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How to open a checking account: A step-by-step guide

A checking account is typically used for everyday transactions and purchases. With a regular checking account, you can deposit and withdraw money (either through the bank or an ATM), write checks, pay bills and make purchases with a debit card. 

There are different types of accounts to consider when deciding which is right for you, so it’s important to understand the benefits of each. When you’re ready, opening a checking account can be relatively easy if you’re prepared with the right information and documentation. 

Here’s some helpful information about what you need to open a checking account, and the steps for how to start one. 

What do I need to open a checking account? 

There are a few things to prepare or bring with you when opening a checking account, whether it’s through an online bank or in-person. Different banks and financial institutions have different requirements, but here’s a list of the typical things you need to open a traditional checking account. 

  • Identification. This could be a valid:
    • Driver’s license
    • Social security card
    • State ID
    • Passport
    • Birth certificate

    Sometimes, you may need more than one form of official identification, so be sure to read the requirements for the type of account you’re opening.

    If you’re already a customer of the credit union or bank you’re applying at, you may not need this information because it’s likely already on file.

  • Proof of address. This document must show your name and address to ensure you’re associated with the property. This could include:
    • Lease documents
    • Mortgage documents
    • Utility bills
    • Bank statements
  • Opening deposit. Some accounts require an opening deposit. Check to see if yours does, and if there are minimum deposit requirements. If your bank does require a deposit, you can typically pay for it through a:
    • Debit card
    • ACH transfer
    • Cash
  • Application. To open a checking account, you’ll likely need an application. You can fill it out and submit either online or in person. When you submit your application, the financial institution will likely run a banking history check and possibly a credit check to make sure you’re ready for approval.

What to consider before opening a checking account

Before you start a checking account, it’s important to know the potential upsides and downsides of different types of accounts. This way, you can confidently decide which type is right for you. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Perks. Premium checking accounts offer perks you’d typically have to pay for, such as a no fee safe deposit box, checks, official checks, money orders or waived out-of-network ATM fees. Rewards checking accounts allow you to earn points or cash back through purchases with your debit card. Other types of checking accounts may offer lower mortgage interest rates or financial guidance. 
  • Service and ATM fees. Depending on the account, you may have to pay monthly service or maintenance fees, out-of-network ATM fees or overdraft fees. Some accounts charge these fees while others do not. These fees may be waived if you meet certain requirements. Be sure to research or ask, and compare the different fees you may face and when you’d have to pay them.
  • Fund availability. The benefit to checking accounts is that you can access your funds through a debit card or checks. However, because some checking accounts have minimum balance requirements, consider how important it is for you to have access to all your funds on demand. 
  • In-person vs. online. Some checking accounts through traditional banks give you access to brick-and-mortar locations you can visit for assistance, account management and transactions. Others, like online or checkless accounts, are online only. Weigh whether it’s important to have access to a real person vs. conducting all of your needs online or over the phone.

You should also think about whether you want a joint account or an individual account. If you don’t want anyone else to have access to your funds, open an individual account.

How to set up a checking account 

In addition to the documents and information you need to open a checking account, there are a few steps to take to open your account and get it all set up. 

1. Compare options

Because there are several types of checking accounts available depending on your financial needs and goals, it’s important to do research and compare your options before choosing one. 

First, think about which services, perks, and benefits are important to you—and which aren’t. Also consider potential downsides like monthly service fees, withdrawal fees, and minimum deposit requirements.  

Another consideration is having an account through a bank, other financial institution or online bank. Think about whether having an in-person place to go is a requirement for you, or if you are comfortable managing your account completely online. 

2. Prepare your documents

Whether you open your account online or in-person at a brick-and-mortar location, you should prepare the documents you’ll need ahead of time. This includes your identification, proof of address, opening deposit (if applicable) and application. 

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