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Student bank accounts: how to find the best deal

Paloma Kubiak
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Paloma Kubiak

With the academic year soon upon us, students up and down the country are faced with a host of possible bank accounts to choose from. But what makes a good student bank account?

One of the big considerations for students heading to university this autumn is which bank account to go for. After all, student bank accounts come with some of the most enticing freebies and overdraft offers around. Banks know many of us are fairly apathetic about switching accounts, so if they can get you as a student, there’s a decent chance you’ll be a customer for a long time.

Rachel Springall, finance expert at information site Moneyfacts, explains: “There can be a fine line between choosing the perfect student account for someone’s circumstances and accidently picking a poor account if it’s not thought through. As with any bank account, the best deal entirely depends on how someone uses the account. While students could be tempted by an account with perks, it may not end up being the most cost-effective choice over the next few years if they don’t make use of them.”

So what are the big banks offering this year? And how can students work out what package is best for them?

The best bank accounts for overdrafts

One of the main features students look for from their bank account is the overdraft facility. After all, the studying life can be pretty expensive, and interest-free overdrafts allow users to dip into the red without being hit with punishing interest charges.

As a result, this is one feature that many of the main banks trumpet for their student bank accounts.

HSBC is the most generous on this front, offering a maximum overdraft of £3,000 upfront.

Others increase the overdraft facility on offer over time. With Nationwide for example, in year one students enjoy a £1,000 overdraft, which increases to £2,000 in year two and then £3,000 in year three.

With TSB, Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest, students start with a relatively small overdraft for the first few months of their first year at university, but this increases steadily until the end of that first year. For example, with TSB the student overdraft sits at a maximum of £500 for the first six months, rising to £1,000 for months seven to nine and then £1,500 from that point until graduation.

It’s important to note that while some accounts promise guaranteed overdrafts, others only offer ‘up to’ maximums. In these cases, the actual overdraft on offer will vary depending on your individual circumstances and your credit score. So make sure you understand exactly what you are getting from your account.

What’s more, even with an overdraft it’s crucial to be disciplined and ensure that you do not exceed your agreed overdraft limit. If you do, you’ll soon be hit with significant penalty charges which will put you even further into debt.

What about the freebies?

Students should never pick an account based on the freebies on offer. However, it’s worth being clear about just what added extras you can get thrown in with your account before applying.

With HSBC’s student account, you can get a £60 Amazon gift card, plus a year’s membership of Amazon Prime Student, while NatWest’s account comes with a free four-year UK coachcard which delivers a third off standard fares with National Express.

Lloyds offers a free NUS Extra card for three years, while Santander’s account comes with a free four-year 16-25 railcard, helping you save a third off rail travel across the country.

Don’t forget about graduate accounts

Once you finish your studies, you should again review your banking options. Many banks offer dedicated graduate accounts, though the features will vary between them.

Springall adds: “Once students graduate, they would be wise to compare accounts again and not assume that their current provider will offer them the best possible graduate account. Some of these accounts will offer interest on balances and cashback on spending, which will come in handy when they are earning a decent wage – it will certainly be refreshing once they get their account back in the black.”