It's worth checking out the dedicated student banking packages on offer as many of them not only apply no fees but come with special offers such as free flights or €100, writes John Cradden
IF you are starting third-level education this month, your new life as a college student will also mark the beginning of a new era of financial responsibility for you.
Whether or not you are moving away from the family home, opening a current bank account in your own name is likely to be one of your first steps towards financial independence.
The good news is that you will find that most banks will welcome you with open arms.
AIB, Bank of Ireland, Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank all offer dedicated student banking packages, including current accounts, loans and credit cards, while National Irish Bank offers a package aimed at young people in general, not just students.
Many of them come with special offers and freebies designed to appeal to young students, such as free student travelcards, flights or cash.
You might wonder why banks are so keen to attract students as customers. After all, most of us will have been broke for most of our student lives and perhaps saddled with debt by the time we graduate.
The simple answer is that most people will remain as a customer of their first bank for most of their lives.
Needless to say, when choosing an account you should not be blinded by special introductory offers and freebies. Having said that, such offers may help swing the deal for students who compare the student current account packages carefully.
Simon Moynihan, of price comparison website Bonkers.ie, has examined all the student banking offers for his blog and says students should take advantage of the offers if they can.
"They [banks] take the long view and they know that if they get you while you're in college, they've probably got you for life," he says.
"That €100 they give you now, or the free trip or the interest free travel loan? They'll make it back in spades once you graduate, so, like I said, take advantage of them while you can."
So let's take a look at what each bank has to offer students in terms of basic facilities.
AIB's sign-up incentive for its Student Plus Account is a free student travelcard, which is good for travel discounts of up to 40pc, as well as discounts from a number of participating retailers.
Like its three main competitors, the account is fee-free -- no maintenance or transaction charges -- and includes an interest-free overdraft of up to €1,500. If you manage to keep your account in credit, it will earn 1pc interest on balances up to €1,000.
The account includes a Mastercard credit card with a limit of up to €1,500 and an introductory purchase rate of 3.83pc for 12 months.
Bank of Ireland
BoI's Third-Level Student account offers a free return flight to a major European city as its sign-up incentive. To get the flight, you must use the account 10 times before October 31.
There is an interest-free overdraft available for up to nine months, after which it reverts to the normal rate of 11.9pc, although it doesn't specify what the overdraft limit is. Its (Mastercard) credit card has a limit of €850 and a 0pc introductory rate for six months.
National Irish Bank
NIB's Freedom Account is aimed at young people as well as students, but like the other banks' student accounts, it is fee-free.
It charges 9pc interest on overdrafts, with no set-up fee, and pays 2pc interest on all current account balances.
PTSB is the only bank not to dangle a sign-up incentive in front of students for its Student Current Account.
Like the others, it offers fee-free banking, but there are no specific offers in terms of overdrafts, nor is any interest paid on current account balances. There is no specific credit card product for students either.
Ulster Bank probably wins the prize for the simplest, most attractive sign-up incentive for its Student Account, which is €100 in cash.
However, you need to open the account before October 29 and use it three times a month, and only in January and February next year will the money be paid into your account.
It offers an interest-free overdraft of up to €650, but doesn't pay interest on current account balances. Students can also get a credit card, but there is a credit limit of €450 and no introductory offers.
Of course, it will be a combination of branch locations as well as the interest rates, charges and facilities that will ultimately swing your choice.
Of the four, the combination in BoI's overall package of credit card, interest-free overdraft and a branch network convenient to many college campuses may give it the edge for many -- not to mention the free flights.