Between banks that are only open when you’re at work, excessive overdraft fees and charges for everything from using an out-of-network ATM to retirement planning advice, bank accounts in the modern era can seem like they’re more trouble than they’re worth.
However, keeping your money in a bank account is one of the best steps that you can take to keep your money safe and prevent losses due to theft. Here's how to open a bank account step by step.
How to Open a Bank Account Step By Step
Opening a bank account is an essential step towards managing your finances and securing your money. Whether you are a student, a working professional, or a small business owner, having a bank account provides you with a safe place to keep your funds and access various banking services.
If you are new to the process or unsure about how to proceed, here are some steps to guide you through opening a bank account.
Step 1: Determine The Type of Bank Account
First things first. You need to determine which type of banking account is best for your financial situation. Here’s a few options to figure out what kind of account you need.
Savings accounts are places to store your money while accruing a small amount of interest. Contrary to a checking account, which is linked to your checkbook and your debit card, a savings account generally involve less transactions. Banks offer competitive interest rates for savings accounts as a trade-off for giving them temporary access to your capital.
Up until very recently, the average interest rate offered ranged from about 0.01% to 0.05%. But fintech companies like Credit Karma have entered the market and offer up to 2% in interest to store your money in a savings account. Savings accounts often have minimum account balance requirements. This is important to note before you decide you want this type of account.
A checking account, commonly paired with a savings account, is the bread-and-butter combination for the majority of clients. A checking account is a placeholder for transient funds, which you can use checks, debit cards or traditional withdrawals to draw from.
- Checks are written documents that indicate you will pay a certain party the amount of money you’ve written on the check.
- Debit cards give you access to your money through a plastic card connected to your checking account.
- Traditional withdrawals occur when you go to the bank and take out cash from your checking (or any) account in person. Checking accounts usually offer very low-interest payments and some require a minimum amount of money to be kept in the account.
Most checking and savings accounts are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC), which protects your capital if the financial institution you’ve invested with goes under.
CDs and Money Market Accounts
A money market account is commonly described as a combination of savings and checking accounts. You may be drawn to a money market account because of its higher interest rate. Banks usually have a cap on the number of withdrawals that can be made from a money market account each month because the bank usually invests your funds into low-risk assets to make a profit. Money market accounts are a great alternative to a savings account if you plan to save up large sums for infrequent payments, such as tuition, tax payments or emergency funds.
Think of a certificate of deposit (CD) as a more rigid but lucrative alternative to a money market or savings account. CDs allow you to collect higher interest rates than most money market accounts or savings accounts. The catch? You must leave a lump sum a CD for a predetermined period of time, ranging from 1 month up to 10 years. You can gain access to your money earlier but it’ll cost you.
Money market accounts and CDs are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC).
On the other hand, you might be more interested in increasing your risk and your potential return. You could open an account with a brokerage firm. It will give you access to stocks, bonds and mutual funds and a broker would be the intermediary between you and the investments you want to make. The good news is that most brokerage accounts don’t require an initial deposit to open an account — and there shouldn’t be a fee to open one. Check out Benzinga’s complete guide to the best online stock brokers.
Step 2: Get Your Documentation and Minimum Deposit
Most banks and credit unions have some criteria that determine who’s eligible to open an account. As a general rule, you’ll need to meet the following three eligibility requirements to open a bank account:
Be Over The Age of 18
Most banks and credit unions require their members to be at least 18 years old to open an account. If you are under the age of 18, you will likely need a parent or guardian to co-sign on your account.
Have Valid Identification and Proof of Residence
The USA Patriot Act now requires that financial institutions collect identifying information on their members to curb money laundering and terrorist organization funding. When you open an account, your bank or credit union will ask you for your name, address, date of birth and government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, social security card or passport. Many financial institutions will also ask you for proof of your residence (such as a utility bill, credit card statement of account, or a pay stub with your name and address on it) and your Social Security number.
Be Able to Meet the Minimum Deposit
Some banks and credit unions require you to make a minimum deposit when you open your account. For example, many credit unions have minimum initial deposits of $500. Call your bank or credit union and ask if there is a minimum deposit required to open a new account.
Step 3: Initiate the Bank Account Opening Process
There are two main ways to open a bank account: online or in-person. When opting for the online application process, customers simply need to visit the bank's website and find the section dedicated to account opening. Here, you'll be required to provide personal information such as your full name, contact details, residential address, and identification documents.
Additionally, you may be asked to upload scanned copies of necessary documents, such as identification cards or passports, to verify your identity. The online application process usually involves filling out a series of forms, and in some cases, customers may be required to electronically sign certain agreements.
On the other hand, those who prefer a more traditional approach can choose the in-person application process. This process requires a visit to a physical branch of the bank or financial institution to initiate the account opening. Upon arrival, customers will be guided to a dedicated account opening desk or counter, where they will be assisted by a banking representative. The representative will guide the customers through the necessary paperwork, help complete application forms, and answer any questions or concerns. It's here that you'll be required to present identification documents and provide any other information requested by the bank. Once the necessary paperwork is completed and the information is verified, the account opening process can be finalized.
Both the online and in-person application processes have their own pros and cons. There really is no right or wrong way, it's simply a matter of personal preference.
Step 4: Understand The Bank's Fees and Requirements
Understanding bank account fees and requirements is crucial for managing your finances effectively and making informed decisions about your banking choices. One common fee is the monthly account maintenance fee, which is charged by the bank each month for maintaining your account. This fee can vary depending on the type of account you have and the bank you are dealing with. It is important to review the terms and conditions of your account to know if and how much this fee might apply to you.
Overdraft fees are another crucial factor to understand. An overdraft occurs when you spend more money than what is available in your account. In such cases, banks can charge an overdraft fee, which can be quite high. Some banks offer overdraft protection programs, such as linking your account to a savings account or a line of credit, which can help you avoid these fees. Understanding the policies and fees associated with overdrafts can save you significant amounts of money and prevent any unexpected surprises.
Step 5: Set Up Account Features and Services
After opening your bank account, setting up the right account features and services is crucial. This includes activating your debit/ATM cards, online/mobile banking access, direct deposit, and automatic bill payments. Here's a quick look at how to get started.
Debit cards have become an essential tool for convenient and secure financial transactions. They are directly linked to your bank account and enable you to withdraw cash from ATMs, make purchases at point-of-sale terminals, and even shop online. To get started, contact your bank to request a debit card. Once you receive it, you will need to activate it by following the instructions provided. Remember to set up a secure PIN to protect your card from unauthorized use.
Online/Mobile Banking Access
With the rapid advancement of technology, online and mobile banking access has become a game-changer in the financial industry. It allows you to conveniently manage and view your account details, pay bills, transfer funds, track transactions, and more, all from the comfort of your own home or while on the go. To set up online/mobile banking access, contact your bank and inquire about their digital banking services. They will guide you through the registration process and provide you with login credentials, ensuring the security of your accounts.
Direct Deposit and Automatic Bill Payment
Direct deposit is a convenient service that allows your employer or other income sources to electronically deposit funds directly into your bank account. It saves you time and effort by eliminating the need to physically deposit paper checks. Automatic bill payment, on the other hand, enables you to set up recurring payments for bills such as rent, utilities, or loan installments, ensuring they are paid on time without any hassle. To set up direct deposit and automatic bill payment, contact your employer or service providers for the necessary forms and instructions.
Choose the Best Bank for You
Opening a bank account offers numerous advantages, including safety and security, convenient access to funds, and access to a range of financial services. Whether you are an individual looking for a secure way to manage your money or a business aiming to establish financial credibility, a bank account is an essential tool that can benefit you in multiple ways. So, take the first step towards financial empowerment and open a bank account today.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I open a bank account online?
Yes, many banks offer the convenience of opening a bank account online. You can visit the bank’s website or download their mobile app, fill out the necessary forms, provide relevant identification documentation, and submit your application electronically. However, some banks may still require a visit to a branch for identity verification purposes.
Do I need to deposit money to open a bank account?
Yes, most banks require an initial deposit to open a bank account. The minimum deposit amount may vary depending on the type of account you are opening and the specific bank’s policies. The initial deposit serves as your starting balance in the account and can range from as low as $25 to a few hundred dollars. Make sure to inquire about the minimum deposit requirement when choosing a bank and selecting the type of account that best suits your needs.
What documents do I need to open a bank account?
To open a bank account, you typically need to provide identification documents such as a valid government-issued photo ID (passport, driver’s license), proof of address (utility bill, rental agreement), and your social security number. It’s best to check with your chosen bank for specific requirements.
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