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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 documents you will need to open a checking account whether it is online or in-person. Banks and other financial institutions may have different requirements. If you are a U.S. citizen or non-U.S. citizen residing in the U.S., here’s a list of a few documents you may need to open your account. However, check with your financial institution to determine what documents you will need.

  • Identification. This could be a valid:
    • Government issued photo ID or driver’s license
    • Social security card or individual taxpayer identification card
    • Passport
    • Birth certificate
  • Proof of address. It must show your name and address of your residence. This could be current and valid:
    • Lease documents
    • Mortgage documents
    • Utility bill, bank statement, or credit card statement
  • Opening deposit. Check to see if your bank requires an opening deposit. If so, you can typically do so with:
    • Debit card
    • ACH transfer
    • Cash
  • Application. To open a checking account you will likely need to complete an application for approval either in-person or online.

What to consider before opening a checking account

Before you apply for 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. There may be options to waive the monthly service or maintenance fee if you meet certain requirements. Other fees such as out-of-network ATM fees or overdraft fees and other miscellaneous fees may apply.
  • Fund access. 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 to waive the monthly service fee, 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 consider which checking account works best for you. Whether it be student checking, college checking, or a traditional checking account, each plays an important role when it comes to managing your finances.

What to look for before opening 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. 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.

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