7 Best Banks for Students in 2021

Students should have bank accounts for many reasons but most importantly so that they can learn about personal finance. We've rounded up the best 7 banks for students.
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High school and college students may have us adults beat when it comes to calculus and diagramming sentences, but one thing that is severely lacking from most school curricula is personal finance.

In recent years, Raddon Research Insights found that only 33% of Gen Zers aged 14 to 22 have their own bank account with a bank or credit union. Another 34% share a joint account with a parent, and 4% had one but closed it.

What’s troubling is that 21% have never had a bank account at all — and even more troubling, 8% don’t know if they have a bank account.

7 Best Banks for Students in 2021

Bank Account Best For
Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Overall Bank
Alliant Credit Union Teen Checking Account High School Students
Chase Bank College Checking Account College Students
Discover Cash Back Credit Building Credit
PNC Student Virtual Wallet Online Banking
Chime Spending Account Learning Finance
Capital One MONEY Teen Checking Young Students

Why Students Should Have a Bank Account in 2021

College students should have a bank account to pay for rent, a car if applicable, food, school supplies (those books are expensive) and, yes, the occasional party splurge. 

Even more importantly, college students who are able to work should be saving as much money as possible now so they are ready when those student loans kick in.

And as for high school students? The time to learn banking basics—how to write a check, how to avoid overdraft fees, how to accrue interest, etc.—is while they have the safety net of their parents to fall back on. High school students can learn the hard lessons of banking when the stakes are so much lower.

But how do you know which student bank account is right for you? Many major banks and credit unions offer checking and savings accounts specifically designed for students, with simpler offerings and, therefore, lower fees. Think of it as an introduction to banking.

If you look hard enough, there’s a good chance you can find an account that will give you everything you’re wanting from a bank as you continue your education. A good place to start that search is our own ranking of the best banks for students in 2021.

7 Best Banks for Students in 2021

Keep in mind that we call the institutions listed here “banks” because that’s how they are referred to generally and by most customers. Some, however, are technically not banks. If this is the case, we will tell you in the synopsis of the institution. They all offer savings and checking accounts which we believe is most important to novice bank customers. 

Our roundup of the best banks for students:

Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance

Overall Best Bank for Students

5 out of 5 Overall

Key Features
  • No monthly maintenance or overdraft fees
  • 4,300 physical branches
  • Award-winning mobile app
The Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking account is the best for high school and college students. It is a checkless student checking account (quite the oxymoron), and while it doesn’t have a specific student savings account, there are great benefits to opening one of Bank of America’s Advantage Savings accounts.
Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance

Monthly fees
None
APY
0%
Physical branches
4,300
ATMs
17,000

Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking Pros and Cons


Pros
  • No monthly fees
  • No overdrat fees
  • 4,300 physical branches

Cons
  • $2.50 out-of-network ATM fees
  • $100 minimum opening deposit
  • 0% APY
  • No savings accounts specifically for students

The lack of monthly maintenance fees is a hallmark of the Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking account, though this only applies to students 23 and under. When enrolled students turn 24, they’ll have to start paying a $4.50 monthly fee.

A bigger win for this account—and a reason it’s our top pick—is the lack of overdraft fees.

Further, the Advantage SafeBalance Banking account for students includes an award-winning mobile app with mobile deposit, easy navigation and plenty of education features in partnership with Khan Academy.

Plus, you can partner the account with the Advantage Savings and utilize the Keep the Change program, which rounds up purchases to the nearest dollar and deposits that extra change into your savings account.

The account also has en easy debit lock/unlock for students who have a habit of losing their card

Alliant Credit Union Teen Checking

Best Bank for High School Students

5 out of 5 Overall

Key Features
  • 0.25% APY
  • No monthly service fees
  • 80,000+ ATMs
Alliant Credit Union offers a Teen Checking account ideal for high school students. It is only available to students from 13 to 17 years of age. Because it is a joint ownership account, a parent must also have an account with Alliant. The account comes with a contactless Visa debit card for the parent and the teen and boasts a mobile app that makes it easy to teach responsible personal finance.
Alliant Credit Union Teen Checking

Monthly fees
None
APY
0.25%
Physical Branches
None
ATMs
80,000+

Alliant Credit Union Teen Checking Pros and Cons


Pros
  • 0.25% APY
  • No minimum deposit required
  • No minimum balance required
  • No monthly fees
  • Access to 80,000+ fee-free ATMs, plus $20 in ATM fee rebates

Cons
  • $25 Stop payment fee (if verbal or in writing)
  • No physical branches
  • No savings accounts specifically for students

Alliant Credit Union offers the best checking account specifically for high school students, but you’ll just need to be ready to switch to a different account when your child hits 18. When the member turns 18, the account automatically rolls over into an Alliant Checking Account. Parents remain joint owners until the primary owner (student) removes them.

Top features include the leading mobile app, contactless debit card, lack of monthly service fees, tremendous ATM access and strong annual percentage yield for a checking account. To earn the 0.25% APY, you must opt out of paper statements and receive at least one recurring monthly electronic deposit (direct deposits, ATM deposit or transfer from another financial institution).

While Alliant does not offer a student-specific savings account, it does offer a high-yield savings account, which is one of the best on the market.

Chase Bank College Checking

Best Bank for College Students

5 out of 5 Overall

Key Features
  • New customer bonus
  • Autosave feature
  • No monthly fees
Chase Bank offers the Chase College Checking Account, which is fee-free during college years. The mobile app makes digital banking simple, especially for those just learning the ropes about banking. Access to physical Chase branches is also important, as beginners can likely benefit from discussing their finances with someone in person.
Chase Bank College Checking

Monthly fees
None
APY
0%
Physical branches
4,700
ATMs
16,000+

Chase College Checking Pros and Cons


Pros
  • No monthly fees
  • 4,700 branches
  • Sign-up bonus

Cons
  • 0% APY
  • $34 overdraft fee per incident with a max of three per day
  • No savings accounts specifically for students

College students should absolutely consider Chase for the ample physical branches and lack of monthly fees. However, please note: The lack of a monthly maintenance fee only lasts five years and is only available to college students ages 17-24. Sorry, doctoral students, you’ll have to shell out for that monthly service fee.

To avoid monthly fees once you have aged out of the grace period (or when your five years are up), you must have a monthly electronic payment, such as a direct deposit from an employer or the government, or maintain a daily balance of at least $5,000. (Most students should not keep $5,000 in their checking accounts, however.)

If you do not meet this criteria, the monthly service fee is $6.

Chase also offers a High School Checking account. In addition, the national bank offers a Chase Savings account. It is not targeted specifically at students.

Another reason we recommend Chase for college students is the typical sign-up bonus. Though amounts and conditions vary, Chase almost always offers a new customer bonus. It’s $100 at the time of writing.

Lots of banks offer bonuses for new clients. We’ve rounded up some that pay up to $500. Check out our list of best bank promotions.

Finally, we like Chase for its easy-to-use mobile app with bill pay, transfers, account alerts, an Autosave feature and tailored educational experiences and content for beginners.

Discover Cashback Debit Account

Best Bank for Cash Back

4.5 out of 5 Overall

Key Features
  • Student credit card
  • School credit for good students
  • Great cash back
Though not a student account, many students take advantage of the Discover Cashback Debit account, an online checking account that earns you 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month instead of an annual percentage yield. Even though the Discover Cashback Debit account is not a student-specific account, the Discover It Student Cash Back credit card is and is rated No. 1.
Discover Cashback Debit Account

Monthly fees
None
APY
0%
Physical branches
None
ATMs
60,000+

Discover Cash Back Debit Pros and Cons


Pros
  • Plain and simple, this is some of the best cash back available
  • No annual fees
  • 60,000 fee-free in-network ATMS (for debit account)

Cons
  • The Student Cash Back card is a credit card, which carries inherent risks.
  • Interest rates on Student Cash Back card start at 0%, then jump as high as 21.99% after 6 months.

First, some notes on the Discover non-student cash back checking account: There are no fees for this account. No monthly service fee, no insufficient funds fees, no account closure fees, no replacement debit card fees and free access to 60,000+ ATMs. Not a bad deal at all!

But students who want something specifically designed for them and who are responsible enough to handle a credit card should consider applying for the Discover it Student Cash Back Card:

  • Earn 5% on select debit card purchases all year on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter
    • 5% at grocery stores and convenience stores January through March
    • 5% at gas stations and wholesale clubs plus select streaming services April through June
    • 5% at restaurants and PayPal July through September
    • 5% on online retailers like Amazon October through December
    • Check out the 2021 calendar and look for 2022 extensions. 
  • Earn double the cash back during the first year
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other debit card purchases year-round
  • Earn $20 statement credit each school year that you maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher for five years

The card can stay open after you graduate, but you will no longer qualify for the great perks you get as a student. It makes sense to leave it open but not use it often. This will help build your credit score by lowering your credit utilization. Now is a great time to start thinking about your credit score, as buying a house may come soon after college.

PNC Student Virtual Wallet

Best Bank for Online Banking

4.5 out of 5 Overall

Key Features
  • Combined checking and savings
  • Leading mobile app
  • One free overdraft refund
PNC Bank offers a Virtual Wallet Student account that operates as savings and checking accounts, giving students the best of both worlds. Even better? It has one of the best mobile apps available, ideal for busy students on the go. As an online bank, it’s simply the best. The account does offer one free overdraft forgiveness,. The penalty is steep after that.
PNC Student Virtual Wallet

Monthly fees
None
APY
0.40% for funds in Growth
Physical branches
In roughly half the country
ATMs
18,000

PNC Student Virtual Wallet Pros and Cons


Pros
  • No monthly fees
  • No minimum balance required
  • Physical branches in half the country
  • First overdraft incident forgiven
  • 0.40% APY for funds in Growth

Cons
  • $36 overdraft fee after the first forgiven fee, with the potential for four in one day
  • Only $5 per month ATM surcharge reimbursement and only 18,000 in-network ATMs.

The top-notch mobile app makes PNC’s Virtual Wallet the best student account for online banking. The app has all the typical features of online banks (account balance, mobile check deposit, etc.), plus the new Low Cash Mode.

We also like that Virtual Wallet offers a primary checking (Spend) account combined with short-term planning (Reserve) and a long-term savings account (Growth).

The overdraft forgiveness is great for students just learning personal finance, but it assumes it only takes one offense to learn the lesson. Fees are steep after that.

Access to ATMs is great, but the account only gets $5 a month in ATM fee reimbursement. Other Virtual Wallet accounts get 4 times more ATM fee reimbursement. If ATM usage is important, just opt for the regular account.

Chime Spending and High-Yield Savings

Best Bank for Learning Personal Finance

4.5 out of 5 Overall

Key Features
  • No monthly fees or minimum balance
  • “Round up transfer” feature
  • 60,000 ATMs
Chime is by no means a student-exclusive bank account, but it’s definitely geared toward newer savers who prefer an online bank. Its educational content and helpful saving features make it great for those just figuring out personal finance. We recommend both the Chime Spending Account and the High Yield Savings Account.
Chime Spending and High-Yield Savings

Monthly fees
None
APY
0.50% for funds in High-Yield Savings
Physical Branches
None
ATMs
60,000

Chime Spending Account Pros and Cons


Pros
  • 0.50% APY
  • No monthly fees
  • No min. balance or deposit required
  • No overdraft fee if under $200
  • 60,000 in-network ATMs

Cons
  • No interested earned on checking
  • No physical locations
  • Customer service gets lukewarm ratings

The online bank Chime proudly boasts no hidden fees, no minimum balance requirements, early direct deposits, credit-building tools and even a “round up transfer” feature that rounds up Spend account purchases to nearest dollar and deposits in the linked savings account. What’s not to love?

Even better, that linked savings account is the High Yield Savings account that earns 0.50% APY.

Chime also has SpotMe overdraft protection up to $200. Certain conditions apply to the SpotMe overdraft protection.

Out-of-network ATM surcharges apply with no reimbursement, but with 60,000 in-network ATMs, you’re usually in the clear.

Note: Chime is an online-only bank; well, actually, it is not a bank at all. It is a financial technology, or fintech, company. This makes customer service challenging and limits access to banking services.

Capital One MONEY Teen Checking

Best for Young Students

4.5 out of 5 Overall

Key Features
  • No monthly fees
  • No minimum balance requirement
  • 0.10% APY
Through the bulk of this article, we have talked about student accounts for high schoolers and college students. But the Capital One MONEY Teen Checking is actually great for parents who want to start teaching their kids responsible money management early. You can open a Capital One MONEY Teen Checking for kids 8 and older.
Capital One MONEY Teen Checking

Monthly fees
None
APY
0.10%
Physical branches
355
ATMs
70,000+ in-network

Capital one MONEY Teen Checking Pros and Cons


Pros
  • 0.10% APY
  • No monthly fees
  • No min. balance or deposit required
  • Access to 70,000+ in-network ATMs
  • Parental controls (which may or may not be a good thing)

Cons
  • No savings accounts specifically for students
  • No account specifically for college students

This Capital One MONEY Teen Checking account is for kids 8-18. When they hit 18, they can roll the account over into a Capital One 360 Checking account, which is actually a great account to have as an adult.

This account is super convenient with branches nationwide; that’s ideal for the transition when moving away for college.

We like this account because of its lack of fees or required balances, plus a respectable checking account APY to help your young child earn money just for being responsible. There are also no foreign transaction fees, which makes the account convenient for study abroad opportunities.Note: Parents do not need a Capital One account to open the Teen Checking account, though it would certainly be more convenient.

How We Chose These Student Bank Accounts

  • We focused primarily on student checking accounts. Ideally, students will also open their own savings accounts, but first and foremost, they need to get comfortable with managing money for paying bills. The savings can come later. Thus, student checking accounts were the top consideration. Along these lines, we did not consider money market accounts.
  • Maintenance fees are a deal breaker. Most high school and college students don’t have a lot of discretionary funds, so a monthly charge can take its toll.
  • Many students will overdraft. A lot. It’s OK, no shame. The best student checking accounts have some kind of overdraft protection or forgiveness.
  • The more branches and/or free ATMs available as part of a student bank account, the better. Students may currently be (or soon be) splitting the year between their college town and hometown, so easy access to funds is important. As a point of comparison, mega-institution Bank of America has 16,000 in-network ATMs. Capital One has 70,000 and Chime has 60,000. 
  • Some students don’t have the funds for a minimum deposit, so we prefer student accounts without a minimum deposit requirement.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Student Bank Accounts

Have questions about opening your new bank account? We’ve answered some of the most common questions that students are asking.

Why Should I Open a Student Account Instead of a Regular Account?

In general, student bank accounts are fee-free or have lower fees that benefit students who may not be dealing with as much money as older customers. In addition, many banks now offer educational content within their mobile apps that can help students navigate the intricacies of personal finance. Finally, they often have no or a low minimum opening balance, which can be great for students just starting out on their savings journey.

What Happens to My Student Account When I Graduate?

This varies by bank. Some banks and credit unions will roll the account over into their typical checking or savings accounts while others will leave the account as-is but will begin charging different monthly maintenance fees. Pay attention to what the terms are based on age and student status. Chances are good, once you’ve graduated, you should be looking into closing the account and finding a high-yield savings and checking account combo that rewards you for smart banking.

What Are the Best Banks for Students?

This really depends on your needs as a student. In our list of the best banks for students, we’ve given you our overall pick, but we also have specific winners for college students, high school students, savers, spenders and more. Think about what you want most out of your student bank account before deciding.

How Do I Open a Student Account?

Most banks allow you to open an account online. You’ll just need basic info, like a social security number. However, there are a couple of caveats:
1. Some student bank accounts require joint ownership with a parent, meaning you’ll need to work with them to open it.
2. If you have selected a bank with physical locations, I highly suggest opening in person so you can ask questions as you go.
3. International students who want to bank in the US generally must open an account in person.

Timothy Moore covers bank accounts for The Penny Hoarder from his home base in Cincinnati. He covers a variety of other topics, including insurance, taxes, retirement and budgeting, and has worked in the field since 2012. Former contributor Jake Bateman also contributed to this report.