How to Open a Checking Account: Step-by-Step Guide, Tips & More
Opening a checking account — also called a “share draft” account at credit unions — is easier than you might expect. Perhaps the hardest part of the process is determining which type of checking account is suitable for your needs, and we already have you covered there with our quick reference guide and online comparison tool. You can complete your account application online or, if you’d prefer, you can visit a local branch of the bank or credit union you have chosen.
In this guide, you will learn the steps of opening a checking account, what the general requirements are and how to select the right type of account and financial institution.
In order to ensure you’re applying for the right checking account, you’re going to need to put in a bit of work before you actually start filling out an application form.
Identify Your Needs: The right checking account corresponds to your individual needs and usage habits. So, before applying, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you want a checking account primarily to deposit your earnings, pay bills electronically, write checks, transfer money, make everyday purchases, or all of the above?
- Will you need access to a physical bank branch or ATM network near your home, work, or school? Or, could you get by doing most of your banking online and over the phone? Do you want to have access to your own banks’ branches and ATMs when traveling?
- How much money do you plan to keep in your account?
- Which matters more: an accessible bank or minimal fees?
- How important is it that your account balance earn interest?
- Do you qualify for any special accounts, such as those designed for students, seniors, or members of the military?
Compare Financial Institutions and the Types of Checking Accounts They Offer: Check out WalletHub’s online comparison tool find the best account for your own banking needs. Each financial institution’s website will also have details on the checking accounts they offer.
As you review your options, don’t overlook credit unions and online banks. Credit unions are member-owned non-profits that serve people who share an affiliation (e.g., those who work for certain employers, or residents of a city or neighborhood). Online institutions, such as Ally Bank and Discover Bank, have few if any brick-and-mortar branches, so you may not have the option of banking in person. In return, you’ll generally get lower feels and higher interest yields on interest-bearing accounts.
Here’s a quick list of some of the fees and features you may want to compare across accounts to find the financial institution that offers the most relevant services for you at the lowest cost:
- Determine Who Will Have Access to the Account: If you share personal finances with someone, you might also consider opening a joint checking account that you both can access. In your application, you would simply choose the option for joint checking (if available) and provide information for each co-owner.
Most banks and credit unions give you a choice between setting up an account online or visiting a nearby branch to open your account the old-fashioned way. Whichever you choose, opening an account follows the same general steps:
Gather Your Application Materials: Before you can complete an application, you’ll need the following three things:
- Identification: When opening an account in person, most banks require two forms of identification such as a Social Security card, driver’s license, state ID, passport or birth certificate. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you may be able to open an account with identification issued from your home country. To apply online, you’ll need to supply your Social Security number, date of birth and the number of a government-issued ID like a driver’s license. If you’re applying for a joint account, both accountholders will need to provide identification.
- Proof of Address: To open an account in person, bring a lease or utility bill with your name and current address.
- Opening Deposit: Typically, a minimum opening deposit for a basic checking account is between $25 and $100, although it may higher for interest-bearing accounts. If you open your account online, you can pay with a credit card, debit card or an electronic transfer from a savings or checking account at another institution.
- Complete an Application: Simply go to the application page on the institution’s website or visit a branch location.Afterward, the institution will review your information. Typically, the bank will run a special credit check that provides information on your past banking history to determine whether to approve your account. If approved, you should receive documents that bear your new account number and routing number as well as other important account information.
- Sign a Signature Card/Account Documents: This is the card to which your signature will be matched every time you write or deposit a check. With many online-only institutions, you’ll be able to sign your paperwork electronically but some may require you to visit a physical branch to sign the signature card or to mail or fax documents.
- Make Your Opening Deposit: Depending on how you make this payment, there may be a hold of a few days before your funds are available for writing checks, making withdrawals or making debit card purchases.
- Receive Your Account Tools: Once your application is finalized, your deposit is made and your account set up by the bank or credit union, you will receive in the mail a set of personalized checks, deposit slips and, in most case, either a debit card or an ATM card. You will need to activate your debit/ATM card and set up online account access.
- Set Up Direct Deposit: Arranging to have payroll or government check directly deposited to your account is often required to avoid monthly fees or to get other benefits. If you have chosen an account that requires direct deposit or simply want to take advantage of this convenience, you’ll need to talk to the payroll department at your employer, for example, to get the direct deposits started.
Image: JJ Studio/Shutterstock
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