Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.
Updated on Monday, March 1, 2021
For many college students, their default banking option while in school is a student checking account, which is typically free. Unfortunately, when you graduate you lose those benefits. Many student checking accounts will begin to charge you monthly maintenance fees unless you meet certain requirements.
So, where do you go from there?
Few young adults would turn to their parents for fashion or dating advice and, yet, one of the most common ways we’ve found young people choose their bank account is by going with whichever bank their parents already use. This could be a bigger faux pas than stealing your dad’s old pair of parachute pants.
The bank your parents use may carry fees or have requirements that don’t meet your lifestyle or budget, and make accounts expensive to use.
But where do you even begin to choose the right checking 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 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 if you don’t 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.
Minimum Monthly Balance
Amount to Open
ATM Fee Refunds
|Axos Bank Rewards Checking||$0||$50||Unlimited domestic||Up to 1.25% APY if requirements are met|
|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 Plus Checking||$0(if less than $1,000, there is a $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) Free Rewards Checking||$0||$5||Unlimited ATM reimbursements||Up to 4.09% 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
|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|
The 5 key things you should look for in a checking account
When you’re shopping around for a new checking account, there are several things you should look for to ensure you’re getting the most value from your account:
- A $0 monthly fee: Sometimes banks may say they don’t charge a monthly fee but read the fine print — they may require a minimum monthly balance in order 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 eStatements 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 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 be able to access 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 $3 or $5 charges 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.
Top overall checking accounts for college grads
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, interest earned on your deposited balances and with strong 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.
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 1.25% 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
Cracking our list for the best checking accounts 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.
Top 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 typically would 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 and enrolling in eStatements.
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 eStatements.
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 eStatements you can receive up to $25 per month in ATM fee refunds when you use out-of-network ATMs.
2. Consumers Credit Union (IL) Free Rewards Checking
The Consumers Credit Union (IL) Free 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 6 signature-based debit purchases receive at least one direct deposit, ACH debit, or pay one bill through their free bill payment system totaling $500 or more, log into your online banking account and be signed up for eStatements and 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 deposited at least $200 in qualifying deposits to your checking account within that current calendar month. 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 electronic 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.