First, a word of caution: Don’t automatically turn to the card or bank mentioned by your kid’s school. Prepaid cards loaded with excess financial aid, for example, may charge students a fee for each debit transaction. If students aren’t careful, those charges can quickly add to the cost of groceries and text books. It’s also worth knowing that some colleges receive kickbacks for steering students to certain cards.
While you may decide to use re-loadable prepaid cards as a way to set spending limits for their college kids, you should be mindful of other charges that may be associated with them. For instance, there are usually fees for activation, fees for loading money onto the cards and fees for checking the balance, reports Danielle Douglas-Gabriel.
Another option is to use a mobile bank, which won’t have brick-and-mortar bank branches or some of the traditional banking services but can be convenient for young consumers who are comfortable with banking through their smartphones. For instance, Simple doesn’t offer a physical checkbook but it also doesn’t charge monthly fees or require a minimum balance for opening the account, according to WalletHub, which recently ranked credit cards and checking accounts for college students.
For some families, the best bet will be to use a traditional checking account. As Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary wrote, parents need to do the research to find a checking account and debit card that’s affordable for them. That may mean using a bank that has branches on or near campus so that students can avoid paying out-of-network ATM fees. Some parents may also want to open an account at that bank to make it easy to deposit and transfer money, she says.
Many banks waive monthly fees and other costs for college students and others will pay interest on balances for customers who meet certain requirements. For example, the AmericaNet Rewards checking account pays a 1.5 percent yield on balances up to $10,000 for account holders who receive online statements and make at least 10 purchases with their debit cards, according to WalletHub.
The bottom line is: do your research. You’re bound to find something that’s a good fit for your family.