College Bound: What Students Should Look For in a Bank

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

The journey from high school to college has a lot of big steps and big decisions that impact your time away from home. One of them is deciding where you will do your banking. This is an important question because your needs as a college student may be wildly different from the needs of a high schooler.

Your bank should accommodate your life, not the other way around. If you haven't set up a banking relationship before college, then it will be easy to pick a bank that suits your needs. If you already have a bank before college, then you will need to determine if that relationship still works when you set off for higher learning.

Here's what you need to look out for:


Above all else, a bank should give you the flexibility to fit into your new college life. It should have ATMs near your dorm or apartment, and it should have a branch nearby if you need them. You may also want those in your hometown, too.

Because you're away from all of the support you had before, you may want a bank that caters to your cash or deposit needs. If you enjoy in-person customer service, then a branch nearby is absolutely necessary. If you need to deposit cash branches also make things much more convenient.

Most importantly, your bank should fit with the way you like to handle your finances, and the remainder of the list will guide you to the right institution.

Free checking

Checking in the modern era should be free. At least the large majority of banks now offer free checking accounts. Usually, the only requirement is for there to be at least one direct deposit per month.

As a college student, you will most likely have a limited budget for extraneous things, and adding a cost to your checking account is not necessary. Checking accounts have become a highly competitive market, and some banks or credit unions will pay you to become a customer. Look for sign on bonuses and perks associated with opening a new account.

Student perks

Along with sign on bonuses, there could also be perks for being a student. A lot of institutions may waive fees or give you interest-bearing checking just because you are a student. Banks are looking to start a long term relationship with you as a customer, so they are willing to entice you to sign up for a new account.

Student perks go well beyond banks, too. Restaurants, gyms, apartments, and more could have a student discount. By providing your student ID card you are getting access to a world of discounts that could help keep money in your new bank account.

Online access

We all have smartphones, and having access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is very appealing. Luckily, most banks offer an app of some kind for your phone, and almost all offer online access. The different levels of functionality will vary from bank to bank, but make sure you get one with all of the features you require online.

Look for:

  • Mobile check deposits
  • Transfers
  • Reporting a lost or stolen card
  • Online customer service

Free ATM

Sometimes you're going to need cash. Whether for fundraisers or loaning friends money, you may need an ATM. The important thing is to find a bank that gives you that ATM access for free. Using an ATM outside of your bank's network will cause a substantial fee, up to $5, so make sure your new bank has an ATM near you.

If you go with an online only bank, they offer reimbursement plans to help you if you find yourself away from their network. Usually, they will reimburse you once a month for up to $10 in ATM fees.

Online deposits

Mobile deposits are a very convenient way to get money into your new accounts. By taking a picture of the front and back of a check, after endorsing of course, you will be able to skip standing in line at a branch for deposits. As a busy student, this can be a lifesaver.

Your mobile phone makes your banking life so much easier, and if you don't need to deposit cash an online only bank offers the highest interest and convenience. With the advent of mobile deposits you may never need a branch at all.

Loan products

As a college student, you will be taking on a lot more financial responsibility. Whether you are financing your education, books, a car, or if you need a credit card, you may need a bank that can accomodate all of your financial needs in one stop. By keeping your finances centralized you will have one place for all of your payments and just one online log in.

A credit card is a great way to build your credit and may also be there whenever there is an emergency. Just be careful not to overspend because your student loans are all of the debt you will want when leaving college.