Like many college students, opening a bank account could be the first step you take in managing your personal finances. Even if you had a checking or savings account while in high school, you might be considering changing banks in college. Maybe there’s a Bank of America branch on or near your university campus, or perhaps you’ve heard good things about BofA and wonder if that particular bank is a good choice for you.
This article will provide the information you should know before opening a student account at one of the largest banks in the U.S., Bank of America. Topics covered include:
- Eligibility requirements for opening a BofA student checking account
- The difference between the two types of BofA student checking accounts and how to decide which is best for you
- The pros and cons of opening a Bank of America student checking account
- What you need to know about BofA checking service fees
- What you need to know about minimum balances
- How to decide if a BofA checking account is the right choice for you
Eligibility Requirements for Bank of America Student Checking Accounts
Bank of America has two types of checking accounts suitable for most students: the BofA Advantage SafeBalance Banking checking account and the Advantage Plus Banking checking account. Even though BofA doesn’t specifically refer to either of these as “student accounts,” they will waive their monthly service fees for students who are under 24 years old and enrolled in high school, a vocational program, or college or university.
It’s easy to open either of these new accounts. You just need to present your Social Security number, provide a minimum opening deposit of $100 for the Advantage Plus or $25 for the Advantage SafeBalance account, and maintain a permanent address in the U.S.
Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance vs. Advantage Plus
While the Advantage SafeBalance and Advantage Plus accounts offer a monthly maintenance fee waiver for students, there are significant differences between the accounts:
- Advantage Plus: The Bank of America Advantage Plus Banking account is a traditional checking account. You can purchase paper checks to write on the account, as well as use a debit card with the account to use for purchases and at ATMs. If you overdraw the account — take out or spend more money than you have in your account at the time — you will be charged an overdraft fee. Note that you might be able to set up overdraft protection for this account, but that would entail setting up a savings account or making some other arrangement with the bank — like a line of credit — that likely won’t be an option if you are a student.
- Advantage SafeBalance: The Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking account doesn’t offer checks, but you do get a debit card to use. You’ll never be charged an overdraft fee with this account because the bank won’t honor purchases or withdrawals in excess of your balance. If you don’t have enough money in your account to cover the transaction, they will simply decline payment.
Pros and Cons of Bank of America Checking Accounts
As is the case with all banking options, you’ll find some pros and cons to each. Ultimately, which type of account you choose will depend on your particular circumstances and needs.
The following sections list some of the pros and cons associated with the Bank of America checking accounts to help you make a sound decision.
Pros of Bank of America Checking
BofA’s checking accounts definitely offer some real advantages. They include:
- Branch accessibility: Bank of America has 4,300 branches spread out over 37 states and Washington, D.C. If you go to school in one of those states, you should easily be able to find a bank branch on or close to campus.
- ATM accessibility: Bank of America makes on-the-go banking extremely convenient for busy college students. BofA operates around 17,000 ATMs where you can check your balance, make a deposit, transfer funds between accounts or make a cash withdrawal without having to pay a user fee.
- Award-winning mobile app and online banking: BofA’s award-winning mobile banking app lets you do practically all of your banking on your smartphone. You’ll be able to see all of your accounts, make mobile check deposits, set up bill pay, transfer funds and instantly send money to friends through Zelle, all without ever having to leave your dorm room. You can also use your computer for online banking.
- Savings incentives: Bank of America invites debit card users to enroll in its Keep the Change program. Under the program, each time you make a purchase using your debit card, the amount of the purchase is automatically rolled up to the next whole dollar amount, and the excess change is automatically transferred to your savings account. This is a great way to begin budgeting for a spring break trip or saving up for a plane ticket back home.
Cons of Bank of America Checking
Of course, like anything else, banking with Bank of America has a few downsides.
- Inconvenience: Often, a student will open a bank account in their hometown — maybe because it’s where their parents’ bank is — and then use a branch of that same bank near their college campus when the need arises. However, if you open a Bank of America account in your home state and then end up attending college in one of the 13 states that don’t have a Bank of America presence, you could end up in a bind. Not only will you not be able to do in-person banking when you want to, but you also won’t find fee-free BofA ATMs.
- High fees:
- If you end up using a non-Bank of America ATM with your BofA debit card, you could end up paying a lot in transaction fees. BofA charges $2.50 per transaction, plus, you will be charged whatever fees the financial institution that owns the ATM charges. You could end up paying anywhere from $5 to over $8 or $9 per ATM transaction.
- Bank of America also charges high overdraft fees if you choose a checking account — like Advantage Plus — that allows for overdrafts. Bank of America charges its customers $35 each time a checking account is overdrawn. If you make a mistake with your account and write several checks that end up in overdraft, you could easily incur over $100 in fees from that one mistake.
Bank of America Checking Service Fees
Many banks charge their customers a monthly maintenance fee for their checking account. Bank of America is no exception. While you’ll be allowed to have a service fee-free account until you graduate or reach the age of 24, whichever comes first, you will incur checking service fees if you keep your BofA account beyond graduation. Those fees are:
- $12 per month for the Core Checking account and Advantage Plus checking account, unless your employer or another person or institution makes a direct deposit of at least $250 each month into your account or you maintain a minimum daily balance of $1,500 or more
- $25 per month for BofA’s interest checking account, which is waived if you keep a combined $10,000 balance in all of your Bank of America accounts
- $4.95 a month for your SafeBalance banking account
Bank of America Checking Minimum Balances
The minimum balances BofA charges for its two student-friendly checking accounts — $25 for the SafeBalance and $100 for the Advantage Plus — are not unusual. Many, if not all, banks require some kind of minimum balance to open the account or avoid fees or receive other perks.
Banks impose minimum balances on account holders because they want more deposits. The more money banks have in their coffers, the more they can lend to people and charge interest for. Also, banking regulations favor banks that maintain a certain level of bank deposits, so incentivizing you to keep money in your account helps banks with compliance. Finally, banks offset their operation costs with the fees they charge customers, so whether you keep a minimum balance, they still make money.
Confusion can arise, however, because banks use different methods to calculate whether and when you have met the minimum balance. Be sure to ask the bank how and when they calculate their minimum balance requirements, including what constitutes a statement cycle, before deciding to open your account. Also, be sure to ask if there are other ways to avoid incurring fees after you stop being an eligible student, such as using online banking or setting up direct deposit.
Is Bank of America Checking Good for You?
Whether Bank of America ends up being the right choice for a student checking account depends on if the benefits outweigh any potential problems for you. As one of the largest banks in the country, there’s a good chance that you will have a BofA branch in proximity to your home or campus. However, if you are studying in a state without a BofA, you could end up incurring a lot in ATM fees.
If you decide to go with a BofA account, you’ll need to choose between the Advantage Plus or SafeBalance account. If you will be doing a lot of check-writing, you will need the paper checks that come with Advantage Plus. Keep in mind that you could be charged a lot in overdraft fees if you are not extremely careful with how you manage your account.
If you never write checks and don’t like the risk of incurring overdraft fees, then SafeBalance might be the way to go. It’s important to remember that after you turn 24 or graduate from college or your vocational program, both accounts will revert to charging you fees unless you meet certain requirements, so make sure you understand all the possibilities.
Need More Help? CollegeFinance.com Is Your Resource for Student Financial Information
Planning for college is an exciting time in every student’s life. But it can also be stressful, especially when it comes to figuring out how to handle the financial aspects of obtaining an education. Along with choosing the best bank to meet your needs, you might be gathering information on how to save for college, how student loans work, and how you will pay off your student debt.
CollegeFinance.com can help. We’re experts in helping students like you manage the financial aspects of a college education, freeing you up to focus on working for your degree, rather than on how you’re going to pay for it.