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Reasonable checking account for 16-year-old

May 2010

My son is turning 16 and I'd like to get him set up with his own bank account (finally). I'd like him to be able to deposit money and use an ATM in Berkeley for withdrawals. However, every bank that I'm looking at charges monthly fees that will eat up the limited amount of money he has. Are there any banks that still give free accounts to teenagers? How are other parents handling this issue? I'd like my son to learn how to manage his money and banking needs before he goes off to college in a few years, but I don't want to pay an arm and a leg in banking fees in order to do so. Any suggestions? Thanks! - down with monthly fees


My teen got an account at Bank of America that doesn't charge fees for full-time students. He has a debit card that he uses to get cash, and he deposited his paychecks when he had a part-time job. The only caution is that they will charge high fees if he overdraws his account, but that hasn't happened so far. Carrie
We have a Teen Checking account with Wells Fargo. It was free of monthly service charges when we signed up (2 yrs. ago). We also have on-line control of the account, linked with our other (adult) accounts. *Often a .01 Teen Balance*
USAA is a wonderful bank. No checking account fees (they pay YOU interest instead, as it should be)! They have several programs for kids and teens (i.e. a first start savings account with checks, a credit card controlled by parents). They don't have any branches - it's all online. They send you pre-paid mailers to deposit your checks by mail. The best part is you can go to ANY ATM from any bank and THEY pay all those fees. Go to usaa.com and check it out. --mom of a money-savvy pre-teen
The easiest way to get a free account for your teen is to link it to one of your accounts. If you have a savings account or a mortgage at one of the local banks they will give you free checking and will give you a secondary acct. I set up both kids with myself also on the account. It came in really handy when they left for college as I could automatically transfer money from my acct to theirs for bills, etc. You can set it up so that you have access to their acct (and can do some initial monitoring - or not) but they won't have access to your acct.

Another way is if they have regular automatic deposits made to an acct - so if they have a job - or sometimes you can arrange to have money transfered from your acct to theirs on a regular basis (maybe you can do their allowance, if they get one, on a monthly basis). anon


I have ''student'' accounts for both of my children (13 and 17) set up with Wells Fargo, where I've had an account for years. (This is not an endorsment of Wells Fargo - just a description of what works for us.) Their accounts are linked to mine, and I automatically transfer their monthly allowance on the first of each month. They both have ATM cards, but we've never ordered checks for them because they really don't need them. Because I'm a long time customer and keep a minimum required balance across all of our accounts, I don't pay anything for theirs. WF did say it was unusual to set up an account like this for an 11-year old (when I first set this up for my youngest daughter.) They said they were doing it because I had been a customer for such a long time.

An added bonus is I can see how they use their ATM cards, and can confirm they haven't overdrawn their account at any time. I think having a predictable allowance and knowing how much money they can spend has allowed them to learn money management. They are both aware of what things cost, and have never overdrawn their balance. I plan to continue using the same approach next year when my 17-year old goes off to college. Sandi


My husband and I have free checking. I have a joint account with my son. So the benefit was extended to him. BTW, with the account setup as joint I can transfer funds to cover the cost of textbooks. A mom
Bank of America has a student checking account (CampusEdge) that has no service charge and free ATM withdrawals, online banking. Anita
Mechanics Bank offers an account, linked to the parent's account, which has no monthly fees. Since the adult account doesn't have monthly fees either, that works out well. Kathleen
Try Mechanics Bank, they have a teen account. anon
My teen has an account at Mechanics Bank on Solano Avenue. No account fees until she's 18. Bankers there give personal service, they get to know you, and they are a community bank so she has the added sense of relief that she is not participating at any of the banks that have a notoriously poor record of high fees, poor customer service, and playing a part in the economic woes that our country faces. They have branches in downtown Berkeley, Albany, and in some surrounding cities. Fees that are charged by other banks to use their ATMs are also forgiven by Mechanics. Happy at Mechanics
We opened accounts for our teens (13 year old twins) at Union Bank called ''Teen Savings''. It is a savings account with no minimum balanace ($1) and pays interest (very low, but better than nothing). Right now we've given them an ATM card so they can deposit and withdraw money. You also get free on-line access.

In a few years we'll give them a debit card. That uses a linked account that you move money into from your Teen Savings account.

We opened them with me as a co-owner rather than as a custodial account so they could access the account on-line by themselves.

We have our checking and savings account at Union Bank too and when I log in, I can see their accounts as well as ours. I can also transfer money directly from our accounts into their accounts. That is how I handle giving them their allowance now.

Check it out. Parent of Teens


My boys are now 18 and 21. Many years ago I set them up at Wells Fargo where I have had a checking accout since 1977. there was no charge as they are technically my accounts. I have access to them and can watch transactions and transfer funds. They do not have access to my accounts. I think they both have checking and savings accounts with atm cards david
If you have an account with no monthly fees, link his to yours. Gregg
My son has the type of account you're looking for through Wells Fargo. The bank waived the fees because we have checking, savings, and mortgage through the bank. Maybe your own bank would do the same? It is really good to go into the bank and sit down with someone, rather than try to do it online or over the phone. I feel you get better service and swing deals that way.
If you keep enough money in your accounts not to have to pay fees yourself, then you may be able to have a joint account with your child and also not have fees. It's a good idea to have a joint account so you can access it easily online for transfers, to negotiate with the bank, and to keep an eye on what's happening in general. The key thing is to start with an account that does NOT have a Visa or Mastercard debit option. That's for stage two, when they're familiar with the basics. Then they can use it more places, including for iTunes. It's important to explain to your child about the overdraft fees they will rack up (much bigger than any regular account fees) if they sign for something without having enough money in an account, and the additional fees if they don't correct it as fast as possible. They should also know other little tricks of the banks, such as the two dollar charge for using other banks ATMs, even for balance inquiries, plus the extra two dollars or more if they use other banks ATMs for withdrawals. After many dramas with my older child, I set my younger one up so he could check his balance using his cell phone before trying any transactions. So then he entered his account number to be able to watch ''free movies'' online, and predictably this was a scam that led to having to change the account number and contest the charges! Argh. Fiona
Check out Bank of America. I just had my (16 year old) son open up his first bank account there and overall, it was a very good experience for both of us.

There are no bank fees for students, the representive (Nikki at the Solano Ave. Branch) was super helpful and patient. She seemed to know exactly how to handle teens (as if she were specifically trained for it). She also had a wonderful booklet put together by BofA that explained everything a young adult would want to know about managing their finances. It gives detailed examples of how to manage your checking/saving account, how to write a check, how interest works, etc. The other neat thing was that BofA just came up with a new service that will text you when your balance is under, let's say $25.

There's a lot more info than what I'm mentioning here so I suggest you call or stop by. Good Luck! Teen Banking Parent


Our teen daughters have checking/ATM accounts with Mechanics Bank, and it's been a great way for them to learn to manage their money. There are no monthly fees, and ATM withdrawals are free of charge from MechBank ATMs, and they get two withdrawals per month free of charge from other ATMs. I believe the only caveat is that a parent must have an account at MechBank as well, which we do. We love this bank - it's like an old- fashioned neighborhood bank in terms of the friendly, personal service.

Our girls can check their account online, we can transfer their allowance from our account into theirs, they can deposit their babysitting earnings, etc. (They also have a savings account, which is where most of their earnings go, whereas the allowance goes to checking.) We give them an allowance which covers their clothes, books, toiletries, movies and meals out. They have to stay within their budget or earn more. It's worked out very well. We pay for school supplies separately, but discretionary spending is theirs to figure out. Hope this will stand them in good stead when they're in college!

Here's the link to their site: http://www.mechbank.com/mechbank/mbwebsite.nsf/personal/checkingteen Cheers Money Managing Mom


Our kids each opened a Student Savings Account at Bank of America. No fees, no minimum balance. There may be some limit to how many withdrawals can be made per month. My oldest turned 18 and opened a checking account at Wells Fargo-- again, no fees, no minimum balance. Both kinds of accounts come with an ATM card-- whether there are withdrawal charges depends on what ATM you use. Lifetime free checking is also available at Bank of the West, a very reputable local bank in Berkeley and El Cerrito. Good luck!
I just setup my three teens onto Paypal student credit card and so far I have no issues, setting it up was done from home, as long that you have a paypal account the process was fairly straightforward, they received their cards mailed home in less than 5 days, adding money takes no time in case of a missing lunch or extra fare to pay, log in paypal and add money to your child account that is it, my son called me and was trying to pay a lunch with its card which was activated but I had not yet added money to it, the card had been denied at the merchant and the reason for him to call me, i logged in paypal added 10$, told my son to give another try and it worked right away, I was impressed. You can also setup allowances with an automatic schedule, there are also permissions for its usage but i have not really checked them out yet. Cost? its free!

There is a charge if you use the card for selling stuff. There is a one dollars charge if you get money directly from an ATM plus the charge of the ATM's Owner. same stuff as regular bank when you get from a different ATM. No charge to transfer money to the account.

we bought stuff at Walgreen and used the debit feature, we cashed out and did not got charge extra for getting cash, i believe it should work in any store that let you pay with ATM. They did try to purchase game points with one of those online games where the transaction was requiring you to be 18 and it refused, since the paypal ask for the birth date, it could be that their age shows up when they try to make a purchase, a good feature from my point of view but it could be seen as some privacy issues.

my kids are 13, 14 and 16 so far this card give a much better understanding of financial transactions, it has been great. take care. Fred


hi, I did the same thing for my teen when he turned 16. He is not charged a fee, but that's probably because it's an account linked to ours, and we are charged (sometimes) or not depending on monthly activity or balance. It's with Wells Fargo.

He has really liked using his debit card to purchase stuff. Downside is that he has lost it once (left it at a fast food restaurant). But he then went without for a week while waiting for the replacement, so I think the lesson was learned.

I have an automatic transfer into his account from mine so I don't have to think about it. And I get email notifications of his spending, which I wanted for the first year so I could see how he did.

Only big downside is that if he overdraws, it draws funds from my account. So there is a risk. But the control of the email notifications would limit the amount of the risk, plus you can define the limits of daily withdrawals.

hope that helps. I think it's a good first step! - mom of banking teen


Hi Down, If you have military service in your background, I highly recommend USAA. Both my teens have free accounts there that refund fess from any ATM, so one of my kids was able to easily keep it when she went away to college. There is good online access, and they even send you postage paid envelopes for deposits if you request them. And they have a very safe rating. We have our accounts (including several types of insurance) through my father's military service, so it can pass through generations, though I'm not sure of all the rules on that. I think Wells Fargo also has a free teen account. In our experience, you want to be sure to be a cosigner and see the statements, but don't sign up for automatic overdraft protection. If they overdraw, they pay the $25. It hurts, and learn to pay attention. Teens these days aren't so good about actually balancing the checkbook, but they will check their balance online before they step out the door to go shopping, and know they can also check at the ATM. Also make sure that they get a debit card; they'll need that for online purchases, and don't get anywhere near a credit card. We've told our kids so many horror stories about credit cards and college students that they run screaming for the shredder whenever they get an offer (which is monthly from American Airlines!) Good luck! all for financial literacy

Helping teen avoid bank overdrafts

Feb 2009

Teenager has control for the first time over a checkbook. What has worked for you to avoid overdrafts? Does any bank offer better services than others? We just found out our bank is in the middle of a class action settlement about charging too many overdrafts. That's not good news, but we also need to be able to set up a method to stay within budget and account balance. Looking for positive balance


I don't know if it's too late to make a different choice in a financial institution, but you should look into a credit union. Here's why:

1. You teen would be required to open a Share Savings Account. This savings account would be the first target for overdrafts and because it is his money, the automatic transfers range from free to not over $10.

2. Your teen could check the account using a cell phone - either online or by calling a phone number - funds could be transferred as needed.

3. Even if your teen racks up $100 in fees (easier at a bank than a credit union) it is best to learn the lesson now rather than later.

My thoughts are rather harsh - I believe that a teen should have $300 or more in their savings, with a proven track record of systematic savings before they should have a checking account. By doing so, they have proven budget ability. Also, the teen should have some income - even if it is occasional income - other than parentsí money. Financially Responsible Parent of a Financially Responsible Pre-Teen


Instead of a checking account I highly recommend a visa buxx card instead. It is a pre paid charge card but, with a limited amount determined by the money you arrange to have put in. You can get email alerts about spending. You can establish weekly cash draw amounts. You can view the expenditures on line. It has much better accountability than a checking account / atm relationship. Several banks offer them, just google visa buxx. s. Wolf
This is not a matter of finding a bank that offers better overdraft charges. It really is a parental responsibility to teach your teen how to balance a checkbook. Start by going over his checkbook every week so you can oversee that he is recording check amounts in the right places. If that works well, then lessen the oversight and check only every month.

The first time you sit down with him, tell him what the overdraft charges are AND tell him what the consequences of overdrafting are. That the check bounces and the company he wrote it to doesn't get paid and they get mad and then they try to deposit the check again and he gets another overdraft charge. Work it out clearly on paper, with examples, so he can see how the charges can add up.

Think of the overdraft charges that the bank gets as a lesson for your teen. The charges are the clear, financial consequences. If he doesn't want the consequences, then he needs to balance the checkbook every time he writes a check. And if he doesn't follow this simple plan, then he loses money. Shouldn't take too long for him to learn that. Anonymous


We had this problem with our first teenager. The bank does forgive the first overdraft of a student, if you know to request it. You need to discuss with your child that if they sign a docket for the transaction, it doesn't go through on the same day. The best way to avoid overdrafts is to start kids with a card that is not also a credit card ie has no visa or mastercard logo. That way they can only use it at the bank machine or as a debit transaction (using the pin number). Then it will be refused if there are insufficient funds, rather than allowing the overdraft to happen. On the other hand, after a series of overdrafts that she had to pay off (with some help) my daughter is now much better than I am with a real credit card. Fiona

Checking and ATM card for 14-year-old

Sept 2006

Has anyone found a bank that will give a 14 year old a checking account with a debit/ATM card for low or no fee? WaMu gave my 16 year old such an account, but will not approve one for my 14 year old. This is for depositing his bi-monthly allowance/budget, having him be responsible for the deposit and management of the $, mostly with the ATM card. Thanks Sarah


My 14-year-old son was depositing money in his savings account at Wells Fargo on Solano Avenue, and the clerk asked if he wanted a checking account with a debit/ATM card attached. It's free and has worked out very well for him. His savings account card only allows him to deposit/withdraw money, but with the check card he can make purchases. He can also transfer money between the two accounts online Maureen
We've had a savings account at Wells Fargo for several years for my 15 year old. It was set up by us, since he's a minor, but we were able to get him an ATM card to deposit and withdraw money. The catch is that the number of transactions, especially withdrawals, are limited since it is a free savings account. I'd think you could set up some type of similar account, even if there was a modest fee. Banker teen
Over the summer, my 14 yo opened an account at BANK OF AMERICA, that includes an ATM card Anon
Regarding both teen checking accounts and allowance. Check out the Bank of America. They have an account for teenagers that comes with an ATM card. You may have to have your name on the account also. We've done that for all of our children when they reached high school.

By the way, regarding allowance. We negotiated a deal with the kids. They are paid a sum weekly, one week's allowance goes to savings, one goes to checking. They can take money out of savings if they want to, but are more likely to leave what's already there for long term goals. b of a customer


A checking account (and by association a debit card) requires that the holder be of legal contract age (18). Wherever you go, you will probably be required to co-sign.

That being said I wanted to put in a pitch for Mechanics Bank. I bank at the North Berkeley/Solano branch and find them to be the nicest, most personable group of COMMUNITY and community-minded bankers. They saved my friend's 80+ year old father from being scammed by someone who ''just needed him to get some cash...'' because they knew him and knew that it was unusual for him to be asking for that much cash.

If the parent qualifies for free or low-cost checking they will pass this on to the child. Worth investigating
Support our local banks


I second the recommendation of Mechanics Bank. We use the one on the Arlington and have always received wonderful help from the bank manager - Xavier Abrams. Both of our kids have checking, savings and debit cards that work for all purchases just like a credit card except car rental which they can't do anyway. Online banking and bill paying work well and we can monitor their accounts with their permission. And if they ever had a problem, they just called Xavier directly. Small, local and personal. www.mechbank.com

The best thing about them is that they refund ALL ATM fees so both kids have kept the same bank through college, one in Portland and one at Mt. Holyoke. They even refund fees out of the country as well. They both signed up for direct deposit of their work study checks which worked flawlessly.

It was nice to get to campus and not have to deal with all the ''free'' offers from VERY agressive banks wanting to hook your child with a credit card. Just like the cigarette companies, they know if they hook them early, they have customers for life (with debt.) Happy Mechanics Bank customer


Caution about checking accounts for teens

August 2005

Re: Helping teen manage her money
We converted my daughter's savings account to a ''college checking account'' (at Wells Fargo, with my name included since she isn't 18 yet). We did this so she could make an unlimited number of ATM transactions per month without fee. The only thing was that she was able to overdraw the account. She withdrew $20 from non-ATM (i.e., store) machines and was charged the $1.50 store fee, the $2 non- network fee by WF, $22 overdraft fee by WF, and got a $20 bill. (Yes, that's right, $45.50, of which she got $20) She did this FIVE TIMES. WF also charged $5 per day for each business day the account remained overdrawn. I was gone for a few days and came back to notices from WF re: all of this. I closed the account. Because she was getting the money NOT directly from WF, there was no way for the machine to ''know'' that she had no funds. Obviously, she knew she didn't have funds, but hey, if the machine gives it to you, maybe it's true! Buyer beware!! Duped and disappointed mom


My son had a similar experience with an ATM card and with each overdrawn fee the charge goes higher and higher. He called Bank of America and they did lower the charges for him that one time.

ATM cards are misleading because the kids think that if they can get money or make charges that they have money in the account. My son had mostly small charges ranging from 25 cents to a few dollars with overdraft charges of up to $59 per charge. Judy


My son was great with his checking account since age 12 and my credit cards in his name since 13. At 16 he could no longer handle money, with many charges that he wasn't paying (me). At 17, Wells Fargo opened a college account for him *without* my involvement. I have no idea how he's dealing with it now and fear he'll start out with a negative credit rating. I agree, beware the college accounts. Dana
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