Checking Accounts

How to Open a Checking Account

Do you want to make cashing your paycheck, paying monthly bills, and keeping tabs on your money a cinch? Our guide explains how to open a checking account. Most people value convenience, want security, and need easy access to their cash. With a bank account, you get all three.

How to open a checking account: What you need

There are almost as many types of checking accounts as there are financial institutions that offer them. Before you pick one, establish how you’ll use the account and what features you’ll need.

Would you prefer a physical bank or ATM network close to your work, home, or school? Would you like to do your banking by phone or online?

Will you use your account to deposit paychecks or pay bills online? Do you transfer money to friends or family, or will you write checks and make daily purchases?

You should consider factors such as earning interest on your balance, fees for using ATMs, charges on overdrafts, and bank access. Are you a member of the armed forces, a senior, or a student? You may qualify for an account specifically designed for your demographic.

How to open a checking account: Choose a financial institution

The next step before opening a checking account is to decide what institution offers the features and benefits best suited to your needs. Ask your colleagues, friends, or family for any recommendations.

You may have a bank or credit union already in mind. You can check out their policies and online reviews before making a decision. How much cash you’ll need depends on the institution and can range from $25 to $100.

Nowadays, more and more people go online to open an account. Online-only banks are convenient and increasingly popular, but most brick-and-mortar banks also offer online banking as part of their services.

Whichever institution you select, you’ll want to know about the fees they charge, the services they offer, and the interest paid on balances. The best bank to open a checking account with is the one that aligns with your unique needs. The bank’s website will provide details about their different accounts.

What are maintenance costs, monthly service charges, and additional fees for:

  • Overdraft or insufficient funds
  • Debit/ATM card
  • Low minimum balance
  • Online banking
  • Printed checks
  • Balance inquiries

Every financial institution will have different policies. Use the recommendations from trusted sources as a starting point to find the bank with the best services for your situation.

Questions you should ask:

  • Are there limits on the number of transactions?
  • Is there a wait time for deposits to be credited?
  • Unlimited or limited check-writing privileges?
  • Are there electronic payment options?
  • Is there overdraft protection?
  • What is the minimum opening deposit?
  • Is there a minimum balance?
  • Direct deposit transaction charges?
  • What measures are in place in case of theft or fraud?

You can print this list to have with you when you speak to the bank representative.

How to open a checking account: Applying in person

If you’re visiting the bank in person, this is what you’ll need to take to open a bank account.

Some form of identification. Usually, a photo I.D. such as a state-issued driver’s license, military I.D., or U.S. Passport and your Social Security Card. Some institutions will accept Consular I.D.s or foreign passports if you don’t have U.S. identification.

You’ll need a proof of address like your existing lease. A recent utility bill with your name and current address on it will also work. If you don’t receive paper bills from your utility company, print out the most current statement from your online account.

Finally, be sure to have whatever the minimum opening deposit is for a checking account at the bank or credit union you’ve chosen.

The application process

As you’re applying the old-fashioned way, you’ll complete an application, which the bank then reviews. Before finalizing your application, the institution will conduct a credit check that gives information on your past banking records. If you’re applying for a joint account, you will need to provide the required documents for anyone added to the account.

When your account is approved, you’ll get documents with your new account number and other vital account information.

You must sign these account documents along with a signature card. The signature card is the sample used by the bank to verify your identity and signature every time you deposit or write a check.

As a final step, you must make your opening deposit. How you make this payment will determine how long it will take before your funds are available for withdrawal, debit card use, or writing out checks.

With your application approved, and your deposit made, the account can be set up. One perk of applying in person is the ability to create a secure PIN and get a temporary debit card immediately.

The account documentation, permanent debit card, deposit slips, and personalized checks, will arrive by mail a few days after opening the account. All that remains to do is activate the permanent debit card, set up your online account access and direct deposits.

How to open a checking account: Online

Most financial institutions allow you to apply for a checking account online.

For identification, you’ll be asked to provide your date of birth, Social Security number, and a government-issued I.D. number such as your driver’s license.

Federal law requires that you supply a physical address where you live, even if you’re working online. You will have to give your home address, email address, and phone number, although a P.O. Box will work for a mailing address.

To apply online, you must fill out the application on the institution’s website. Your data will be reviewed, and the bank will run a credit check to get information about your past banking habits.

Most online institutions will allow you to sign the required documents electronically. However, you may have to visit a local branch of the bank to sign the signature card and other necessary paperwork.

When opening your account online, you’ll be able to pay your opening deposit with a debit card, credit card, or electronic transfer.

Your initial deposit determines how long your funds are held before they are available to use. When approved, you’ll get documents with your new account number, routing number, and other relevant information.

If you open an account online, you’ll wait seven to 10 business days to receive your debit card in the mail.

How to open a checking account: Set up direct deposit

Whether you chose the old-fashioned approach or apply online, the final step is to set up your direct deposit. Having your paycheck automatically deposited in your account may be a requirement to qualify for some of the benefits of the account you picked. To start the process, speak to the payroll department of your employer. Getting your salary deposited directly is not only convenient but can eliminate monthly fees, or qualify you for other benefits.

How to open a checking account: The bottom line

Should you choose to open an account the old-fashioned way, you’ll spend more time at the bank. If you don’t want to wait for a representative, you can book an appointment beforehand, although the application process can take up to an hour. The possible benefit, of course, is to get your new debit card immediately.

An online application will take less of your time. If you’ve pulled together all the information you’ll need, you may be able to finish your application in 15 minutes or less. Processing the application and issuing the account number can take 24 to 48 hours. Then there’s the seven to 10 business days you must wait for your debit card and additional information to come via the mail.

You know what you want. You’ve picked the best financial institution for the job, and you’ve everything you need. Using our handy guide explaining how to open a bank account, you’re well on the way to profitable money management.