As a soon-to-be college student, you can be so focused on selecting your classes, messaging your roommate and stockpiling dorm supplies that you forget about some of the new responsibilities heading your way. One of the big ones is banking. If you haven’t found a bank and opened a checking account yet, you should plan to do both before you head to campus. 

Your first instinct may be to open an account with the bank your parents use — but that’s not always the right fit. Arijit Roy, vice president of Deposits for Discover, explains, “If you went shopping for a car in college, it is unlikely that you would go buy the SUV or truck that your mom or dad drove!” So why would you do that with a bank? Before you commit, do some research to figure out what bank and what kind of checking account will work for you. 

What to Look for in a Bank

Great Online Reviews 

You might assume it’s better to go into a bank and speak with someone directly, but Roy says, “It’s almost always better to do research online, because you’re going to get more objective information that way. If you go into a bank branch to do this research, you’re likely going to get their best product for you, but there could be a better product available to you in the market that you won’t learn about in a single bank branch.” Check out J.D. Power’s rankings on banking satisfaction. You can also do a simple Google search and look at the Yelp reviews of the local bank branches you’d be using most frequently to get a sense of their customer service. 

Digital Capabilities

You do everything else online, so it only makes sense that you may want to do your banking online too. Think about whether you want a brick-and-mortar experience, an online experience or a bit of both, and check out what account tools are available for the banks you’re considering. Roy says that students should specifically look for the ability to digitally transfer money from one account to another and set up bill payments. The student lifestyle isn’t traditionally amenable to typical banking hours, which makes it especially important to find a bank that lets you access your money easily and on your schedule. 

FDIC Insured

“It is very important to have a relationship with an institution that is a member of the FDIC,” Roy says. The FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) provides deposit insurance so in the unlikely event your bank fails, you won’t lose the money you’ve invested with them, up to the maximum allowed by law. This is a non-negotiable feature and solid advice for banking decisions throughout your life — not just when you’re a student. If a bank is FDIC insured, then it will be easy to spot on a bank’s website or at a branch. 

What to Look for in a Checking Account

No Balance Minimums

Some banks require that you maintain a minimum balance in your checking account, which is the lowest dollar amount you must keep in the account to avoid a fee. If you have trouble maintaining the balance, you will be charged and some banks could even close your account after too many violations. Students typically don’t have steady incomes, which makes maintaining a minimum balance difficult. Even if you’re opening your checking account with money you’ve saved and have plans to work throughout the school year, it’s a good idea to give yourself some wiggle room because your plans could change and unexpected costs could come up. 

No Costly Fees

Checking accounts can come with a variety of fees that can really add up, including charges for monthly account maintenance, ATM withdrawals, overdrafts, transfers and sometimes even paper statements. Roy cautions that accounts with a lot of fees “are not necessarily the best for students who are just getting started out in life and can’t, and shouldn’t, be paying fees.” Be sure you understand what fees are associated with the accounts you’re considering and if it’s possible to avoid them. For example, some banks charge for ATM withdrawals when you use locations that aren’t associated with that bank. Finding a bank with accessible ATMs to your campus, where you travel and where you spend your school breaks will help you avoid regular (and costly) withdrawal fees.  

Deciding what bank to use and selecting the right checking account are important decisions that will take some research. Use these tips as a checklist to find what works best for you before you leave for school.

The interview for this article was conducted in 2018.