Guide to Bank Accounts for College Students and New Grads

January 2, 2022

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I'm Tori!

After successfully saving $100,000 at age 25, I quit my corporate job in marketing to fight for your financial rights. I’ve helped over three million badass women make more, spend less, and feel financially confident.


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What accounts do you really need?

If you’re between the ages of 18-25, you’re likely just getting started in the “real world.” Between jumping into the job market, and actually making your own money, and paying your own bills, life might be starting to feel really, really real.

One of the more common questions I get asked by journalists and other creators is, “what financial advice would you give to your younger self?” And though I came up with plenty of financial savvy from my parents, I look at that question holistically and instead ask, “what do I wish we ALL knew about finances when we were younger?”

So today, I’m jumping into the bank accounts every college student or fresh-grad should have (or know about) as you begin your foray into the adult world.

A Checking Account

A good ole fashioned checking account will never go out of style –– and that’s because it’s the simplest starting point for your money. You can open a checking account with your local bank or even some online banks. Here’s what to look for in a checking account:

  • Low or no-fee accounts. There are several banks and credit unions that offer fee-free checking accounts. It’s worth it to shop around and find ones without any fees. If you have a bank you really want to bank with, it’s also worth asking if they’ll waive the fees –– many banks are willing to do so with a little negotiation!

  • Overdraft protection. Accidents happen whether you mean for them to or not. I can’t tell you how many friends overdrafted in college once or twice, and those fees HURT. The good news is, more and more banks are offering overdraft protection and forgiveness.

  • Easy to use. No explanation needed to Gen-Z here –– having an easy-to-use app makes a big difference, especially with your finances. Bonus if your bank’s app has fun interactive tools to help you set goals or celebrate with you when you’ve hit milestones!

High Yield Savings Account

High Yield Savings Accounts, otherwise known as HYSAs, are savings accounts usually offered by online banks that offer a higher interest rate. What does that mean for you? A typical savings account will offer you about .01% interest, meaning that at the end of the year, even if you have a healthy savings account, your money is only growing by pennies.

A high yield savings account offers you about 50x that, meaning that your money continues to grow at a higher rate while it sits in the account. Opening an HYSA as a young college student/new grad is perfect because your money will have a longer time to grow than most.

Your first financial priority at any stage in life should be getting an emergency fund together with at least three months worth of expenses. These should include any and all bills like housing, utilities, car loans, health insurance, and other necessities. If you’re still in school, this could also include money for books, meal cards, and other campus fees. 

It seems like a big number to put together, but once you get there, the freedom and peace of mind you’ll have knowing that if you were to lose your job or even a scholarship tomorrow, you’d have time to figure out your next steps makes it worth the effort. 

This emergency fund should stay in your high yield savings account, not in your checking account. Your checking account should have enough for your day-to-day purchases and bills without going in the negative.

Student Credit Cards

If you’ve saved up your emergency fund and have found yourself consistently staying within your budget, it could be a good time to add a student credit card to your financial plan. Student credit cards usually come with lower balance limits and are offered to individuals looking to build their credit.

Here’s my word of caution: you should never put anything on a credit card you cannot afford to pay off with cash. I mean it –– credit cards are a tool for building wealth, but it’s so so so easy to pull out the plastic when your checking account is a little low, and you really want to buy that new *insert tempting purchase here*. Like any tool, you have to use it correctly, or you can get in some serious financial hurt.

My credit card golden rules are:

  • Keep your credit utilization below 30% (aka, no more than 30% of your balance at any time).  For example, if you have a $100 credit limit, your balance should always be $30 or below.

  • NEVER use it for emergencies –– that’s what the emergency fund is for, and why you should prioritize getting it together, first.

  • Pay your statement IN FULL every single month. If you do this, you’ll never have to pay interest, and you’ll continue to build your credit score.

As a final note, it is 100% OK if you do not feel like you have your spending under control enough to use a credit card. Building credit is valuable, but it’s so much harder to dig yourself out of a hole than it is to start on a fresh foundation.

If you are struggling with building a budget, my best-selling book, Financial Feminist: Overcome the Patriarchy’s Bullsh*t to Master Your Money and Build a Life You Love, can help you get on the right track. On the other hand, if you know how to budget, but are struggling with spending, I have a great free resource on curbing emotional spending, too!

If you’d like to learn more about the student cards I recommend, visit our credit card page!

Tax-Advantaged Investment Account 

If you’re working consistently, have a fully-funded emergency fund, don’t have looming high-interest debt, and are ready to take the next step, it might be time to start investing. 

You might be offered a 401K right off the gate in your first job, but that’s not your only option. A 401K is a great start, and at the very least, you should consider contributing at least up to the employer match every year (we do not leave free money on the table!).

If you aren’t offered a 401K or are interested in other investment options outside of it, keep reading!

Many college students and new grads think that they are too young to start investing, and it’s the biggest lie I see perpetuated in the finance industry. Retirement is not for “old people” –– it’s what young people do to make sure that they can retire with money in the bank and enjoy their lives when they’re older. It is one of the best ways to build long-term wealth.

Investing is a long-term mindset, which is important to keep in mind. I know you might be conjuring up images of Wolf of Wallstreet or your local crypto-bro, but investing is a long game.

When you’re first getting started with investing, there’s a lot of jargon and lingo. I have a great blog on some of the most common IRA (individual retirement account) options to help you get started with the jargon. The important thing to remember with an IRA is that you won’t have access to that money until you’re 59 ½. 

You can start today with as little as $50 and contribute whenever you can. The great thing about these accounts is that you get to determine how much you’d like to invest and how often.

If this feels a little overwhelming, but you are ready to start and want to learn more, hop on the waitlist for my one-of-a-kind investing community, Treasury, launching in January. In it, we take you through all the steps of investing and provide you with education and a like-minded community to learn alongside.

I get asked all the time: what are your favorite money management tools?

Treasury: We’re building a one-of-a-kind, non-judgemental community where you can learn exactly how to invest, build wealth, and receive exclusive access to Her First $100K.

Juno: Overwhelmed by your student loans? Juno uses the power of group buying to negotiate with banks to get members better deals on their student loans. You can join Juno for free today to access their deals and find out how much money you could save. Rates for refinancing start at 2.25% fixed, with up to $1,000 cashback.

Personal Capital: The tool I check daily, Personal Capital is the best tool for tracking your net worth and your progress towards goals like saving, debt payoff, and (yes!) $100K. 

The $100K Club Facebook Group: Need some honest money conversations in your life? Join my free community to get your burning questions answered.

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