Before my daughter went off to college for the first time, it dawned on us that she needed to set up her own checking account. She hadn’t really needed it through high school because she didn’t have a job, she used our bank account to cash checks, and she kept her cash in her room. I’m happy to say we thought of this in the spring, far enough in advance that we had time to work it out before she moved 1,200 miles away from home.
Rather than trying to make sense of the many banking options that she could have used, we started with a simple list of requirements that narrowed the field:
- On-campus ATMs so that she can get cash any time she needs it.
- No fees for ATM use.
- Debit card so she doesn’t need lots of cash.
- Not a credit card, so she can’t get in trouble with overspending.
- Online banking that allows me to access the account.
- Electronic fund transfer so I can send her money with little fuss.
Requiring an on-campus ATM narrowed the field quickly. I went to the college web site and found that only Bank of America was on campus, and a few others were “conveniently located.”
Bank of America has what they call a CampusEdge Checking account that fit the bill. They even have a “Stuff Happens” one-time free refund, and she used that within the first month or two. She hardly ever uses the checks, but she uses the debit card all the time.
Last year, I set up the account to send me a text message with her balance every week. Each Friday morning, I would get the message, and when her account was under $200, I’d hop online and transfer a couple hundred more. (You know, I really should be Father of the Year). I didn’t give her money every week, but it was a good reminder to talk to her about how she was managing things. I also transferred money so that she could buy her own airline tickets; I think it is good for her to know how to do that. The nice thing about the Bank of America site is that both of us can access the account online, but I am the only one who can transfer money from my personal account into her account. I set up the transfer, and when she logs in, she doesn’t even see the link to my account.
This year, the weekly balance reminders are less important. She made good money in her summer job, so she’ll be spending her own cash. Still, I’m keeping the text messages coming so that I can see what’s happening. She did a budget this summer, and we negotiated what we will pay for and what she’s responsible for. (Basically, she pays for everything except airline tickets home.)
The funny thing is that my wife and I really didn’t think about preparing our daughter for this part of life. Although we waited until the last few months, we should have started earlier. I remember the day shortly after she got the debit card and she called me: “Dad, how do I use my card at the gas pump?” She’d seen me do it a thousand times, but I had never thought to explain it.