What You Need to Open a Bank Account

Banks have made it easier than ever to open a new account. You have the option to go online or visit the branch to start the process. Even better, it only takes a few minutes of your time and you won’t have to provide the bank or credit union with a load of information or documentation to get your account up and running. 

Ready to get started? First, you want to research banking options before settling on a financial institution to ensure all your needs will be met. The next step is to apply for a bank account, and if approved, you’ll need to have the funds on hand to make the minimum opening deposit (if applicable). 

Step 1: Research Banking Options

When conducting your search for the perfect bank account, you’ll quickly notice there are many options to choose from. Not only are the core checking and savings account products offered by the large-scale brick and mortar banks, but you can also open an account with the local credit union, community bank, or an online bank. 

And if you foresee a new car or home purchase in the future or may want to explore the possibility of taking out a personal loan, you want to keep this in mind when conducting your search. Not all financial institutions offer these services, especially those that are much smaller in scope, so it wouldn’t make sense to open an account only to have to find another option in the coming months.

Qualification Criteria

The qualification criteria for opening a bank account will depend on which option you select and the individual bank’s policies. However, you want to keep in mind that most require you to be a US citizen to open a bank account. 

Not a US citizen? You may still qualify for a bank account, but it’s best to reach out to the financial institutions you’re interested in to inquire about account options that you may qualify for. 

Location 

But if you’re always on the go, have no interest in ever visiting a physical building to conduct banking transactions, and are comfortable handling business on your mobile phone or laptop, an online bank may be a better fit. They’re convenient and generally offer lower interest rates and higher rates of return than big-boy banks because they have far less overhead. And most don’t have monthly maintenance fees, which is another huge bonus. 

Products and Services

Beyond bank accounts, were there any particular products and services you were looking for? As mentioned earlier, maybe a new car or home purchase is on the horizon. Or perhaps you would like to take out a personal loan to consolidate debt. Here’s a condensed list of the products and services offered by most banks:

  • Banking Products: includes checking accounts, savings accounts, money market accounts, certificates of deposit (CDs), debit, and prepaid cards
  • Debt Products: includes credit cards, auto loans, home loans, personal loans, student loans, and lines of credit  
  • Small Business Banking Products: includes checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, and loans 
  • Small Business Services: includes merchant, payroll, and retirement planning services 
  • Investment Products:  includes stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and ETFs***
  • Wealth-Building Services: includes financial and/or retirement planning**
  • Other Services: includes financial education, resources (online and offline), and classes

Note: Items notated with *** may be offered through a third-party service provider

Keep in mind that this list is not comprehensive as some financial institutions may step their offerings up a notch. But what matters most is that the bank you open an account with a bank that can meet your needs. 

Minimum Opening Deposit

Do you have the cash on hand to meet the minimum opening deposit requirement? This amount will vary from $5 to a few hundred dollars for money market accounts. So if you’re strapped for cash and are looking for a bank account that requires very little upfront and each month to maintain, you should be able to narrow down your options easily. 

Fees

Unfortunately, it’s quite rare to find a bank account that is free of fees. It’s possible to avoid the monthly maintenance fee by meeting a set of criteria, like maintaining a minimum daily balance or conducting a certain number of transactions each month. And you also have the option to find a checking account that doesn’t assess monthly maintenance fees. However, there are some other fees you want to be on the lookout for, like: 

  • Excessive withdrawal or transfer fee- federal law limits the number of withdrawals and transfers made from savings and money market accounts to six per month. If you exceed this number, the bank could penalize you by assessing a fee. Some banks also impose specific limits on other cross-account transfers,  so you want to inquire beforehand. 
  • Foreign transaction fees- around 3 percent on average and applicable to debit or credit transactions initiated outside the US.
  • Insufficient funds fee (NSF fee)- triggered on bounced checks or electronic payments, and usually range between $35 and $38 per occurrence. Banks are allowed to assess a maximum of three per day. 
  • Overdraft fee- around the same amount as NSF fees and can also be assessed three times in a single day. They are assessed when your account goes in the red but the bank decides to cover the charge, anyhow. 

Tip: If you’re torn between two banking options, definitely go with the one that has the lower fees to keep more money in your pocket. 

Rate of Return 

How much of a return will the bank pay you on your money? Nowadays, the returns are meager but something is better than nothing, which means you want to find a bank with a somewhat competitive yield. 

To receive the highest rate of return without investing, consider opening an online savings account since they tend to offer a return of at least 1 percent. And if that’s not an option, try a certificate of deposit. 

ATM Network 

Will you be withdrawing funds via ATM more than a few times per month? If the financial institution doesn’t have a ton of ATMs in the area where you frequent, you may incur a ton of fees (unless you have an online bank and the fees are reimbursed). A better option: be wise with who you choose to bank with or select a credit union that’s in the ATM Co-op. Doing the latter allows you to make fee-free withdrawals at over 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs throughout the nation. 

Step 2: Submit an Application

This is the easiest part of the process since researching could take loads of your time. But once you’ve nailed down the exact bank you want to do business with, all that’s left is to apply and hand over your money. 

What You’ll Need

Be prepared to provide the following when applying for a bank account: 

  • Your name, date of birth and Social Security number
  • Your physical address, email address, and phone number 
  • A copy of your government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license, Social Security card, passport or state ID 
  • A copy of your co-applicant’s identification if you’re under 18 years of age
  • A copy of your co-applicant’s identification if you’re opening a joint account

A Quick Note About ChexSystems and EWS

Do you have less than stellar banking history? You could be denied for a bank account on the grounds of the information found in your ChexSystem or Early Warning System (EWS) consumer report. (And some banks take it up a notch by reviewing your credit history. Ouch!) 

Never heard of these two systems? You’re not alone as they tend to catch a lot of individuals off guard when they go in to take advantage of a bonus offer or move their banking business elsewhere to better suit their needs. 

So, what are they? In a nutshell, ChexSystem and EWS are the “credit bureaus” of banking. They house all your pertinent information about your banking history to determine if you’re a risk. This includes overdraft and NSF history, abandoned accounts that are overdrawn, and any other form of banking abuse that could make you a liability to financial institutions. 

The problem is the bank may not tell you if they use a screener before applying, so you’ll have to take your chances. Or you can choose to only consider banks with minimal barriers to entry or that offer second chance banking solutions to consumers who need another chance to prove that they have turned a new leaf and can responsibly manage their account. 

Step 3: Make the Opening Deposit

To make the required opening deposit, you can visit a branch or initiate an online transfer. The latter is more convenient and even recommended by most banks. And they make it easy to do so by including a section on somewhere in the application to input your routing and account number for the funding source. 

Keep in mind that if the bank approves your application but sees you as a risk, they may increase this amount to protect themselves. Second-chance checking and savings accounts may also require higher opening deposits than advertised. 

Step 4: Close Idle Accounts

Juggling multiple bank accounts can become overwhelming, which is why you may want to consider closing any accounts that are no longer in use. You’ll also be minimizing your risk of fraud which often occurs in accounts that consumers tend to overlook. 

How to Close Dormant Accounts 

You have two options: 

  • Visit the branch and complete any applicable paperwork. 
  • Request an account closure online. Depending on where you bank, this may or may not be an option, so it’s best to call and inquire. 

Quick Note: Before pulling the plug, confirm all outstanding transactions have an ample amount of time to post. You’d hate to incur fees on the back-end from moving too swiftly. 

Now that you’ve closed all those extra accounts, don’t forget to update billing information for expenses that are taken care of via autopay. Also, delete all mobile apps, online logins, and any other relevant information stored on your electronic devices, laptop, and computer. 

Voluntary vs Involuntary Closures

When you voluntary close bank accounts, your banking history won’t be affected. But when the bank closes it for you, that’s a different story. If the involuntary closure is due to dormancy and the account is in good standing, you should be good to go. 

But if the account is closed because it’s been overdrawn for too long, a negative mark will be added to your banking history. The bank will also commence collection actions and possibly report the negative balance to the credit bureaus. 

The good news you can sort things out before they escalate by reaching out to the bank and working out some sort of payment arrangement so the issue can be resolved in-house. In turn, the bank may be willing to refrain from reporting the account to the credit bureaus, ChexSystems, and EWS. 

Bonus Tips and Tricks

At last! You’re all set and ready to start using your new bank account. A few tips to keep in mind: 

Read the Fine Print 

Confused about a particular fee or how a service works? Read the fine print. And if you’re still uncertain, ask a bank or call the customer care hotline. That’s what they’re there for and it’s not worth you losing your hard-earned cash over a simple misunderstanding. 

Don’t Fall for Deceptive Marketing Tactics

Each time you visit the branch, the teller or banker may encourage you to apply for or open more banking products. Don’t fall for the trap. There’s usually a commission tied to what they’re offering so they’re desperate to reel you in. Stick to your guns and take them up on their offer if it’s something you need. Otherwise, kindly decline their offer, finish up your banking business, and exit swiftly. 

Monitor Your Account Frequently

You want to be on the lookout for fraudulent transactions, but don’t forget about fees. Banks sometimes make errors and you want to stay on top of them and have any excessive fees removed sooner than later. Monitoring your account frequently also minimizes the chances of you incurring overdraft fees. 

The Bottom Line 

Whether you choose to bank at a brick-and-mortar institution, credit union, local community bank, or online, it’s important to understand the entire process when opening a bank account. Applying is the easy part, but doing your homework to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck takes a little more time and patience. However, you’ll be so glad you did and your wallet will thank you.