How to Choose the Right Bank Account as a New Grad

student checking account

As a newly graduated student, you’re moving on from using Mom and Dad’s bank or simply carrying around cash. The best kind of student checking account is one that will grow with you as you take on your first real job and get better at managing your finances.

Here are the features to look for and what to avoid in the best bank accounts.

1. Choose the right student checking account

Many student checking accounts start out with an age limit, which works fine while you’re in college. Once you graduate, that age limit may disqualify you, leaving you searching for a new student bank account. Most banks that offer a student checking account will also convert it to a standard bank account once you no longer qualify for it.

So should you change banks, or stick with your current one?

Your current bank wants to keep you as a customer, so they will make the transition from a student checking account to a standard one very smooth. However, it’s important to review the features this new account offers, what kinds of fees it comes with it, and any red flags to avoid.

If you find that you’re happy with your current bank and it fits well into the next phase of your life, by all means, continue using them. However, if you find that this bank doesn’t offer you the features you’re looking for, it’s time to make the switch.

2. Watch out for fees

One of the most important things to consider when choosing the right student bank account is the fees you could be charged. As a recent graduate, your budget and cash flow are likely limited. The best bank accounts are flexible and don’t come with unnecessary fees.

Banks tend to charge customers fees they’re unaware of until it’s too late, so review the terms and conditions before agreeing to open a new account. Even if banks advertise “fee-free checking accounts” they may come with conditions, so keep an eye out for these kinds of charges:

  • Monthly fees.
    Most basic checking accounts will be completely free, but in some cases, you will have a low monthly maintenance fee that’s waived if you adhere to certain terms.
    This can include direct deposits equaling a certain amount or carrying a revolving minimum daily balance. Review the bank’s policy and find out what you must do to avoid paying any monthly fees.
  • Minimum balances.
    If the checking account you choose doesn’t come with a monthly maintenance fee, it may still come with a minimum balance requirement that will charge you fees if you don’t keep at least that amount of money in your account at all times. Try to find an account with no minimum balance fee.
  • Transaction limits.
    How many times a month can you transfer funds between other accounts, make withdrawals, and deposit money? Verify that you don’t have to pay extra fees for making too many transactions or making transfers between accounts.
  • Service fees.
    Some other service fees to beware of include returned deposit fees, charges for paper statements, and foreign transaction fees, to name a few. Obtain a list of all the service fees and other limitations that come with your new checking account before signing on the dotted line.
  • ATM charges.
    Banks will often recoup their money by charging customers a fee to access funds via an ATM. There will likely be certain ATMs you can use free of charge, but make sure you’re accessing money using one of these and not an ATM outside your bank’s network.
    Doing so will cause you to pay double the fees — one to the ATM provider and one to your bank.

To avoid these charges, carefully review your bank’s policy and terms so you aren’t hit with unnecessary fees. Learn more about sidestepping bank fees here.

3. Seek out bonuses and perks

During your search for a new student checking account, look for additional bonuses that are included.

Some banks will offer new customers a referral bonus when they open an account, so check with your friends and family to see if they have recommendations you can cash in on. Additional features to check for include free online bill pay, recurring savings deposits, and the ability to automatically pay your bills.

Does this bank offer interest-bearing checking accounts with no or low fees that allow you to earn a small percentage back on your funds? Do they offer certificates of deposits and other investing accounts that you can explore in the future as you start building wealth?

Review all the account options for both checking and savings so you can choose the best student bank accounts for your needs.

4. Get ready to manage your money

When opening a new checking account you’ll need to provide some form of photo ID and your Social Security number. You’ll also need to bring cash or write a check from another bank to put down as the opening deposit for your new account.

While you’re finalizing your new bank account, order a small number of checks, too. While you may not write many paper checks, there will be times it will be come in handy. Many landlords still require rent to be paid with a check or money order, so save yourself the hassle and keep them on hand.

Don’t forget to change any automatic payments you have set up from your old bank and switch them to your new account information. Inform your employer of any updates to your direct deposit form, as well. You don’t want to miss a deposited check or miss paying a bill because the payment wasn’t processed from the old account.

5. Avoid these red flags

Shop around before choosing your next bank account as a new grad.

You want to choose features with little-to-no fees, but there are some other red flags to be aware of, too. For example, overdraft protection is a feature on most checking accounts that comes as a “bonus” since it allows you to swipe your debit card and process a transaction even if you don’t have the funds.

While that sounds great, it can cost you a hefty fee for each transaction and cause your bank account to be overdrawn. Instead of opting in to this feature, learn to budget your money better and limit your spending once you get low. This could save you an average of $25 for each overdraft fee transaction processed.

When reviewing your bank’s contract, also watch out for point redemption fees, human teller fees, and mail-forwarding requests that come with returned mail charges.

As with all financial decisions, it’s important to review all of the fees, limits, and features that your new checking account comes with. But an even more important aspect is to compare your lifestyle to what your bank account offers. Choose a bank account that works with your new career and can help you better manage your finances.

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