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Updated on Friday, October 1, 2021
When you graduate college, you’ll also graduate from your student checking account. Your bank will likely transition your student account to a standard account, but you don’t have to stay there. It’s worth comparing the best banks for college graduates to find the one that best meets your needs.
After all, you don’t want to get stuck with unreasonable fees or high account minimums. To help you find the right bank, we’re going over what to look for in a checking account, along with our recommendations for banks for college graduates.
Note: All information in this report was accurate as of October 2021
5 key things you should look for in a bank account
When you’re nearing graduation, start planning your bank transition.
Many banks send a letter in the mail a few months prior to your expected graduation date informing you that your student checking account is going to transition to a non-student account. If you’re not careful and you disregard the letter, you may be transitioned into an account that charges a fee should you not meet certain requirements.
You can always call the bank and ask to switch to a different account, or you can choose a new account that offers more benefits, like interest and ATM fee refunds. If you’re shopping around for a new bank account, here are some things to look for:
- A $0 monthly fee: Sometimes banks say they don’t charge a monthly fee but read the fine print — they may require a minimum monthly balance to avoid it. There are plenty of free checking accounts available for you to open, so there’s no reason to stay stuck with an account that charges a monthly fee. Take note, as some accounts may require you to meet certain criteria to maintain a free account like using a debit card, enrolling in e-statements or maintaining a minimum daily balance.
- No minimum daily balance: Accounts without minimum daily balances mean you can have a $0 balance at any given time. This may allow you to have a free account without meeting balance requirements — although other terms may apply to maintain a free account.
- Annual Percentage Yield (APY): APY is the total amount of interest you will earn on balances in your account. Opening an account that earns you interest on your balance is an easy way to be rewarded for money that would typically sit without earning anything. You should definitely aim to earn a decent APY on your savings account.
- ATM fee refunds: You may not have access to an in-network ATM at all times, so accounts providing ATM fee refunds can reimburse you for ATM fees you may incur while using out-of-network ATMs. Those charges can add up!
- No or low overdraft fees: Most banks charge you an overdraft fee of around $35 if you spend more money than you have available in your account. Therefore, it’s a good idea to choose an account that has no or low overdraft fees.
Best banks for college graduates
Information current as of October 2021
|Account Name||Minimum Monthly Balance||Amount to Open||ATM Fee Refunds||APY|
|Axos Bank Rewards Checking||$0||$50||Unlimited domestic||Up to 1.00% APY if direct deposits are more than $1,000 and card use more than 15 times per month|
|Discover Bank||$0||$0||None||None, but 1% cash back on up to $3,000 debit card purchases per month|
|Ally Bank||$0||$0||Up to $10 per statement cycle||0.10% to 0.25% APY depending on balance|
|La Capitol Federal Credit Union Choice Checking||$0 (if less than $1,000, there is an $8 fee)||$50||Up to $25 per month||4.25% APY on balances up to $3,000; 2.00% APY on balances $3,000-$10,000 and 0.10% on balances over $10,000|
|Consumers Credit Union (IL) Rewards Checking||$0||$5||Unlimited ATM reimbursements||Up to 4.09% on balances up to $10,000|
|T-Mobile Money||$0||$0||None||4.00% APY on balances up to $3,000, 1.00% APY after that|
|Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union Vertical Checking||$0||$25||Up to $15 in ATM reimbursements per month||3.30% APY on balances up to $20,000|
For the top overall checking accounts, we chose accounts that have no monthly service fees, no ATM fees, refunds for ATM fees from other banks and interest earned on your deposited balances. These banks also have user-friendly mobile banking apps. While there is no all-inclusive account that contains every benefit, the accounts below are sure to provide value whether you want a high interest rate, unlimited ATM fee refunds or 24/7 live customer support.
Top overall bank accounts for college grads
The Chime Spending Account boasts an array of features that will likely benefit young adults who are just learning how to manage their money — including fee-free overdrafts up to $100, early direct deposit, no monthly fees and no minimum balance requirements. Additionally, Chime offers the option to round up each transaction and deposit the difference into your linked savings account.
Note that Chime is not a bank itself — it’s a financial technology company — but it provides its banking services and FDIC insurance by partnering with the Bancorp Bank or Stride Bank.
2. Axos Bank Rewards Checking
The Axos Bank Rewards Checking account is a great option for college grads, as it offers low fees and generous rewards. There are no monthly service fees, no overdraft fees and unlimited reimbursements for domestic ATM fees. Currently, you also can earn an APY up to 1.00% if you meet the following requirements:
- Receive monthly direct deposits totaling $1,000 or more
- Use your Axos debit card at least 15 times per month
3. Discover Cashback Debit
Next up on our list for the best banks for college graduates is Discover Bank, which takes a unique approach to checking account rewards. Instead of offering an APY on deposit balances, Discover opts for cash back as an incentive to get consumers to sign up for its checking product.
The Discover Cashback Debit account offers up to 1% cash back on $3,000 of debit card transactions per month. That coupled with its zero fees and free access to 60,000 ATMs nationwide make it one of the best checking accounts for college graduates.
4. Ally Bank
Online bank Ally Bank offers a solid checking account with minimal fees, decent APYs and other attractive perks. Its Interest Checking account charges no monthly maintenance fees and provides free access to Allpoint ATMs nationwide, as well as a $10 reimbursement per statement cycle for any other ATMs fees incurred.
Ally Bank’s APY isn’t too shabby, either: You can earn an APY of 0.25% with a $15,000 minimum balance or 0.10% with balances under $15,000. Other cool features include its Ally Skill for Amazon Alexa, which enables you to transfer money with just your voice.
A closer look at high-yield checking accounts for college grads
Since most checking accounts offer little to no interest, high-yield checking accounts are a great way for you to maximize the money that would typically just sit in your account without earning interest. These accounts often offer interest rates that fluctuate depending on how much money you have in the account.
However, in order to earn interest, there are some requirements that you may have to meet, such as making a certain number of debit card transactions or enrolling in e-statements.
1. La Capitol Federal Credit Union Choice Plus Checking
This checking account has a $2 monthly service fee, which can easily be waived if you enroll in e-statements.
While the terms state a minimum balance requirement of $1,000 and a low balance fee of $8, the fee can be waived if you make 15 or more posted non-ATM debit card transactions per month.
To earn the top interest rate on your checking balance, you just need to make at least 15 or more posted non-ATM debit card transactions per month. There are numerous surcharge-free La Capitol ATMs for you to use, and after signing up for e-statements, you can receive up to $25 per month in ATM fee refunds when you use out-of-network ATMs.
2. Consumers Credit Union (IL) Rewards Checking
The Consumers Credit Union (IL) Rewards Checking account is just that: Rewarding. It offers a tier-based APY, which includes a 4.09% APY on balances up to $10,000, 0.20% APY on balances between $10,000 and $25,000 and 0.10% APY on balances over $25,000.
In order to earn the highest APY, you must complete at least six signature-based debit purchases, receive at least one direct deposit or ACH debit or pay one bill through their free bill payment system totaling $500 or more. You also must spend $1,000 or more with a Consumers Credit Union Visa credit card each month. This account has no fees and offers unlimited ATM reimbursements if requirements are met.
3. T-Mobile Money
Wireless carrier T-Mobile has forayed into finance with a checking account, T-Mobile Money. The account offers a generous APY of 4.00% on balances up to $3,000, with balances over that threshold earning 1.00% APY.
In order to receive the higher APY, you must meet the following requirements: Be enrolled in a qualifying T-Mobile wireless plan, be registered for perks with your T-Mobile ID and have at least 10 qualifying purchases using your T-Mobile Money card posted to your account. T-Mobile Money does not reimburse for out-of-network ATM fees, but it does not charge any maintenance fees.
4. Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union Vertical Checking
Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union’s Vertical Checking account doles out a generous APY of 3.30% on balances up to $20,000 if you meet the following requirements per month:
- Make at least 15 debit card purchases
- Make at least one direct deposit
- Make at least one online or mobile banking login
- Receive e-statements
This account boasts a low, minimum opening deposit of just $25 and no monthly service fee, as well as up to $15 in ATM fee reimbursements per month.