. When you’re shopping around for a student checking or savings account, don’t forget to ask about the extras.

Most banks offer online banking, mobile banking and automatic bill payment services at no charge. Some banks even offer free email or text alerts that let you know if a scheduled payment is due or when your balance is getting low. These free tools can take the hassle out of managing your money and help you avoid unnecessary fees.

If you’re looking for even more perks, you might want to opt for a student account that’s tied to a rewards program. For example, the Citibank Student Checking Account lets you earn points that can be redeemed for gift cards or cash back.

Opening your first bank account is a major financial milestone and it pays to do your research beforehand. Comparing all of your banking options ensures that you get the most bang for your buck in the long run.

Related Article: Checking Out Checking

Source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Student Banking: Managing Your College Money

Photo Credit:  © iStock.com/Chris Bernard Photography Inc., © iStock.com/YinYang, © iStock.com/LPETTET

Rebecca Lake Rebecca has been writing about the nuts and bolts of personal finance since 2009. Her work has appeared on a number of popular finance sites, including the Quickbooks/Intuit small business blog and Money Crashers. As a homeschooling mom of two, she's always looking for ways to make the most of every dollar.

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