How To Open A Savings Account: A Step-By-Step Guide

Article Summary:

Opening savings (or checking) accounts is a pretty straightforward process. The first step is to determine your savings goals. The vehicle in which you choose to save your money will depend on a number of factors, including, but not limited to, what your plans are for the money and how you plan to access it. You’ll also want to make sure you shop around for the best savings account features for your immediate needs.

When you’re searching for a safe place to stash your cash, the choices can be a little overwhelming. Are money market accounts better than savings accounts? Should you go with a bank or credit union? And what about online savings accounts?

There are a ton of options, so be sure to do your research before you commit to a location. Today we’ll take a look at multiple savings account options, the variables you should take under consideration, and which is the right savings account for you. First we’ll take you step by step through the account opening process.

How to open a savings account

Once you’ve decided which type of savings account you want to open, and which financial institutions have the best features, here are the steps you need to take. Keep in mind that the exact methods will vary a bit depending on if you plan to apply in person at a bank or credit union or open a savings account online.

1. Gather your documentation

Whether you choose online banking or a more traditional institution, savings accounts require certain pieces of information to open the deposit account. At a minimum, you’ll need to provide your Social Security number, date of birth, mailing address, phone number, and driver’s license or other government-issued ID, such as a passport or state ID.

You may also need to provide hard copies of your driver’s license and Social Security card, along with an email address.

2. Choose between a single or joint account

If you want your partner or child to be able to access your savings account, you will need to also provide all of their identity and contact information for a joint account. If you don’t want anyone to withdraw funds from your account without permission, then you definitely want to sign up for a single account only.

3. Sign account agreements

This is your last opportunity to go over your account details and restrictions prior to account opening. Be sure to double-check if there is a monthly fee, minimum deposit requirement, or other features that you may have overlooked.

4. Submit your application

You can apply online or hand your application directly to your banker. Most banks that you visit in person can get your account up and accessible within a day or two, especially if you deposit cash on the spot.

If you’re opening a savings account online, it may take a few days longer to verify your identity and receive funds from a linked account.

5. Fund your account

The last step to start earning interest on your savings is to deposit money into your account. You can do this by cash, check, mobile check deposit, or transfer funds from other accounts.

This is also a great time to maximize your savings experience by setting up online banking and downloading the bank’s mobile app if possible. You might also want to consider setting up direct deposit or automatic transfers every month to help you regularly make additional deposits without even thinking about it.

Pro Tip

Consider opening two or more savings accounts if you have different savings goals. This might mean keeping your emergency funds in the same bank as your checking account for quick access. Then put the money you’re saving for a down payment on a house in a high-yield online account where the money earns a better interest rate and is less tempting to get to.

Savings account considerations

Before you open a savings account, be sure to think about your financial goals for saving money. For example, whether you’re saving for a down payment or want to keep the money close at hand for an emergency fund should all have an impact on your decision-making process.

You should also be careful to look into what interest rates are offered and whether you’re willing to pay a monthly maintenance fee.

Annual percentage yield

The annual percentage yield (APY) is an important consideration, particularly if you plan on leaving your money in the account for an extended period and don’t need the convenience of having your savings and checking accounts in the same bank.

Usually, you’ll find the lowest APYs at brick-and-mortar institutions for traditional savings accounts, although a bit higher at credit unions than banks. But interest rates are typically better with money market accounts that combine features of both savings and checking accounts, which can be useful in some cases.

If money market accounts aren’t for you, you’ll typically find the best interest rates with high-yield accounts. However, these rates may only be available through online savings accounts. This is a great option if you’re comfortable with managing your money exclusively through a computer or a bank’s mobile app.

Fees

Many savings accounts charge some fees that you should be aware of. For example, some may charge a monthly maintenance fee. Typically these monthly maintenance fees are only exercised if you dip below a minimum balance. But that’s certainly a factor to be aware of if you don’t think you can maintain the minimum balance at all times.

Other charges could include fees for excessive withdrawals (normally savings accounts limit the number of transactions to six per monthly statement cycle), out-of-network ATM withdrawals (if your savings account comes with a debit card), and possibly wire transfer fees. Be sure to check the fine print before you sign on the dotted line to avoid unwanted fees.

Fortunately, we can help you sift through which accounts have these fees. For instance, none of the savings accounts below charge maintenance fees, but you can also use the tool to show accounts that don’t charge ATM or check cashing fees.

Minimum opening deposit

Some financial institutions require a minimum opening deposit to activate your account. It might be as little as $10 or $25, but could be up to $100. However, there are a lot of institutions that don’t have a minimum initial deposit at all. Whichever you choose, even if you’re starting out slow, the sooner you deposit money in the account, the sooner you can start earning interest.

It may only be pennies at first, but as the interest compounds (earning interest on interest), and you continue to make deposits, the money will add up over time.

IMPORTANT! If you’re looking for other ways to grow your money, consider looking for accounts that offer automatic transfers. Setting an automatic transfer will move your money from checking to savings on a pre-set date. You can also set up recurring automatic transfers to grow your account little by little, even if it’s only an extra $10 a month.

Accessibility

How you wish to access your savings account will also have a bearing on which type of savings, money market, or high-yield account you choose. For example, many savings accounts don’t come with a debit card, which limits your access to your money.

This isn’t an issue if you keep your savings account in the same place as your checking account. In that case, you can simply transfer funds from savings to checking and easily access your cash from there by either visiting your bank or making an ATM withdrawal.

A money market account does come with an ATM/debit card, but not all online banks do. This means it can take longer to transfer funds from a linked account to access your cash. That’s something to think about if, for instance, your savings account is meant to hold your emergency fund.

Insurance coverage

Most banks are covered by FDIC insurance — that’s insurance provided by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation that protects deposit accounts up to $250,000.

However, some online banks may not be covered, so make sure you’re dealing with an FDIC-insured bank before signing up. Credit unions insure your deposit accounts through the National Credit Union Administration, also for $250,000.

Banking preferences

Finally, some people just prefer a personal experience. You want to visit the bank or credit union, make deposits in cash, and get your receipt on the spot. In that case, you might want to look into a savings or money market account at a brick-and-mortar institution. Plus, almost all traditional banks and credit unions have online and mobile banking, so you can get the best of both worlds.

On the other hand, if you prefer to do all of your banking online or through mobile apps, then a high-yield account online is probably more your speed. Keep in mind, though that you might want to sign up for one that offers a debit card so you can quickly get access to your money if you really need it.

Mobile apps can be really helpful when you need to access your money quickly, or even just check on your account balance. If this is how you prefer to bank, take a look at the accounts below.

FAQs

Are savings accounts worth it?

Because of generally low interest rates, it can sometimes seem a little pointless to bother with a savings account to earn only a few dollars a year.

But think about it: If that extra money just sits in your checking account where it earns zero interest and is readily accessible to spend, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Just the fact that you have to go through some effort to access your savings means you’re less likely to spend it. Plus, you earn interest too, which will add up over time as your nest egg grows.

When is savings account interest taxable?

Any interest earned on a savings account is considered taxable income and is taxed in the year that you earned it. If you earn more than $10 in interest, your financial institution should mail you tax Form 1099-INT. Even if you didn’t earn interest in excess of $10, you’re still responsible for reporting that income on your tax return.

Key Takeaways

  • You can open a savings account online or at a traditional bank, whichever you prefer.
  • Online banks typically have higher interest rates than traditional financial institutions.
  • Before signing up for a savings account, be sure to watch out for a monthly maintenance fee, minimum balance requirements, or other hidden fees that could eat into your savings.
  • Consider opening up more than one savings account to meet different financial goals.
View Article Sources
  1. Savings Accounts Basics — Washington State Department of Financial Institutions
  2. Who sets the interest rates on savings accounts? — HelpWithMyBank.gov
  3. Home Page — National Credit Union Administration
  4. Your Insured Deposits — Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
  5. Should I Open a Savings Account and Why? — SuperMoney
  6. How to Avoid Tax on a Savings Account — SuperMoney
  7. What Is a Sweep Account and How Does It Work? — SuperMoney
  8. How Much Cash Should I Have On Hand? — SuperMoney
  9. How to Budget Money on a Low Income — SuperMoney
  10. How Much Money Should I Save Before Moving Out? — SuperMoney
  11. What Is A Share Savings Account? — SuperMoney
  12. Can You Direct Deposit Into a Savings Account? — SuperMoney
  13. Best Savings Accounts — SuperMoney