Money in the bank: How to save money on banking services for college students

Debit and credit cards offer flexibility to college students when used appropriately. (Courtesy of Lotus Head.)

Debit and credit cards offer flexibility to college students when used appropriately. (Courtesy of Lotus Head.)

Money saving tips and learning how to save money may not be at the top of your list right now. What with assignments and exams, banking may seem like the least important item on your to-do list. If you haven’t already put money in the bank, it’s time to get started as a member of the world of personal finance. Learning how to deal with your finances is one of the most important subjects you have to master. First, let’s look at some tips for choosing a bank.

Banking tips for college students

If you don’t have your own checking account, then go out, get one now and start using it. A checking account is where your personal finances begin. Be sure to look for a bank that won’t charge you a monthly fee for your account. Ask about student discounts.

What about those banks that set up booths on your campus and hand out freebies? Think twice. Those big banks don’t always give you the best deal. Instead, think about joining a credit union. Unlike a bank that answers to a board of directors and stockholders, credit unions are nonprofits owned by their members.

Credit unions offer the same services as banks, but charge lower fees. In fact, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) estimates the savings to be $10.9 million per year or about $126 per person.

Jennifer Zeberkiewicz described the benefits of credit unions in her October 3, 2013 article for titled, “Credit unions help young savers start.”

According to Zeberkiewicz credit unions offer services and benefits that include:

  • online banking
  • accounts insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
  • electronic bill pay with no fee
  • many are part of a nationwide system of surcharge-free ATMs
  • few charge a minimum balance fee

Credit unions aren’t perfect, however. Keeping fees low often means shorter hours of operation and fewer sophisticated services. Make sure that your credit union offers all the services you value before you sign up.

Avoid interest and fees

More tips on saving money come from Jason White also known as “Frugal Dad.” In a September 25, 2013 post for his site, titled, “Banking Tips For College Students,” White offers tips on how to save money in college.

When deciding on student loans, White recommends that you take a federal loan over a private student loan. And definitely avoid overusing your credit cards. Another of his suggestions concerns the practice of getting financial aid through your school ID.

“Many schools have recently come under criticism for using third-party financial institutions to disburse financial aid through the debit function on their school IDs. Third-party institutions charge fees (not unlike some banks) that cut into the student financial aid packages loaded onto the cards,” White said.

Using debit cards

If you like the convenience of using a debit card to pay for things, then avoid the ones issued by your school. Those can charge you as much as $30 if you overdraw your account. And you’ll be charged extra if you use an ATM from a different bank. Instead of getting your loan funds through a debit card, have them direct-deposited into your checking account. Then you’ll have the flexibility to pay for purchases by debit card, mobile or online bill pay.

What to look for

Whether banking with a regular bank or with a credit union, be sure to look for savings and student discounts that include:

  • free checking with no minimum balance
  • free online and mobile banking with bill pay
  • ATMs located near campus and home

Sometimes you’ll find the best deal by going with an online bank. Because they don’t have to pay the costs of maintaining a physical location, cyberbanks often have lower fees.

Simon Zhen described online banks in his July 11, 2013 post for titled, “5 Tips for Picking the Best Student Checking Account.”

When it comes to using ATMs, online banks deliver the goods. “Some will reimburse ATM fees, while others offer free ATM access to large ATM networks. One caveat is that there is no way to deposit cash, which prevents parents from easily assisting college students who are in a financial pinch,” Zhen advised.

How and where have you found affordable banking services? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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