How to Open a Bank Account — and What You’ll Need

What do I need to open a bank account

I recently opened a new checking account for the first time in a decade. As I walked into the branch, I was wondering if I was prepared.

What do I need to open a bank account?

Fortunately, I lucked out. Everything I needed was either hiding in my wallet or my memory. If you want to avoid a hiccup the next (or first) time you open a bank account, here’s what to expect and everything you’ll need to get started.

How to open a bank account in 5 steps

If you already know what kind of account and what kind of bank is right for you, skip to step two. If not, let’s figure out the hard part first.

1. Choose your bank and the type of account

Checking accounts are suitable for receiving paychecks and covering routine bills and expenses. Savings accounts, meanwhile, keep cash a little less accessible and are better for growing your money for a rainy day.

No matter the account, you’ll want to consider a variety of factors, like the interest rate you can earn on your account or the fees you might have to pay to maintain it.

These facts hold true whether you’re a senior citizen looking to stash away Social Security checks or a new grad seeking a checking account.

Beyond account types, you’ll also want to decide where to house your money. Bigger banks might afford you the convenience of more ATMs and faster service. Credit unions and online-only banks typically offer higher interest rates.

2. Decide how to open your account

I opened my newest account during my lunch break from work. But, these days, you can apply for and secure a new savings or checking account even faster. You can complete the whole process online or over the phone.

Citibank, for example, promises you’ll be “banking within minutes” of completing your online application. Bank of America, for its part, says you can finish the process on your laptop or smartphone within 10 minutes.

If you’re opening an account with an online-only bank, though, you’ll probably do everything online.

how to open a bank account

Image credit: Ally Bank

If you have the option, though, it might be faster and wiser to open the account in person, particularly if you’re new to banking.

When you walk into a branch, you can sit down with a personal banker who will guide you through the application process one step at a time. This way, you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions before opening your account.

For example, you might ask about the number of withdrawals you can make every month or about the benefits of overdraft protection.

3. Have your documents ready and apply

Whether you’re opening a bank account online, over the phone, or in person, you’ll need the same information handy. To apply for a new account, you need to be 18 years old and have a U.S. mailing address and Social Security number.

Ally, an online-only bank, asks for the following information during its application process:

  • Name
  • Street address
  • Email address
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number

If you’re applying online, you’ll need to provide additional details from your driver’s license (or other ID), such as its issue and expiration date and state of origin. You might use a driver’s license or a state or military ID.

When I applied for a Wells Fargo Everyday Checking account, for example, my banker asked to see my driver’s license as my primary ID. Without anything else handy, he accepted my Bank of America debit card as a secondary ID.

You’ll need to provide the same information for your account co-owner if you’re opening a joint account. If you’re under 18, for example, your parent might be your co-owner.

Before approving you as an account holder, your bank will run this information through a service like TeleCheck or ChexSystems to view your banking history. They might even review your credit report.

Although the basic information necessary to open an account is standard, you might also need the following:

  • Monthly bill (to verify your address)
  • Offer printout or code (if you’re seeking an account sign-up bonus)
  • Employer information (for setting up direct deposit)

If you don’t have something with you, you can always hit pause on your application and resume when you’re ready.

4. Make your first deposit

Your bank will want you to make an initial deposit on the spot. After all, you’re more likely to use the account if you have money sitting in it.

In some cases, this is a requirement to open a new bank account. Depending on the bank and your account, your opening deposit can be as low as $1.

If you’re in a branch, you can hand over cash, check, or transfer funds from another account.

If you’ve signed up with an online bank, you have many of the same options. At Ally, for example, you can:

  • Set up an online or wire transfer from another bank
  • Scan a check using the bank’s mobile app or website
  • Mail a check

Don’t come empty-handed if you want to finalize your account’s opening the same day you file your application.

5. Activate your ATM or debit card

Whether you’re opening a savings account or a checking account, you will almost always receive some new plastic for your wallet.

After opening a Chase bank account, I received a temporary debit card in the branch with the promise that a permanent one would soon arrive in the mail. Similarly, SunTrust says on its website that new cards arrive by mail within seven days of completing an application.

You’ll also need to create a pin to use your card at the ATM. If you’re opening the account in person, your banker will ask you to type it into a keypad. The passcode length can vary — I have six- and four-digit pins for my accounts.

In addition to the card, you’ll be encouraged to set up your username and password for the bank’s website and mobile app. You might also receive free checks with the offer to buy more.

Ready to open a bank account?

After learning how to open a bank account, remember that the bank will be there to answer questions. After all, they’ll want to keep you happy as a customer.

The hard part is knowing what kind of account you need and which bank you want to use. If you’re still not sure what’s right for you, check out some of the best checking and savings accounts.

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