Students settling into college life for the first time also may be new to managing their finances on their own. So it's important to compare banking options on campus to minimize hassles as well as costly fees.
Many colleges have agreements with banks or other financial institutions to promote school-sponsored accounts to students. Students may even get information about banking options in the mail before they arrive on campus. Banks see campuses as fertile ground for establishing relationships with prospective customers and may pay the college for the right to market accounts to students. A government report in 2016 found that about 10 million students, or about 40 percent, attend a school with such an agreement.
But college-sponsored accounts vary widely in the fees they charge the students who use them. So students shouldn't automatically choose their school's "official" bank account - or assume that the account is the best choice for them - simply because it comes with a card bearing the school's logo, said Seth Frotman, the student loan ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Just because it looks like official mail from your school," he said, "you don't have to accept it."
Colleges are now required to disclose their bank marketing agreements on their websites, along with details about the related costs paid by students who use the accounts, and to make the information available to the federal Department of Education. Earlier this month, the department posted online a list of hundreds of colleges that have marketing agreements, with links to the contracts.
The Education Department's format doesn't necessarily make it easy to compare multiple colleges, but students can review their own college's contract and then click on a few other schools to get an idea of how their college's account measures up. (The department said the data was self-reported by institutions so it's possible that the list isn't comprehensive. Some colleges, it said, may not have reported yet or the information may not have been posted to the website yet by the Federal Student Aid office.)
Average fees reported by colleges vary widely. Fees paid by students at Florida International University under an agreement with Wells Fargo averaged about $52 in the last school year, according to the school's website. The University of Minnesota's website says that fees averaged about $27 for those using a school-sponsored account offered by TCF Bank.
Some schools, like Stetson University, report that their sponsored accounts don't have any fees.
Of course, many students - especially older students, or those whose parents introduced them to money-management skills early in their teenage years - already have an account when they arrive on campus. And in that case, the best option may be to keep using that account, said Chris Moon, consumer banking analyst with financial website ValuePenguin. Using the same bank as your parents makes it easy for them to transfer funds, if needed.
But if you're going to a college far from home, it may be that the selection of A.T.M.s available with your existing account is less convenient. Or, you may not have had an account. When opening a new account makes sense, it's wise to do some comparison shopping. Don't rule out local credit unions, which may offer low-cost accounts, or online banks, which can be a cheap option if you don't mind a lack of branches.
Look for an account with low or no monthly maintenance fee, and one that offers convenient access to free A.T.M.s, Mr. Moon said. Despite the spread of person-to-person payment options like Venmo, he said, "cash is still preferred in many situations."
Big banks like Chase and Wells Fargo typically market "student" accounts that waive monthly maintenance fees while you're in college. But bear in mind that once you graduate - or five years after the account was first opened - the bank will typically start charging you the fee, unless you meet other requirements to have it waived, like a direct deposit. Monthly account fees at big banks range from $6 to $12, ValuePenguin found.
Here are some questions and answers about campus bank accounts:
Where can I get more information about campus banking?
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers tips on choosing a bank account and managing your money in college.
What if I think my college's marketing agreement with a bank is unfair?
Colleges are supposed to negotiate bank marketing agreements that are in their students' best financial interests, Mr. Frotman said, so students should speak up if they think the terms of an agreement aren't beneficial, or if they think the accounts aren't affordable. "If they think something is wrong," he said, "they should file a complaint with their school." The best place to lodge a complaint is probably the college's business office.
Can campus debit cards charge overdraft fees?
That depends on the type of agreement the college has with the bank or financial institution managing the card, so students should check account details before opening an account. Card accounts that are used to distribute federal student aid can't charge overdraft fees - fees, typically around $34, charged when you don't have enough cash in your account to cover a purchase. But debit cards that are promoted by the college, outside of the student financial aid system, may charge overdraft fees.