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7 Best Banks for College Students of 2019

Dec. 21, 2018
Banking, Checking Accounts, Savings Accounts
Best Checking Accounts for College Students
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Many banks offer deposit accounts with college students in mind. Some of them are great, but others aren’t.

When looking for a new bank as a college student, seek out accounts (whether or not they cater specifically to students) that have the following: no or easily avoided monthly fees, solid overdraft policies, good interest rates, extensive ATM networks and online banking. The following banks have accounts that offer all or most of those features.

Alliant Credit Union

4.5 NerdWallet rating

Alliant is a credit union with inclusive membership criteria and accounts that are great even once you’ve graduated.

  • Monthly fee: Alliant doesn’t charge a monthly fee on either of its checking accounts, and the fee is easy to avoid on its standard savings account (just select e-statements).
  • Overdraft policy: Alliant offers free overdraft protection transfers. If you do incur an overdraft, the fee is slightly lower than average.
  • Interest rates: Alliant’s standard savings account pays a competitive interest rate. Its free checking account doesn’t pay interest, but its High Rate Checking account does, and it’s easy to qualify for the best rate: Just choose e-statements and have at least one electronic deposit per month.
  • ATM accessibility: More than 80,000 fee-free ATMs and up to $20 per month in rebates for out-of-network ATM fees.
  • Branch accessibility: Alliant’s Chicago-area headquarters is open to the public. If you’re not nearby, you’ll have to bank online, but joining is easy. Just indicate that you support a partner charity, and Alliant will make a donation on your behalf.

Read more about Alliant in our Alliant review.

Ally Bank

4.5 NerdWallet rating

Ally Bank is a strong online bank with no monthly fees and competitive interest rates.

  • Monthly fee: Ally charges no monthly fee on checking or savings accounts.
  • Overdraft policy: The bank offers free overdraft transfers. That means if you spend more than what’s in your checking account, Ally will pull money from a linked savings account to cover the difference for free. If your savings doesn’t cover it, you may get hit with a $25 overdraft fee, up to once per day.
  • Interest rates: Rates are competitive, particularly for savings accounts.
  • ATM accessibility: 43,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide.
  • Branch accessibility: Since it’s an online bank, you’ll have to complete all your banking tasks on your computer or mobile device.

» Check out NerdWallet’s favorites: Our picks for best banks and credit unions overall

Capital One 360

4.5 NerdWallet rating

Capital One 360 is an online bank with no fees, highly competitive interest rates and in-person help at select locations.

  • Monthly fees: Capital One 360 doesn’t have any monthly fees on its checking, savings or money market accounts.
  • Overdraft policy: If you don’t have enough money to cover a debit transaction, Capital One 360’s default overdraft policy is to reject it, costing you nothing. You can opt into an overdraft service, but you’ll be charged $35 if it’s used.
  • Interest rates: Capital One 360 offers competitive interest rates on its checking, savings and money market accounts.
  • ATM access: 39,000 fee-free Capital One and Allpoint ATMs nationwide. The bank won’t charge you for using an out-of-network ATM, though the ATM owner may.
  • Branch access: Capital One 360 is the online subsidiary of Capital One, but you can access services at Capital One branches, as well as at Capital One 360’s Cafes.

» Learn about more online options in NerdWallet’s best online checking accounts roundup.

Discover

4.5 NerdWallet rating
Discover

at Discover,

Member, FDIC

Discover Bank doesn’t offer specific products for students, but its rewarding checking and savings accounts are great for people of all ages.

  • Monthly fee: No monthly fee for checking or savings.
  • Overdraft policy: Discover’s overdraft fee is about average, but it’s charged a maximum of one time per day. Overdraft protection transfers are free, and overdrafts are eligible for the bank’s First Fee Forgiveness program.
  • Interest rates: Discover’s savings account pays a competitive rate. Its checking account doesn’t pay interest, but it does offer 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit spending each month.
  • ATM accessibility: More than 60,000 fee-free ATMs across the country.
  • Branch accessibility: Discover is an online bank, but its customer service agents are available by phone 24 hours a day.

Read more about Discover in our Discover review.

» Maximize your interest with NerdWallet’s best high-yield online savings accounts

Golden 1 Credit Union

4.0 NerdWallet rating
Golden 1 Credit Union

at Golden 1 Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Golden 1 Credit Union’s Student Checking account, for college students 17 and older, has no monthly maintenance fees and no minimum balance requirements.

  • Monthly fee: No monthly fees for its student checking or regular savings accounts.
  • Overdraft policy: If you don’t opt in to an overdraft policy, Golden 1 will simply decline debit card and ATM transactions. However, they’ll hit you with a fee if checks and automatic bill payments go through without there being a sufficient balance.
  • Interest rates: While not rock-bottom, rates aren’t as strong here as they are at many online banks.
  • ATM accessibility: 30,000 fee-free ATMs across the country, plus a free box of checks.
  • Branch accessibility: Golden 1 is based in California, but it’s easy to join, even if you live or attend school elsewhere in the United States. You can become eligible by joining the Financial Fitness Association, a nonprofit that raises awareness about personal finance. Membership costs $8.

Read more in our Golden 1 review.

» Wondering how big banks measure up? Use our student checking account tool to compare.

Simple

4.0 NerdWallet rating
Simple

at Simple,

Member, FDIC

For those who prefer to do their banking on mobile devices, Simple’s no-fee checking account can be a good fit.

  • Monthly fees: Simple doesn’t charge any monthly fees.
  • Overdraft policy: There are no overdraft fees. If you try to spend money you don’t have, your transaction is simply declined.
  • Interest rates: Simple’s checking account earns a mere 0.01% APY. But if you have a protected goal account and fund it with at least $2,000, that money will earn 2.02% APY.
  • ATM accessibility: 40,000 fee-free ATMs across the country.
  • Branch accessibility: Since it’s a mobile bank, there are no branches you can access and there’s no way to deposit cash directly. But Simple’s mobile app has perks such as a spending tracker and budgeting tools that can help you develop good spending habits.

Read more about Simple’s banking experience in our Simple review.

TD Bank

3.5 NerdWallet rating
TD Bank

at TD Bank,

Member, FDIC

Sometimes it’s easiest to deal with banking issues by walking into a branch and talking to an actual person. TD Bank doesn’t offer the best interest rates, but it does offer a free student checking account and has over 1,200 locations along the East Coast.

  • Monthly fee: No monthly fee on its student checking account, and you can avoid the $5 fee on Simple Savings by maintaining a $300 minimum daily balance.
  • Overdraft policy: Overdraft transfers to replenish a depleted checking account are waived for students, but if you do overdraw your available balance, you may be charged standard overdraft fees. If you stick to the default option, TD Bank will decline debit card and ATM transactions at no charge.
  • Interest rates: You won’t find competitive interest rates at TD Bank.
  • ATM accessibility: TD Bank has over 1,900 ATMs.
  • Branch accessibility: Over 1,200 branches along the East Coast.

Read more about TD Bank in our TD Bank review.

Best banks for college students

Financial institutionWhy we like it
Strong choice for credit union.
Good online bank with no monthly fees.
Good choice for in-person service.
Discover

at Discover,

Member, FDIC

Rewards checking and fee forgiveness program.
Golden 1 Credit Union

at Golden 1 Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Credit union with student accounts.
Simple

at Simple,

Member, FDIC

Mobile checking with budgeting tools.
TD Bank

at TD Bank,

Member, FDIC

Strong branch presence on the East Coast.

Keep it cheap

If you’re a college student, chances are money is tight. Avoid fees where you can, especially overdraft fees — those are expensive, and adults age 18 to 25 incur more overdrafts than any other age group.


Methodology

We took a close look at over 70 financial institutions, including the largest U.S. banks based on assets, debit card volume, internet search traffic and other factors; the nation’s largest credit unions, based on deposits as well as broad-based membership requirements; and other notable and/or emerging players in the industry. We rated them on criteria including annual percentage yields, minimum balances, fees, digital experience and more.

Financial institutions surveyed include: Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, Alliant Credit Union, Ally Bank, America First Credit Union, American Express, Aspiration, Associated Bank, Axos Bank, Bank5 Connect, Bank7, Bank of America, Bank of the West, Barclays, BB&T, BBVA Compass, Boeing Employees Credit Union, BMO Harris, Capital One 360, Charles Schwab Bank, Chase, Chime, CIT, Citibank, Citizens Access, Citizens Bank, Comerica Bank, Commerce Bank, Connexus Credit Union, Consumers Credit Union, Discover Bank, E-Trade, Fidelity, Fifth Third Bank, First National Bank, First Tech Federal Credit Union, GoBank, Golden 1 Credit Union, GS Bank, HSBC Bank USA, Huntington Bank, KeyBank, MetaBank, M&T Bank, Moven, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, PNC, Popular Direct, PurePoint Financial, Radius Bank, Redneck Bank, Regions Bank, Sallie Mae Bank, Santander Bank, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, Security Service Federal Credit Union, Service Credit Union, Simple, State Employees’ Credit Union of North Carolina, State Farm Bank, Suncoast Credit Union, SunTrust Bank, Synchrony Bank, TCF Bank, TD Bank, TIAA Bank, Union Bank, UFB Direct, USAA, U.S. Bank, Varo, Wells Fargo and Zions Bank.

How we rate banks and credit unions