How to choose the right student account

A-level results are finally out which means the countdown to university is on for those who’ve achieved the grades they needed to get in.

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But there’s plenty of financial swotting up to be done before you head off to uni, not least when choosing a student account.

If you’re feeling a bit baffled about which student account is best for you, don’t panic, here are a few dos and don’ts to help guide you…

DO choose an account with a decent overdraft limit

The vast majority of students will need to borrow to cover costs while they are studying, so a large interest-free overdraft will usually be your top priority when picking a student account.

HSBC and Halifax both offer a generous overdraft limit of up to £3,000 on their student accounts, although the actual amount you receive will depend on your individual circumstances – HSBC guarantees the first £500.

The Co-operative Bank, meanwhile, offers a tiered overdraft limit depending on your year of study.

The account offers a £1,400 interest-free overdraft limit in year one, rising to up to £1,700 in year two and up to £2,000 in year three. You’ll need to pay in £300 or more to activate your overdraft.

Similarly, Nationwide Building Society’s new FlexStudent account offers an interest-free and fee-free overdraft of up to £1,000 in the first year. In the second year you can request an increase to £2,000, and in the third year you can request an overdraft of up to £3,000.

To qualify, you’ll need to pay in £1,500 per year of study across two or more transactions and maintain a good credit record.

NatWest’s student account offers an interest-free overdraft of up to £500 in the first term, and up to £2,000 after that.

And Santander’s student account has lower overdraft limits, offering up to £1,500 interest-free for three years, or up to £2,000 if you’re on a five-year course. To qualify, you’ll need to pay in at least £500 a term and register for online banking.

Bear in mind that all overdrafts are subject to status and approval, and your chosen bank or building society will run a credit check before they offer you an account. It’s therefore a good idea to check your credit score before you apply to see how likely you are to be accepted. You can find out how to do this here.

Once you’ve been accepted, make sure you don’t go over your overdraft limit. If you do, not only could you hurt you credit score, you’ll also pay a hefty fee. Santander, for example, charges £5 per day if you go into an unarranged overdraft (capped at 10 days per month).

DON’T base your decision on freebies alone

When choosing a student account it’s best not to solely base your decision on the freebies offered.

Lots of these can seem really tempting, but it’s vital to look at what else the account offers before making your decision. Of course, if it’s a toss-up between two accounts, the freebies on offer might help sway it for you.

Here’s a quick look at what’s available:

  • Santander is offering a four-year 16-25 Railcard which entitles you to a third off rail costs, so long as you pay in £500 or more each term and register for online banking.
  • HSBC is giving away a £60 Amazon voucher to anyone opening its student account before October 31, 2016 (T&Cs apply).
  • NatWest is offering a third off coach travel with National Express for four years, so long as you sign up to online banking and select to receive paperless statements.

DO consider an account that pays interest

Not many students are lucky enough to stay in the black when they are at uni, but if you think you will be able to, then you’ll want an account which will also pay you interest when you are in credit.

Santander’s student account, for example, is one of the most competitive. It offers 1.00% AER (variable) on balances of between £100 and £200, 2.00% AER (variable) on balances of between £200 and £300, and 3.00% AER (variable) on balances of between £300 and £2,000.

To qualify you must pay in £500 or more each term and register for online banking.

Meanwhile, Nationwide’s FlexStudent account pays 1.00% AER (variable) on balances of up to £1,000, and you’ll also be able to earn cashback on some of your purchases.

HSBC’s student account pays 1.75% AER (variable) on balances up to £1,000, but only in the first year.

DON’T choose the bank with the nearest branch

Although it’s a good idea to check where the nearest banks are to where you will be living as a student, this shouldn’t be the deciding factor when picking an account.

It’s much better to choose an account that will suit your needs even if it’s offered by a bank which is a bit further away, particularly as you can withdraw cash from most banks' ATMs and you can usually register for online banking.

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Please note: any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.

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