Where to Find Free Student Checking

Many banks offer accounts with a no-minimum balance.

Laptop. Check. Long twin sheets. Check. Bank account? If you or someone in your family is starting college, opening a checking account is probably on the to-do list. Many banks offer free student accounts with no minimum balance in hopes of attracting future customers: megabanks, such as Citibank and Bank of America; large regional banks, such as PNC and Sovereign banks; community banks, such as Lake Forest Bank & Trust, in Lake Forest, Ill.; and some credit unions, such as Apple and Pentagon Federal.

The advantage of a megabank is that you’re likely to find a convenient branch or in-network ATM. But if you are going to a school in a smaller town, you may have to pay to use an out-of-network ATM. In that case, you might prefer an account at a local community bank or credit union. For example, Huntington Bank offers free checking and has branch offices in Columbus, Ohio, near Ohio State. Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union, with branches in Austin, is convenient to the University of Texas. Check to see whether the bank refunds ATM fees or belongs to a surcharge-free ATM network, so that you can avoid fees at home.

Most student accounts offer free online banking with bill payments. Many banks, among them Sovereign and Wells Fargo, offer free transfers from a parent’s existing account. Plus, these accounts often come with a sweetener. Lake Forest’s 3C student account offers both a debit card and a credit card as long as you open a joint account with a parent. PNC waives the first insufficient-funds fee if you overdraw your account.

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Senior Reporter, Kiplinger's Personal Finance