How to Open a Checking Account

A checking account is a basic tool for managing money. It's a place to safely store your money until you need to spend it. Whether you're ready to open a checking account for the first time or want to switch to one of the available checking accounts online, it helps to understand the process. You'll be better prepared for each step.

Think About How You Will Use the Account

You can do more with your account than deposit and withdraw cash. You can set up automated payments for your bills or transfer money to other accounts. If you use a checking account for everyday purchases, you can easily track where you spend your money without digging through receipts.

Spend some time thinking about how you want to use the account. Use your answers to the following questions to help you determine which account features are most important to you. Will you have your paycheck deposited electronically? Do you plan to write paper checks, or do you prefer paying your bills online? How often will you use the ATM machine? Do you keep a balance in the account, or do you spend everything you deposit before you get paid?

Choose a Bank or Credit Union

Your financial institution can be a bank or a credit union. Both banks and credit unions offer a variety of financial services, from checking and savings accounts to loan and investment products. You can review these services, including the types of available checking accounts, on the organization's website.

Location is another factor to consider. Having a branch near where you live or work is convenient in case you need to withdraw a large amount of cash. If you plan to do most of your banking at ATM machines, make sure there's one available near you so you don't have to pay fees for using an out-of-network machine.

Select an Account

Most financial institutions offer more than one type of checking account, including online free checking options. Some accounts have monthly maintenance fees. Others restrict your access to ATMs or teller services. Banks often offer an account specifically for students or for senior citizens. They also offer checking accounts that earn interest like savings accounts do. Carefully review the features of each account the bank offers and choose the one that best fits your spending habits.

Look for details like waivers for the maintenance fees. Some banks don't charge you these monthly fees if you keep a certain amount of money in the account or receive a direct deposit each month. Find out if the bank lets you link accounts to avoid overdraft charges. Check the type of card you receive with the account. You can use a debit card with a MasterCard or Visa logo at any merchant that accepts credit cards. These card also work in ATM machines, but you can't use a standard ATM card as a debit card for purchases.

Gather the Necessary Documents

Most banks want to see proof of your identify and address before they let you open an account. Grab a copy of your driver's license, passport or state identification card. You will also need a document that shows where you live, such as a lease agreement, electric bill or mortgage invoice. The bank may also ask for your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

Complete an Application

You can visit a bank branch or complete an application for a checking account online. On the application you provide general information like your name, address and phone number. If you want to open a joint account, the other account holder also needs the same documents. You then sign a signature card as soon as you get approval for the account. The bank may give you a temporary ATM or debit card so you can start using the account immediately.

Sometimes the bank denies applications. It may check your credit history or run your name through a database that tracks how people have used bank accounts in the past. If you have a history of writing bad checks or a poor credit score, the bank may deny your application or recommend a different type of account.

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