As the high school class of 2013 becomes the incoming freshmen class of 2017, parents and soon-to-be college students should be looking around for a student checking account, which will likely be the center of their financial lives during their time in school.

NazarethCollege / Flickr |

NazarethCollege / Flickr source

While regular checking accounts will come with monthly fees, which can often be waived with direct deposit or minimum balances, student checking accounts are usually free or have easily avoidable monthly fees by showing proof of college enrollment.

Parents and college students are likely to consider the biggest U.S. banks because they tend to have locations near home and near campus. If a parent is a joint accountholder, the parent can deposit cash and the money is available to the student in little to no time.

At the largest U.S. banks, some checking accounts cater to students specifically and others are regular checking accounts with special fee waivers for students. Seven of the top 10 banks will waive the monthly fees on certain checking accounts just for being a student.

Bank AccountMonthly FeeFee WaiverDate of ExpirationTransition Account
Chase: College Checking$6Enrolled in college, or have a monthly direct deposit, or a $5,000 avg. daily balance5 years after account openingTotal Checking
Bank of America: MyAccess Checking$12Enrolled in college and under 23, or a monthly direct deposit of $250, or $1,500 avg. daily balance23rd birthday--
Wells Fargo: College Checking$3Open a Way2Save account, plus $25 direct deposit or $500 min. daily balance5 years after account openingValue Checking
Citibank: Student Account$0--Graduation*Choice of account
U.S. Bank: Student Checking$0--Graduation*Choice of account
Capital One One: 360 Checking$0------
PNC Bank: Virtual Wallet$7Enrolled in college, or $500 direct deposit, or $500 avg. daily balance, or avoid using a PNC branch6 years after account opening--
TD Bank: Student Checking$0--24th birthday or 5 years after account opening (whichever is first)Convenience Checking
SunTrust: Student Checking$4$100 direct deposit, $300 collected balance, or link to parent's PNC checking accountGraduation or 5 years after account opening (whichever is first)Everyday Checking
BB&T: Student Banking$0--60 days after graduation or 24th birthday (whichever is last)Bright Banking

Since college student are likely to need cash spontaneously, several banks include perks to help reduce the costs of using an out-of-network ATM. Citibank, U.S. Bank, PNC Bank and BB&T will even drop some or all of the fees for using an out-of-network ATM (the ATM owner may still impose a surcharge). Capital One’s 360 Checking is actually an online checking account that offers surcharge free access to 38,000 Allpoint ATMs.

During the process of shopping for a student checking account, it’s also important to consider what happens to the account after a student graduates. All student checking accounts eventually become regular checking accounts, which come with their own set of fees and fee waivers.

Although one bank may change the account immediately after graduation, another bank may allow college grads to maintain a student checking account for a little longer. Citibank will convert the Student Account on the expected graduation date (provided at account opening) while BB&T continues to offer its student checking account until the customer turns 24, roughly three years after the typical age of a college grad.

Look outside the big banks

Obviously, big banks are not the only options for someone looking for a college checking account.

Online banks like offer free checking accounts that are suitable for students, sometimes more so than student checking accounts offered by brick and mortar banks. Ally Bank and Bank of Internet offer free checking accounts that are packed with features, including unlimited ATM fee reimbursements. However, parents won’t be able to deposit cash into their college child’s accounts through ATMs.

Community banks and credit unions are great alternatives too. Despite not touting a branch/ATM presence as large as the big banks, smaller financial institutions partner with ATM networks to provide greater access to ATMs.

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