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Hit the Bank Before you Hit the Books

Getting ready for college can be an exciting and sometimes overwhelming experience. You've got some big decisions to make - many that you've never even had to consider before. Like selecting the right student banking products for your individual situation and lifestyle.

The good thing is, you have options. Lots of them. And this handy little guide can help you navigate your choices from the selection of a bank or other financial institution like a credit union, to choosing the right banking accounts and products themselves. Here the basics about checking accounts, savings accounts, and time and money-saving eBill pay options are explained in plain English.

Private Student Loans

Before we move on, there's something you should know about banks and other financial institutions. Many are extremely eager to recruit student customers to meet their long-term customer acquisition goals. This is because depositing your work-study paycheck deposits with them now increases the chances that you'll continue banking with them later in life. For instance when you need a business loan, buy a home, or even [gasp!] finance your own children's college education. So this means some banks are more than willing to offer highly competitive rates, if not free checking, savings, online banking accounts and other banking accounts. Keep that in the back of your mind as you weigh your options.

Selecting a Bank

There are a number of things that you should take into consideration before you select a bank or other financial institution. As with many decisions you'll make in life, the motto "location, location, location" should hold true with student banking. You want to consider a bank where deposits and other banking transactions can be made easily. If you will be making most of the deposits, consider choosing a regional bank close to your school. If Mom or Dad will be making deposits, then you might want to consider choosing their current bank so that transactions will be a breeze for them, or even a national bank that has locations both near them and you.

The second thing you need to take into consideration is the location of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) that you will use most often to access your banking account while in school. When you use a 'foreign' ATM, one that is not owned by your bank, you will be charged at least once for each transaction, and sometimes twice. This is because the owner of that ATM will charge your bank a surcharge, service fee, or convenience fee that will then be passed on to you. Many times your own bank will also charge you a service charge for using that same ATM. If this sounds like double dipping to you, you're right. And it can really add up. On the bright side, some banks are starting to introduce ATM fee refunds. This practice has not become standard, and is not very likely to considering that ATM fees account for billions of dollars in bank revenue each year.

Consider this. Say you use a foreign ATM four times a month and get charged $1.50 by the ATM's owner plus $1.50 by your own bank. Over the course of one 9-month school year, you'll pay $108 in ATM fees. If you select a bank with ATM branches on your campus or close to your school, you could instead use that money for the more important things in life like pizza, music downloads or new jeans.

Another thing to consider when deciding where to conduct your student banking is the products that they offer. You should look for an institution that offers a full suite of products for you to choose from, including checking accounts, savings accounts, online banking accounts complete with e-bill pay options, credit cards and student loans if that pertains to you. This will not only save you time and aggravation from having to deal with multiple banks, it can also save you money.

Still can't make a decision about the best student banking options for you? Then it's time to talk to someone. Because it's sometimes impossible to find the concrete differences between one bank's pamphlets and websites versus another's, a third party's voice might help. Ask your parents, a friend or sibling who has gone to college within the last few years. Even ask a current student at the college you'll be attending. Many times schools can put you in touch with upperclassmen who have 'been there and done that' and are willing to talk to incoming students about the school and their own personal experiences. A call to the student union or similar department within your own school would be a good place to start.


A checking account is a very useful banking tool - especially when you're living away at college and most likely building a budget for the first time. And of course selecting the right one involves more than just deciding between your school's mascot, superheroes or puppies on your printed checks. There are a number of other considerations that can save you time, money and make your life easier, so it's really worth your while to get all the facts.

Saving money makes you money. So when you have discretionary income after you've paid your taxes, bills and expenses, you should stash it in a smart place. From the standard savings account that gives you access your money at any time, to the certificate of deposit (CD) which yields more interest, but requires you to leave the money in the account for a set time, your savings options vary widely.

Student eBill Pay is a simple, convenient and inexpensive [woohoo!] way to pay your bills through an online banking account. Many banks and financial institutions make eBill Pay available to their checking and savings customers for free. You tell the bank how much and when to pay your payees and then the bank prints a check and mails it for you or electronically transfers the money. You'll never lick a stamp again.

If you want to learn how to manage your money wisely, then you need to learn how to balance your checkbook. Staying up-to-date on your finances will keep you aware of how much money you have and will prevent you from bouncing checks.

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