Say Goodbye To Your Free Student Checking Account

Banks love graduation almost as much as parents. You’re finally on your own, able to afford food, rent, and beer, so why shouldn’t the banks—the kind, selfless banks that let you save while you slaved for knowledge—now sink their teeth into your anorexic accounts for a hearty bite of their own? FiLife compiled an excellent list of bank policies so students know how their institution plans to celebrate their impending graduation.

Not all banks remind students that their free accounts are about to blossom into fee-bearing liabilities, complete with minimum balance requirements. After all, you agreed to the conversion back when you signed up during orientation week. Remember?

There are several ways to retain free banking once you lose your coveted student status. Most banks waive account fees if you establish direct deposit (get a job, sir!) or satisfy minimum balance requirements by stashing upwards of $5,000.

If you can’t meet those conditions, return to an age-old tactic: mooch off your parents. Some banks waive fees for former students if their parents do business—think mortgages or other substantial accounts—with the bank.

How to Avoid Student Checking Account Heartbreak [FiLife]
(Photo: DCist)

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  1. cabinaero says:

    Another option is to just use an online checking account. I moved my Wells Fargo checking over to a Schwab checking and could not be happier. Free checks, no ATM fees and 4.0% APY.

  2. rgs says:

    Get an account at a credit union. Most credit unions do not have fees and are usually much easier to deal with than banks.

  3. rabiddachshund says:

    Wachovia ftw!

  4. utensil42 says:

    You can also go to graduate school and continue being a student. Take that big national bank system!

  5. meneye says:

    @rgs: exactly. It’s called a credit union, people.

  6. TangDrinker says:

    I’m sorry to all you credit union lovers (don’t get me wrong, we have several accounts in one, too), but you obviously didn’t read this article. The author decided to explore this issue BECAUSE the credit union they used started charging them monthly fees.

  7. zwill says:

    I have an HSBC student checking account that I established as a freshman. I still use it and the terms have not changed a bit, a few years after I graduated. I’m not sure about the policies at other banks but it has worked out very well for me.

  8. protest says:

    that’s what you get for signing up for ANYTHING on a college campus during orientation week, or at the beginning of the fall term. people should expect to be getting crappy/shady/scammy deals during this time.
    it’s because all these businesses know that college students are lazy and when they see something so convenient just shoved in their face they will take it.

    i swear to god college doesn’t teach people a damn thing about common sense.*

    *spoken by an actual recent grad.

  9. RvLeshrac says:

    @protest:

    “College doesn’t teach people a damn thing about critical thinking” is more on the mark.

    We gave that up when our colleges began offering courses in Homeopathy, Healing Touch, Dowsing, and other nonsense.

  10. yg17 says:

    I had a US Bank Student Checking account since high school and I just got a letter in the mail telling me they were converting my account to a regular checking account even though I don’t graduate until May. I don’t really care though, I think the only thing I’ll end up losing is free withdrawals from other banks ATMs, which I never used anyways.

  11. bilge says:

    @rabiddachshund: Not sure if you’re being sarcastic, but I got a free Wachovia student checking account back in 1993. College is long done and over with, but the account’s still free.

  12. chiieddy says:

    Most of the large banks around here have free checking and all you have to do is directly deposit your paycheck into the account.

  13. Cerb says:

    I haven’t had any problem with my credit union charging me fees after I graduated. In fact, my credit union has been pretty great all around (been a member around 8 years now).

  14. sven.kirk says:

    There are many FREE options out there. Right off the top of my head there is ING Orange Checking. Many banks offer no/low fee for using direct deposit.

  15. Erwos says:

    I’m so confused. The way it was at my school, they charged you as a student, but once you got out of there, there were a zillion free checking account offers to be had.

  16. endersshadow says:

    Please, I beg of you, don’t use credit unions. They use their credit union status to not pay taxes all the while lobbying to get legislation which allows them to overextend their charters. It drives community banks out of business or into selling which only leaves the big banks (e.g.-BoA) left. Go to community banks–they generally have a free checking option w/o the requirements. And credit unions can’t do all functions of an actual bank.

    This message brought to you by the Community Bank Association of America, or just a guy who only does business at a community bank. Your choice on what to believe.

  17. ecwis says:

    @cabinaero: I have online bank accounts but I still need my Chase checking account so I can cash checks, deposit cash, and make large withdrawals occasionally.

    How do you handle deposits and such if you only have an online account?

  18. HooFoot says:

    This is why I can’t preach online banking enough. I was appalled when my bank announced that a $500 minumum balance on a no frills, traditional savings account with a shitty interest rate. They haven’t changed any policies on my free checking account, but I won’t be suprised if they do in the near future. This is why I quickly switched to ING Direct when I graduated and started a full time job. The dinosaur bank executives need to wake up to the fact that my generation isn’t afraid of paperless banking and are more than willing to move their cash to a bank with sane policies.

  19. othertim says:

    I’ve had an HSBC student checking account for 10 years now, and haven’t been a student for six of those years. I hope I haven’t just said too much.

  20. OwenCatherwood says:

    @endersshadow: Not sure where you are, but where I’m from the local banks were all bought out/went bankrupt before CUs became popular…

  21. samurailynn says:

    I have an account with one of the large banking institutions. Somewhere along the line I started getting free checks, free cashiers checks (there may be a limit on these, but I only use them like once a year anyway), free checking account and free savings account… there may be other freebies, but those are the ones I use. I do most of my banking online and rarely use ATMs so I don’t know about any transaction fees. I don’t know why I get everything free, but I know I’m not switching banks anytime soon.

  22. peteynice says:

    @rabiddachshund: “Wachovia ftw!”

    This.

    I have had a Wachovia checking account for over 10 years and have never paid a fee. I know big banks are awful and evil but there is a lot to be said for being able to move to a lot of places and not have to change banks. There was a Wahcovia where I grew up, went to college and live now. Three different states, same account number.

    Their free checking is excellent too. No direct deposit requirements or anything. It’s just free.

    I used to have a savings acct at a “community bank”. They were very good until they were bought out by a larger regional bank. Then it was fees for everything. I will never do business with Valley National.

  23. camille_javal says:

    @peteynice: My Wachovia fees are for optional services, but a little annoying because many other banks don’t charge for the same services. However, it’s a low fee, and I stick with Wachovia because of my experience with their security. Someone made a small purchase with my card number (I had the card) at a store (where I had shopped before) that for some reason set off a red flag. Wachovia telephoned within two hours, left a message when they got my voicemail, then called personally *again* an hour later. They did the same with a similar incident with my parents. After reading some of the horror stories on here, I’m willing to have ATMs be a little more of a pain in the ass (the nearest one is way downtown, so I have to plan in advance, or pay fees if I can’t) if they’re going to be all over that shit.

  24. algormortis says:

    i *miss* Wachovia.

    i tend to mope a bit when i hear their nationally-bought ads, quietly wishing the gentle giant of big banks to be here.

    i live in Seattle, where there are no community banks left, really. you have Key Bank, USBank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, or Washington Mutual. that’s it.

    i don’t find those options appetizing. for what it’s worth despite the scare tactics of the community bankers association, the credit union is certainly the only viable option i’ve got. some credit unions are awful (big ups to watermark credit union for schmoozing me endlessly until they found out i wasn’t a citizen and then dropping me like a rock), but BECU has been good enough to serve my needs.

  25. One thing that is nice about attending a state school is that many states will allow you to become a member of their state employees’ credit union, which usually means little to no fees. I know for sure that this is true of Pennsylvania and I’ve found to to be true in a number of other states (I work for a national campus ministry organization).

    Go state!

  26. morganlh85 says:

    I have two words for you:
    CREDIT
    UNION

  27. lovelygirl says:

    I don’t understand why people always say college students are bombarded with credit card offers their first days on campus, because I just started my first year in the fall and I’ve never seen anyone trying to sign up people! maybe it’s just that I don’t pay attention to them because my mom set me up with my own debit account at our credit union, I don’t have the need for a card. But I’m still pretty observant, so idk how I haven’t seen those credit card people at my campus!

  28. larkknot says:

    I also have Wachovia, and although when they CAN charge a fee based on the terms of your account, it’s hefty, they have a pretty decent free checking account product and they do the identity theft prevention calls – and if you’re really nice on the phone a lot of the time the CSR’s can waive some of the fees.

  29. Buran says:

    @meneye: It’s called having access to your money even if you don’t live within 5 miles of where you grew up.

    I’m so sick of the credit unions being trotted out as the be-all and end-all of everything.

  30. brokeincollege says:

    Speaking of which, I need to go close my BoA checking.

  31. brokeincollege says:

    Citibank, here I come.

  32. yg17 says:

    I’m sick of this credit union crap too.

    I’ve been with US Bank for 5 years. I have never paid a single dime to them in fees except for a couple times when I knew well in advance I would be charged a fee for what I was about to do (just a couple over the monthly withdrawal limit on my savings account, I think they were a whopping 50 cents apiece). And they have ATM machines all over St. Louis. They have locations all over. They have ATMs in our Schnucks grocery stores, and they have ATMs in our Quik Trips as well. I don’t think I’ve ever had to go out of my way to go to one. With a credit union, you’re lucky if there’s 2 locations in your city. The only mistake they ever made was when I opened my account, I was supposed to get free checks, but they charged me for them, resulting in an NSF. They quickly reversed both the charge for the checks and the NSF fee. I’ve never dealt with their fraud department, but my brother has, when he noticed some charges from his US Bank debit card that weren’t his, and without hesitation, they reversed all of the fraudulent charges and sent him a new card. Everything’s free, and they treat me well. And it’s convenient. Why the hell would I want to go anywhere else?

    Here’s a hint: If you don’t like paying for checking, find a free checking account. There are millions out there. If you don’t like keeping a minimum balance, find one that doesn’t require a minimum. There are millions out there. If you don’t like NSF fees, stop spending money you don’t have. Credit unions aren’t the magical cure-all.

  33. FLConsumer says:

    To those trumpeting credit unions — RTFA! The person originally was WITH a credit union who started to screw them over.

    I like the general idea of credit unions, but found they’re really not capable of handling the complex transactions I regularly do. They’re friendly enough, just not quite sophisticated. Probably good ’nuff for many people, if you can handle the limited # of branches and ATMs nationwide.

    The majority of my banking goes through Wachovia. Been with them since they bought out First Union (which had bought out the community bank I was with for ages). Been very smooth sailing with them. Never been charged a fee (even when I probably should have been), reps are very attentive. The only dings I have on them are that their interest rates on savings are pathetic. I do have an ING Direct account just for that and also use ING’s Electric Orange ATM card for fee-free ATM access all over NYC. (Where isn’t there a Duane Reade / CVS / Rite-Aide /Food Emporium in Manhattan?)

    On Wachovia’s free checking accounts, here it is straight from their website:

    Discover the Benefits of Free Checking
    No minimum balance requirement
    No monthly service fee
    Free Check Card with free Wachovia Possibilities RewardsSM
    Unlimited use of Wachovia ATMs
    Free automated telephone service
    Unlimited check writing
    Account security and protection
    Free Online Banking with BillPay, Balance Alerts, Online Statements, and Mobile Banking

    Are they still a big national bank? Yep. Just a little less evil than the others. q

  34. ExtraCelestial says:

    Threaten to leave. That’s what I did with Chevy Chase. Although I use ING they require a link with a non-online bank and Chevy Chase has an ATM on every block for emergencies. Best of both worlds. Of course this only works if you don’t spend your money like a stereotypical degenerate college student and haven’t racked up tons of NSF fees and have more than $2 in your account.

  35. ExtraCelestial says:

    @ecwis:
    “How do you handle deposits and such if you only have an online account?”

    That’s why most of them require a linked non-online account. I’ve personally never used a check and hope they just go the way of the dollar coin, but for those birthdays or whatever the case may be where you get a large amount of unspendable cash having a linked local bank comes in handy. You deposit the check or cash into your local bank and transfer it to your online bank. You can also mail checks or money orders to your online bank.

  36. Vicky says:

    @Buran: Agreed. I was a happy member of a profession-linked credit union through my father until I (gasp) moved away for college. It only took about 6 months of bank-by-mail with no way to check balances online before I wised up and got a new account. I kept the CU account, though, and try to keep my minimum in in (note: it is the only account I have that even has a minimum – last time I fell under it they drained the remainder of the account “due to inactivity”) because they offer great rates on loans.

  37. snowmentality says:

    When I went to change my address on my Wachovia checking account, which you have to do at a branch, the guy asked me if I was still a student and if I had my ID. I said yes (because I was, again — they didn’t need to know about the year I took between college and grad school). So I’m still all over the free checking.

    When I graduate and move again, I suspect I won’t get away with it. Sigh.

    I’m switching to keep most of my money in an ING Electric Orange account, just because of the interest, but I’m keeping the Wachovia as the linked account as long as I can.

    Another interesting fact: the Wachovia student checking account comes with a line of credit for overdraft protection. I never touched this line of credit, but having it open for so many years ended up giving me a top-notch credit score, as I found out when I pulled my credit reports before applying for a mortgage. I never had a credit card or any other form of credit. I recommend this as a secret back-door way to great credit for students.

  38. Morton Fox says:

    New York and New Jersey require state-chartered banks to provide low-cost low-minimum accounts so there is no excuse there for paying too much account fees. In other states, do shop around. There are at least a few banks in my area offering checking accounts with very low minimums and no fees. After switching banks, I actually have a checking account with a lower minimum now than I did before graduation.

  39. peteynice says:

    @snowmentality: “When I went to change my address on my Wachovia checking account, which you have to do at a branch, the guy asked me if I was still a student and if I had my ID. I said yes (because I was, again — they didn’t need to know about the year I took between college and grad school). So I’m still all over the free checking.

    When I graduate and move again, I suspect I won’t get away with it. Sigh.”

    You don’t need to be a student to get Wachovia’s regular free checking account. Looking at what they say online it seems that the only real advantages of Wachovia’s Student Checking is if you link it to your parents Wachovia account you get four free non-Wachovia ATM withdrawals a month.

    Also, you do not need to visit a branch to change your address. If you login to your account online you will see an option to change address.

  40. ussra2 says:

    I use Commerce Bank and have never had a problem with them. If there was a charge on my account they got the money back for me and have even changed accounts several times. My parents have been with them for a while and so we have never had any problems. I think I will be sticking with them as long as possible and besides my employer uses them too.

  41. drjayphd says:

    @TangDrinker: Well, clearly, the only solution to that is… to join a credit union! ;)

    I’ve had a student checking account since sophomore year, about eight years ago, and that’s stayed a student account even after the buyout. Oh, and they refund ATM fees, too, and don’t donk off $.30 every time I use my debit card. What sort of wonderful institution is this? Oh, a bank. Sweeping generalizations, how you say, FTL?

  42. AD8BC says:

    I have had no problems getting free checking wherever I have lived. I prefer Macatawa Bank in West Michigan, and Bank of Texas in (well,) Texas.

    No fees on either of those accounts. No interest either, and $500 minumum balances. And they refund all foreign ATM fees and don’t charge their own fees for using a foreign ATM.