Making it through college and earning your degree is a huge accomplishment and once you’re out in the real world, it’s time to put some of what you’ve learned to good use. Keeping your bank account straight is one of the most basic skills you should have picked up on, even if you weren’t a finance or economics major.
If you’re not being careful about tracking your balances or how much you’re spending, you’re setting yourself up for a major fail, not to mention some nasty fees. While those are definitely big no-nos, they’re not the only slip-ups 20-somethings tend to make when it comes to their checking accounts. We’ve broken down the five dumbest banking moves for recent college grads so you don’t end up making a potentially costly error.
1. Giving up your student account too soon
Opening a student checking account while you’re still in school is a smart move if you need a secure place to stash your cash without having to pay all the added fees that go along with a regular account. Unfortunately, most banks automatically change you over to a standard account once you graduate but there are some that handle things a little differently. TD Bank, for example, allows you to keep your student status for five years after the account is opened so if you graduate in four years, you’ve still got an extra 12 months of not having to worry about the fees.
If you’re not sure what your bank’s policy is, your best bet is to call and ask how long you’ve got until your account will be converted. As long as you’ve been a good customer, you might be able to negotiate an extension of your student benefits. If the bank won’t play ball, the next step is finding out what you need to do to avoid the monthly fees. For instance, if you signed up for Chase College Checking when you started school, you can dodge the $6 maintenance charge if you keep a $5,000 balance or have at least one direct deposit to the account each month.
2. Not linking up your accounts with budgeting and finance apps
There’s an app for just about everything these days, including managing your money and grads who aren’t using them are missing out big time. If you’ve got multiple bank accounts or credit cards, syncing them up with finance apps makes it easier to keep tabs on where your money’s going each month.
Mint, which is free for Android and Apple users, is one of the most popular budgeting tools out there and it’s a great pick for 20-somethings who are still trying to figure out how to handle their finances. You can link your checking account to track your spending, add your credit cards to monitor balances and organize all of your monthly bills so you can stay on top of upcoming bills. If you’re still trying to fine-tune your spending plan, Mint does a lot of the work for you.
Another good choice for new grads is Venmo, which lets you instantly transfer money to someone else right from your phone. If you’re out to dinner with friends and you need to pick up your share of the tab, you can just send it from your bank account without having to schlep to an ATM. Venmo is free and you’ll only pay a fee if you use your debit or credit card to settle up.
3. Waiting to open a savings account
A savings account might seem unnecessary when you’re in college, especially if you’re getting by on peanuts. Once you’re in the workforce and you’ve landed a decent-paying job, there’s no reason not to be setting aside a few bucks each month. If you’ve been out of school for a while and you haven’t opened a savings account yet, it’s just going to take you that much longer to start building up a cushion of cash.
Not all savings accounts are alike so you’ll want to see what’s out there before you choose one. If you think you’ll need check-writing privileges, for example, you might want to look into a money market account instead. If getting the best interest rate is a priority, you might be better off going with an online savings account. You can use MyBankTracker’s savings account comparison tool to check out which banks have the highest APY.
4. Forgetting to set up direct deposit for your paycheck
Having to take your paycheck to the bank each week and deposit can be inconvenient, especially if you’re stuck waiting two or three days until it clears. With direct deposit, on the other hand, the money gets credited to your account instantly so you never have to worry about your cash being tied up. As long as your employer offers it as an option, setting up direct deposit usually just means calling up your payroll department and filling out a form.
Aside from not having to stand in line at the bank, there are a couple of other good reasons to go with direct deposit. If you’re keeping an eye on your accounts through Mint or a similar app, knowing exactly when the funds will post takes the guesswork out of scheduling bill payments. You can also eliminate the hassle of having to transfer money from one account to another by splitting your deposit between your checking and savings.
Certain checking accounts will also waive the monthly maintenance fee if you set up direct deposit.
5. Paying more in fees than you need to
Free checking accounts are about as rare as unicorns these days but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some things you can do to get out of paying all those extra fees. Some banks, for instance, charge you $2 or $3 bucks a month just to get your statement in the mail. Switching to electronic delivery only eliminates that nuisance fee.
You might also be able to snag a better deal by opting for an online bank or moving your account to your local credit union. Both tend to have lower overhead costs which means they’re don’t have to nickel and dime customers to death. Changing banks completely might be a hassle, especially if you’ve had the same account there since you started school, but you really have to ask yourself if all those extra fees are worth your loyalty.