The debit cards banks promote through colleges and universities may not be a bad deal. Studies have found that often, many of the cards' fees tend to be roughly in line with those of competing banks. But it is important for students to make sure the card their school offers is the best one for them—or if a debit card is even a good idea, said Jim Hawkins, an associate professor at the University of Houston Law Center.
"Usually, 10 choices of a financial product is better than one. And when your school only tells you about one and they are telling you about it because they are getting paid by that company, it makes sense that the free market's not functioning the way classical economists think it should," he said. "To me, that's the real issue. If you are not thinking, 'Well, where should I get my bank account,' you are not thinking, 'Well, what are the costs I should consider.'"
Read MoreAvoiding hidden credit and debit card fees
Hawkins also points out that numerous studies have shown that consumers do a poor job of predicting the true cost of a financial product. But when they are told what costs actually are—if someone considering a payday loan is told that a large percentage of borrowers run a balance for a long time—they tend to be more cautious.
In the case of debit cards, Hawkins said, college students might be more wary if they knew things like the frequency of overdrafts for people their age. But that is not information colleges regularly disclose, he added.
"Even though you think you are not going to have overdrafts, look at how often people your age overdraft. Is $100 worth it to have that debit card? Or is it better to just go with a cash budget or write checks?" he said. "Trying to make a realistic guess about how much it's going to cost you is really important."
—By CNBC's Kelley Holland.