How to open a bank account

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In a Nutshell

To open a bank account, you need a government-issued ID, a few pieces of personal information and money to put in the account.
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Opening a bank account is a straightforward process that requires you to complete an application, verify your identity, provide some basic information about yourself and fund your account.

In most cases you can apply for a checking account either online or at one of your financial institution’s local branches. When your application is complete, your bank or credit union will review it to ensure it’s accurate.

There are different types of checking accounts you can open. It’s up to you to select one that’s a good fit based on how you plan to use it and what features are important to you.

To help you do that, let’s explore some questions you might want to ask yourself before opening an account, how you can choose the bank or credit union that’s right for you and the steps you need to take to get your new account up and running.

Choosing the best account type

With a checking account you can deposit your paycheck and access your money to pay bills. Many financial institutions offer a variety of options. So before you open one, decide what type of account is best for you. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you choose.

  • How much money do you plan to keep in your account? Some institutions charge a monthly fee if you don’t keep a minimum balance in your account throughout the month.
  • Do you have direct deposit through your employer? Some banks and credit unions waive maintenance fees for certain types of accounts if you’re enrolled in direct deposit.
  • How much interest do you want to earn? Savings accounts are designed to help consumers save for a specific goal or to build up an emergency fund. Checking accounts, however, are typically used to keep money safe until it’s time to pay bills or make a purchase. Because of this, many checking accounts have lower interest rates than savings accounts do. If you want to grow your savings, you may want to consider a savings account, a certificate of deposit or a money market account.
  • Do you qualify? Some types of accounts are only offered to certain groups of people, such as students or seniors.
  • Does the account provide overdraft protection? While you want to do your best not to write a check if you don’t have enough money in your account to cover it, mistakes happen. Some financial institutions offer protection if you overdraw your account. But watch out — you may be charged a fee for this service.
  • What fees are associated with the account? Checking accounts may have a variety of fees, including statement fees, stop payment fees, returned deposit item fees, overdraft fees and returned check fees. Make sure you understand all the potential charges.
  • How long do you plan on keeping your account open? Some accounts have early closing fees if you close your account within a certain amount of time after opening it. If you plan to keep your account open for only a short time, you’ll want to look into this.

Selecting a financial institution that’s right for you

Once you decide what type of checking account you want to open, you need to decide where you want to open it. And you have three main choices:

  • Traditional banks. For-profit companies, owned by shareholders, that offer financial products and services to their customers through a network of brick-and-mortar branches.
  • Online banks. Similar to traditional banks, but with few or no branches. Online banks often have lower account fees and higher interest rates than their traditional bank counterparts.
  • Credit unions. Member-owned, nonprofit organizations that offer banking products to a specific group of people within a community. Members are required to meet certain criteria, which are often based on factors such as where they live or work and what organizations they’re affiliated with.

To find the right institution, think about the features and benefits that are important to you. These may include the location of branches and ATMs, what fees are charged and the kinds of mobile and online banking capabilities it offers.

Consider a free checking account

A free checking account is a basic checking account that doesn’t charge any recurring fees, such as monthly maintenance fees. 

Do your research before signing up, since hidden costs can eat away at your savings. For example, you may have to pay out-of-network ATM charges, overdraft fees, foreign transaction fees and other charges or penalties. 

Some accounts may even have a minimum balance requirement, meaning you have to keep a certain amount of money in your account to avoid additional charges.

If you’re looking for a checking account that’s free to open, you might want to consider a Credit Karma Money™ Spend online checking account. It comes with no penalties, overdraft fees or minimum balance requirements.

And when you set up direct deposit with Credit Karma Money™ Spend, you can get access to your paycheck up to two days early and federal benefits up to five days early.

Steps to open a checking account

Once you’ve identified what type of account you want and where you want to open it, it’s time to complete the remaining steps necessary to get your new account up and running.

  1. Gather the necessary documentation. You’ll be required to provide a variety of personal data to open your account. That generally includes your name, phone number, email address, current postal address, previous address (if you’ve moved within the last two years), birthdate, Social Security number and government-issued ID (such as a driver’s license, passport, state-issued ID or military ID). If you’re opening a joint account, everyone who will have access to it will be required to provide their information as well.
  2. Identify the custodian for your account (if applicable). If you’re under 18, you’re required to identify someone over 18 to be a custodian on your account. That person will be able to oversee and access your account.
  3. Complete an application. To open your account, you’ll need to complete an application either online or in one of your financial institution’s branches. After your application is approved, your account will be opened.
  4. Fund your account. When you open an account, you could be required to make a minimum opening deposit. There are a variety of ways to do this, including writing a check, wiring money, using your debit card or transferring money electronically from another account. If you transfer money from a separate account, you’ll need the account and routing number of the other account.
  5. Designate your beneficiaries. If you want, you can identify a beneficiary for your account. In the event of your death, the beneficiary would receive the money in your account. 

Once you open your account, keeping track of the checks you write and debit card purchases you make will help ensure you don’t overdraw your account. And reviewing your account on a regular basis will alert you to any unauthorized transactions so you can report them to your financial institution right away.

What’s next?

Opening a checking account doesn’t have to be difficult. With a few documents, some basic personal information and a way to fund your account, you can complete the application process in just a few minutes. And if you have questions about the process or accounts that are available, a representative from your financial institution can help you.

About the author: Jennifer Brozic is a freelance financial services writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in communication management from Towson University. She’s committed… Read more.