If you’re going to study in the US for more than a few months, opening a bank account is a great idea. But it’s tough to know what to look out for, so here’s everything you need to know!
Types of accounts
There are two main types of bank accounts available in the USA. Based on your circumstances, you should consider opening one or both of these:
Checking accounts allow you to safely store your money and access it whenever you want, so they’re great for managing your daily expenses and paying off your monthly bills.
When you open a checking account you’ll usually get a debit card, which you can use to withdraw money from ATMs and make purchases when you go shopping.
Often there are minimum monthly balances and maintenance fees to pay, but it varies depending on the type of account you open.
Savings accounts are used for long-term deposits, and usually offer quite high interest rates. So if you have larger sums of money, opening a savings account alongside a checking account can be a good idea.
Bear in mind that minimum balances and service fees vary from bank to bank though, so make sure you do your research!
Things to keep in mind
There are several thousand commercial banks in the US that are all vying for customers with similar services. This can make picking the right account quite tricky, so take the following things into consideration before you make your decision.
According to a 2017 report by WalletHub, some accounts charge you hundreds of dollars a year in fees to keep your account open.
When researching accounts, you should pay close attention to which services are free and which ones will cost you extra. Think about your banking habits and choose an account that won’t charge you for things you need to do on a regular basis.
Overdraft protection on the surface level sounds like a good idea, but it’s actually something that you should think very carefully about before opting into.
Essentially, overdraft protection is where you link your checking account to your savings account, credit card or an overdraft line of credit. If you spend more money than you have, your bank can then transfer more money over so the transaction you want to make will still go through.
The problem is that the bank will still charge you to use this service, even though you’re using your own money. Over time, the fees can add up and you might be left with a big bill to pay.
Instead, learn not to spend more money than you have, and keep track of your spending. You can still carry a small amount of cash around with you to use in case of emergencies.
It’s fairly common in the US for banks to charge you if you take out money from another bank’s ATM. Because of this, you should pay attention to the banks near your campus or student home so you won’t have to go far to withdraw cash.
Large national banks like Bank of America will have a lot of branches where you can get access to your money, while smaller regional or community banks might have a strong presence in your area.
Perks and benefits
Banks are often keen to attract students, in the hopes that once they graduate they’ll keep their accounts open.
Because of this, accounts aimed directly at students often come with various perks, like no minimum balance requirement, free checks, a free debit card, online banking and free ATM transactions.
For example, US Bank lets students use other banks’ ATMs four times for free in each statement period. If you don’t choose a bank with an ATM near university, make sure it has benefits like this at the very least.
Many banks offer cash bonuses to try and convince you to open an account with them.
These perks may sound great in theory, but they’re generally not all they’re cracked up to be because there can be restrictions. For example, to receive the bonus you might need to set up direct deposits that total a certain amount every month.
In the long run, picking an account with zero maintenance fees, for example, is a much better option than going for an account with great-sounding freebies.
Opening an account
To help you choose the perfect bank account, you can use the handy tool on the My Bank Tracker website. Type in your location, and then answer a few questions about your banking habits and what services you look for in an account.
Once you’ve chosen a bank account, make an appointment with your local branch to open one. You will need to provide details like your full name, telephone number, home address, campus telephone number and campus address. Be prepared to bring along documents like your tenancy agreement to support your statements.
You’ll most likely need a permanent address to open a bank account. On Student.com you can browse hundreds of different options for student accommodation in the USA, so finding your perfect student home shouldn’t be too difficult.
You will also need to bring the amount of money you want to deposit in your account, as well as your college enrolment letter, your passport, and, for non-US students, your I-94 card and your I-20 form.
You may also be asked for your social security number (SSN), as some banks will reject your application if you don’t have one. If this happens to you, try opening an account with Chase Bank, PNC Bank or TD Bank, which sometimes don’t require an SSN. If you still run into problems, ask your university’s student office for help.
Great accounts for students
Some allow you to avoid fees and charges, others offer plenty of ATMs, and a few earn pretty high interest…
If you go for a TD Student Checking account, you won’t pay a monthly maintenance fee and there isn’t a minimum balance requirement as long as you are 17-23 years old. You’ll also get free access to thousands of ATMs, and banks are mostly open seven days a week.
With the Student Checking Account you won’t pay a monthly maintenance fee, there’s no minimum balance you’ll need to have in your account, and you’ll be able to use thousands of ATMs across the country.
Capital One 360
The 360 Checking account by Capital One is a great option for students as you won’t pay any fees and will get to use nearly 40,000 ATMs for free.
Now you’ve got your own bank account, here’s how you can keep it full up and still enjoy a restaurant meal:
But if you’re still thinking about studying in the US, here’s everything you need to see:
Just be careful, because it can get a bit risky…