How to open a checking account
March 16, 2022 4 min read
If you’re ready to open a checking account, you may already have some financial needs in mind—like setting up direct deposit, paying bills or getting a debit card.
Virtually any checking account will provide these basic services. But if you want to find an account that really fits your needs and budget, there are a few other factors worth considering. Here’s a simple, 5-step guide to walk you through the process:
1. Gather your identification documents
What’s required to open a checking account is probably right at your fingertips. If you open it in person, you’ll likely need two forms of ID (such as a driver’s license, Social Security card, passport or birth certificate) and proof of address (by way of a utility bill, mortgage statement, lease or similar document).1
But if you’re like most people, you may be wondering “Can I open a checking account online?” The answer is yes. You’ll simply enter information such as your date of birth and ID numbers on the bank’s application page. If you’re applying for a joint account, you will likely both need to verify your identities. Under 18? Banks may allow you to get a checking account if a parent or legal guardian is willing to be co-owner of the account.
Those are the basic requirements for most people to open a checking account. If you don’t drive, you can get an ID card from your local DMV. If you’re not a U.S. citizen, you may just need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and proof of your identity to open a checking account.2
Now that you know what to bring or have on hand to open a checking account, it’s time to learn about fees or—better yet—how to avoid them.
2. Explore low- or no-fee accounts
Some banks charge monthly service fees, maintenance fees, low-balance fees and ATM fees. If you’d rather avoid these charges (who wouldn’t?), be sure to go with a truly “fee-free” checking account so there are no surprises.
Some banks charge their checking account holders $12 a month (or more) if they don’t maintain a balance of $1,500 or satisfy other requirements.3 That’s $144 a year! By shopping around, you can steer clear of these fees and most additional costs.
Some banks require a minimum deposit, usually between $25 and $100, when opening a new account.1 Again, if this doesn’t suit your needs, no problem. There are checking accounts that require nothing at all to get started.
3. Find features that fit your lifestyle
Everyone’s banking needs are a little different, so think about your lifestyle and what you need your checking account to handle. Need to pay bills online? Do you travel and need ATMs in lots of locations? Maybe you want to deposit paychecks with your phone on the go. All totally doable. Just keep a list of “must-haves” handy as you compare banks.
Overdraft protection is another option to think about. Say you lose track of your balance and spend more than you have in your checking account. Lots of people have been there a time or two (or three), which can result in a penalty. Luckily, there are checking accounts that come with a range of overdraft protection options that can keep those fees at bay.
4. Earn a little interest
Besides avoiding fees, you could actually make a little money just for keeping your cash in a checking account that earns interest for you.
Even if your balance will be fairly low, it’s worth choosing a checking account that pays interest because every dollar counts. And remember, cash hidden under a mattress or in dresser drawers will never have the chance to grow.
5. Bank on the go
Today, checking accounts can be as mobile as you are, with apps that can sign you in with the swipe of a finger (rather than a password), send you instant alerts or transfer money quickly and securely.
Once you open your checking account, you can fully explore its features. Just be sure to review any confirmation materials you receive and follow the instructions for setting up your debit card, using your bank’s online services and keeping your account safe.
There’s no doubt about it: Opening a bank account is faster and easier than ever. But ensuring that it’s affordable and really fits your needs is what matters in the long run. So, shop around and find a checking account that has the features you’re after. You’ll be glad you did.