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First step to adulting--moving away from home. Next step--get a bank account. Moving away means you likely have a job and you're going to need a reliable place to store your hard-earned cash. But not just any bank will do. Here's what you need to look for when you open your first checking account away from home.
When it comes time to move away from home for the first time, it’s also time to set up your money management away from home. If you already bank with a large national bank or if you’re sticking close to home for college, you may not need to switch. But if you don’t already have a checking account or use a small local credit union, you may need to open a new checking account away from home.

So what should you look for in a college checking account? And what does the account opening process look like? Here’s what you need to know.

Vet Your Account Options

Before you apply to open your first checking account, be sure you know what you’re looking for. Here are some of the basics:

  • Free – There are simply too many ways to get a free checking account these days, especially for college students, to pay fees for yours. Even a few bucks of a monthly maintenance fee can really add up over the course of a year. So be sure the account you choose doesn’t include any fees.
  • ATM Access – Chances are you’ll need cash from your checking account on the regular. So be sure you can get it with fee-free ATMs nearby. Some banks have a large network of their own ATMs. Smaller banks may tap into a larger network to give you ATM access. And still others refund ATM charges up to a certain amount a month. Regardless of how you do it, make sure you won’t have to pay a lot of ATM fees either at school or at home.
  • Debit Card – Of course, you’ll want to have a debit card that you can use when you don’t need or want to use cash. Most checking accounts these days will come with one, but you should still be sure yours does.
  • Mobile Features – More and more banks have great mobile apps. Some great conveniences to look for include:
    • Mobile deposit, which lets you deposit checks by snapping a photo of them rather than actually going to a bank or ATM.
    • Budgeting tools that let you picture your spending so that you can make wise money moves.
    • Push or text notifications that you can customize to let you know when your account balance is getting low so that you never have to worry about overdrafts.
  • Security – It goes without saying that you should be sure your checking account is secure. This means looking for a bank with a good reputation and an account that is FDIC-insured.

Many checking accounts will only waive the monthly maintenance fee if you have a direct deposit coming into the account each month. This can be hard to meet if you’re not working during the school year. So you may need to look for a student-specific account.

Also Read: SoFi Money Checking Account Review – Designed for Students with 2.00% APY and No Fees

Decide if It Should be Joint

Some college students decide to open a joint account with their parents. This can be a good option if your parents will be regularly depositing money into your account. It’s easier to do if they also have their name on the account. And this can build in some accountability for you if you want your parents to have access to your spending records.

However, unlike with a credit card, you don’t typically need a good credit history to open a checking account. So you can probably open an individual account if you’d prefer.

Open the Account

Once you’ve found an account that hits your list of must-have features, it’s time to open one. With some banks, you can open a checking account easily online. You just have to provide identifying information such as your driver’s license number. With other banks, you may need to go in in person.

If you do open your account online, be on the lookout for paperwork you may need to physically sign and send back into the bank to finish opening your account. This isn’t always necessary, but once in a while it may be. If you want to avoid this possibility, just visit a bank branch in person to sign all the paperwork while you’re there.

Tips for Managing Your Account

Once you have your first checking account, managing it well is important. Overdraft fees are hefty. And taking advantage of overdraft systems, even overdraft protection, can harm your chances of opening other bank accounts in the future. Banks use a credit-score-like system called ChexSystems to keep track of your banking behavior. Constantly having bad behavior can make other banks unlikely to give you an account in the future.

In short, you should always know what’s in your checking account and what’s set to come out. Set up a budget, and put any automatic withdrawals or deposits on a calendar so you remember they’re coming. Get in the habit of looking over your transactions at least once a month. That way you can keep tabs on how you’re spending your money and be on the lookout for potentially fraudulent transactions.

Related: 3 Top Credit Cards for College Students.

Opening your own checking account away from home is a big financial milestone. By using it as a way to better manage your money, you can set yourself up for financial success well into the future.

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