Fall is here, and your first week of college is starting (or maybe just around the corner). It’s time to make a trip to the bookstore, the nearest IKEA, and your local credit union. Sure, you could open your first checking account at a big bank, and many students do, but you’d be missing out on all the amazing perks that university credit unions offer their members.
Free checking + perks = a sweet deal
Did you know that you can get university swag, free financial literacy training, or straight-up cash money just for opening a checking account? Unlike big banks, credit unions are not-for-profit financial institutions that are 100% committed to their members: students like you, and people in the community. While all credit unions are fabulous, the nerds at NerdWallet discovered after looking through 81 university credit union profiles that some have truly exceptional student perks. Each of these institutions also offers completely free checking, meaning no minimum balance requirements and no monthly maintenance fees. Read on to see our top picks for university credit unions (and their respective student perks).
Elevations Credit Union – University of Colorado, Boulder
Elevations Credit Union has 1 on-campus branch at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and 8 convenient on-campus ATMs. They also have off-campus branches in Boulder, Westminster, Lafayette, Longmont and Loveland. If you open a Buff One Banking account between June 1st and August 31st, you’ll get an extra $100! University of Colorado students are eligible for this offer as long as they sign up for a debit card and eStatements at the time of account opening, and keep their account open for a year. The Buff One Banking account also has low fees for incidental expenses like overdrafts, and other convenient features like online and mobile banking. Credit union membership is open to affiliates of CU Boulder and Naropa University, and all Colorado residents. Please see the Elevations Open an Account page for complete details.
Harvard University Employees Credit Union – Harvard University
Harvard University Employees Credit Union has branches at Harvard Square, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown Navy Yard and the Longwood Medical Area. Their free checking account offers some of the best student perks we’ve seen. You’ll get 3 “no questions asked” refunds of accidental fees (i.e. overdrafts), a $10 gift certificate for a local restaurant every semester you get a 3.5 GPA (or higher), refunds of all out-of-network ATM surcharges (if you use your debit card 12 times per month), and a free first order of checks. Not too shabby! While the “no questions asked” refunds aren’t a flashy perk, they’re particularly relevant for students, who may have little experience banking. And restaurant rewards for good grades in college? That might be the most endearing perk we’ve seen. Credit union membership is open to affiliates of Harvard University and affiliate organizations. Please see their Eligibility page for a complete list of ways to qualify.
South Florida Educational Federal Credit Union – Miami-Dade College
South Florida Educational Federal Credit Union has branches in Miami and Homestead. In addition to free student checking, they also offer a free financial literacy class, “Got Green?”, that is open to all Miami-Dade College students. This three-part workshop provides students with unbiased information on using credit responsibly, budgeting, and maintaining a bank account. South Florida Educational FCU has hosted over 207 financial literacy workshops on the Miami-Dade College campus. They’ve taught 3,900 students this past school year alone, so you know they’ve got their teaching methods down to a science. Credit union membership is open to affiliates of Miami-Dade College and Miami-Dade County Public Schools, but there are many additional ways to qualify. Please see their Join the Credit Union page for complete details.
Metro Credit Union – Boston University, Boston College, Tufts University
Metro Credit Union serves several Boston-area colleges, as well as many cities in Massachusetts. Sometimes, the best student perk is a little extra spending money, and Metro Credit Union offers their members many ways to get it. Their debit card offers better rewards than most credit cards, with 3 cents back on every purchase (up to $250 per year). Metro Credit Union also offers unlimited refunds of other banks’ ATM fees, meaning customers can use any ATM anywhere in the country and pay no surcharges whatsoever. It gets better: the free checking account can be linked with a high-yield savings account that currently offers 4.00% APY on balances up to $3,000. Credit union membership is open to anyone who lives, works or has a place of business in Essex, Middlesex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Plymouth, Barnstable or Worcester counties.
Credit Union of Texas – Southern Methodist University
Credit Union of Texas has locations throughout the Dallas area. They offer a free interest-bearing checking account for students, and there’s no minimum required to earn rewards. Additionally, students can earn ATM surcharge refunds of up to $25 per month, provided they make 10 debit card transactions, receive eStatements, and set up direct deposit. Be sure to ask them about their “pay for grades” contest too! Almost anyone in the Dallas area is eligible for membership, including students and faculty of local universities like Southern Methodist. Please see the Credit Union of Texas Join Us page for complete details.
Johns Hopkins Federal Credit Union – Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins Federal Credit Union has 4 branch locations in Baltimore. In addition to being being free, their student checking account gives you 5 cents back for each Visa check card purchase. Johns Hopkins FCU also has a great promotion running from now until September 21st: new JHU undergrads get a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble when they open an account. Unlike many student accounts, you can keep this one until you’re 30. Then, like most accounts, it converts to a standard checking account. Credit union membership is open to students and employees of Johns Hopkins and most of its affiliates, as well as employees of select education and healthcare organizations. Please see the Johns Hopkins FCU Member Eligibility page for complete details.
Carolina Collegiate Federal Credit Union – University of South Carolina
Carolina Collegiate Federal Credit Union has branches in Columbia, Conway and Spartanburg. This includes on-campus branches at USC, Coastal Carolina University, and University of South Carolina Upstate. Carolina Collegiate’s Stress-Free Student Checking account comes with free budgeting software and financial counseling, plus access to a variety of discounts, usually 10 – 20%, on music, entertainment, restaurants, car care, and lots more. The list includes local businesses like the Honeycomb Café and national chains like Domino’s Pizza. Membership is open to affiliates of the University of South Carolina or Costal Carolina University. There are many other ways to join. Please see their About Us page for complete details.
Stanford Federal Credit Union – Stanford University
Stanford Federal Credit Union has 4 on-campus branches for your convenience. You’ll receive your debit card the same day you open a Student eChecking account. There are no foreign currency exchange fees on international debit or credit card transactions, making the eChecking account perfect for students who plan on studying abroad. You’ll also get 4 ATM fee reimbursements each month for out-of-network ATM transactions. Make sure you check your email regularly; Stanford FCU will use it for all your important communications. Membership is open to the Stanford community, but there are other ways to join. Please see their field of membership page for complete details.
University of Nebraska Federal Credit Union – University of Nebraska
University of Nebraska Federal Credit Union has 2 branches in Lincoln. Their free checking account comes with lots of free, practical goodies like credit counseling with Accel financial counselors. It also earns interest if you keep an average daily balance over $1,000. Their branches even have drive-up tellers for the student on the go. Membership is open to affiliates of the University of Nebraska, and family and housemates of eligible members. Please see their Who Can Join page for complete details.
Student Federal Credit Union – University of Pennsylvania
Student Federal Credit Union has one branch on campus, right above the Starbucks on Walnut Street. Their Signature Checking Account comes with free overdraft protection, cashier’s checks, and free, unlimited international wire transfers. You don’t even need a social security number to open an account, making it perfect for international students. Student Federal Credit Union also offers summer travel loans, so you don’t have to max out your credit card for that next rockin’ winter break. Membership is open to Penn students and alumni, and their immediate family members.