TCF Bank is a mid-size banking institution operating in 8 states, with a focus on no-frills checking, that often advertises to college students. The bank’s website touts a number of the “Free” features with their Free Checking accounts, but a closer look at practices and customer feedback may make you want to think twice about opening an account there.

TCF Bank Free Student Checking

TCF offers Free Checking and Free Student Checking. These accounts have generally the same terms (terms can vary state to state; for example, University of Minnesota branches require no opening deposit, and the TCF website states the minimum is $25), with the only tangible differences being that a local college’s sweatshirt is offered for new student accounts (with a nominally higher opening deposit), and students get a free box of checks, which is not given to other Free Checking customers.


TCF Bank No Monthly Fees

It’s true. While TCF has Premier Checking options, which yield interest, with a waived monthly fee with a minimum balance, Free Checking has no monthly fees, same as USAA's.

TCF Bank Review: Online Banking

TCF has a fairly dated interface for banking on their desktop site, but it is usable. While not offering some of the options that larger banks like Chase or Bank of America offer, it’s comparable to a smaller bank like Comerica. It includes wire transfer options, bill pay, account summaries, and photos of deposited checks.

TCF also has mobile apps for Android and iPhone, which include these options as well as branch and ATM location, which can be helpful.


ATMS and Foreign Transactions

TCF has just under 450 branches in 8 states, with additional ATMS in areas where it operates. To withdraw from a non-TCF ATM, you’ll receive a $3 fee, which is higher than the national average of $1 per, and higher than the $2 seen in large banks with locations where TCF operates such as Bank of America or Chase. Depending on the terms of your account, this can be a non-issue; if you open an account through the University of Minnesota, fees are waived for the first four transactions, but this is not part of the terms of the TCF website.

For travel abroad, there is $5 fee for ATM transactions, in addition to a 3% fee for all transactions (including ATMs). This is the same as Chase’s Total Checking, and comparable to other large banks (e.g., Citibank, $2 ATM, 3% fees; PNC, $5 ATM, 3% for transactions other than ATMs). Lower fees can be found in Credit Unions or Ally bank ($1.50, 1%), or Capital One 360 (most ATM fees refunded, no foreign transaction fees).

TCF Bank Other Fees and Customer Service

This is where TCF loses the most ground. Wire transfer fees are comparable to larger banks at $30 for outgoing domestic transfers, $15 for incoming, but higher than the national average (brought down by credit unions) of $22/$9.

For overdrafts, TCF charges $37 per transaction with a maximum of five charges per day for a total of $185. For a bank that advertises to college students with low balances, this is quite high. For national banks, overdraft fees hover around this figure, but the maximum number of fees per day is lower (3 per day for Chase, 4 per day for Citibank and Bank of America). TCF also gives you the option of transferring funds from a savings account for a $25 fee instead of the $34 fee. In 2011, TCF began charging a daily overdraft fee of $28 every day the account was overdrawn by $5 for a period of 14 days instead of the per-transaction fee.

Although now customers can choose between the daily or per-transaction fee, initially, TCF did not notify customers of a major policy change who began seeing charges grow per day. Lack of transparency is an oft-repeated issue in customer reviews on where TCF overall scores a D+, with the lowest possible ranking for customer service. For checks to deposit into your account when given to a teller, according to the website, it takes two business days. The account balance given to you at the bank or online, however, shows the amount with the deposit immediately. Fees are assessed on a balance that doesn’t include the checks.

It’s the consensus that dealing with any sort of issues like this at a physical TCF location is a struggle. This reviewer has been in a number of locations in Michigan; tellers are almost universally the students that TCF advertises to, frequently having to call a manager because of a lack of knowledge.


TCF Bank Referral Bonus

If you’re a casual banker who won’t anticipate being hit by overdraft charges and aren’t scared off by poor customer service, one incentive for opening an account at TCF is their current referral program. For every person you refer that opens a TCF Checking account, you receive a $25 bonus.

TCF does make due on their promise of Free Checking without monthly fees, but a lack of customer service and other high fees should turn customers away. A majority of banks waive their monthly fee when the minimum balance is met, but for those who might not meet these conditions (e.g., college students), another option to explore is credit unions. Many credit unions offer free checking without high fees, and for those who don’t need a physical branch, consider an online bank like Ally, which offers free checking, mobile check deposits and low overdraft fees.

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