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What do you need to open a bank account?

Learn how easy it is to open a checking or savings account

Profile picture of Tom Rains
by Tom Rains ConsumerAffairs Research Team
woman opening a bank account

Some people feel safe keeping cash in a home vault or under a mattress, but a sudden emergency or natural disaster can instantly make that hard-earned money disappear. Opening a bank account with a bank or credit union insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) provides security, convenience and savings. You can easily access cash from bank ATMs or pay bills with your debit card or phone. More importantly, when you open a bank account, it’s easier to develop better spending habits.

Requirements for opening a bank account

Whether it’s your first or tenth account, opening up a bank account is a relatively straightforward process. The requirements are relatively similar for opening a savings account, checking account, certificate of deposit (CD), money market account or online-only account. Here’s what you’ll need to open a bank account:

  • Eligibility
    You must be at least 18 years old to open an account with a bank or credit union. If you’re a minor, you’ll need a parent or an adult companion to open a joint account. Banks will also evaluate your credit score and financial history. If you have a history of excessive overdraft fees with a previous account or if any financial crimes appear in a background check, you might not be eligible to open a new account with a particular bank. You may also need to be a U.S citizen to create a bank account at most institutions.
  • Identification
    The identification process is an important step to protect both you and the bank from fraudulent activities and other risks that arise from careless identification. The bank will also need to verify that you’re the person you claim to be and will typically require two government-issued IDs, such as a driver’s license, Social Security card, passport, state ID or birth certificate.
  • Proof of address
    A utility bill or a lease with your name and current address on it can serve as proof of address. Many banks do not accept P.O. box addresses as valid. The bank will also need your phone number or email address.
  • Minimum opening deposit
    Minimum opening deposits vary across institutions. Most checking accounts require an initial deposit of at least $25, but many savings accounts don’t require a minimum opening amount at all. You can fund your new account with a check, cash deposit, current debit or credit card or through an electronic transfer.

How to open a bank account

Opening a bank account requires preparation. You’ll need to review your spending habits to determine which type of bank you want to deal with and which type of bank account to open. Once you’ve weighed the options and made your choice, it’s time to apply. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Ensure you are eligible
    You must be at least 18 years old or have a co-signer. Most banks are reasonable about credit history, but they do check databases such as ChexSystem and look into your financial history before they approve a new account application.
  2. Choose the best bank or credit union for you
    Depending on your needs, you can scout for either a large chain bank, smaller bank or local credit union. Large banks offer a more comprehensive selection of products, services and locations, but smaller banks often provide a more personal experience. Credit unions are non-profit financial organizations that are usually more community oriented. You may also be interested in online banks, which can be accessed anywhere there’s wifi.
  3. Gather your required documentation
    You’ll need at least two valid identification cards or documents to open a personal bank account. If you’re opening an account for your business, the bank will require additional documents depending on whether your business is a single proprietorship, partnership, LLC, corporation or cooperative. Check with your chosen bank to find out exactly what documents to bring.
  4. Submit an application
    You can visit a physical bank branch or submit an application online. It is better to open an account in person because you can ask any questions you may have on multiple subjects, such as maintaining balance requirements, monthly fees, bank charges, interest, deposits, withdrawals and check issuance limits per month and any other bank account information. You can also expect a speedier opening process and immediate confirmation.
  5. Make your opening deposit
    Your initial deposit can be in cash, check, electronic transfer or through a linked bank account. After opening the account, make sure to maintain the minimum balance requirement. This way you can avoid penalties and avert bouncing checks, overdrafts and additional charges.
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Bank account questions

What is a bank account?

A bank account is a financial arrangement where money can be deposited for safekeeping, convenience and wealth growth. While account types are fairly similar among banks, banks like to call them unique names that reflect their brands. Most bank accounts are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

The most common types of bank accounts are checking accounts and savings accounts. Both are liquid accounts that account holders can access to deposit or withdraw their money or to pay bills. Checking accounts typically don’t earn interest, while savings accounts carry a modest interest rate. Customers withdraw or pay bills, goods and services from their checking accounts by issuing checks. Savings account holders can withdraw funds over the bank branch counter or through ATMs and electronic transfer.

Can I open a bank account online?

Most banks will allow you to get a bank account online. The requirements are similar to those required for in-person opening. You must meet eligibility requirements, provide proper identification, submit a minimum deposit and provide your date of birth, mailing address, phone number and email address. You can enter these pieces of information into the bank’s online form and send your minimum deposit via electronic transfer or by mailing a check. Some banks allow e-signatures for the opening agreement while others only accept actual signatures.

How much does it cost to open a bank account?

Banks won’t usually charge a fee to open a bank account other than the minimum deposit, but they do charge penalty fees on accounts that fall below the maintaining balance and on overdrawn transactions against a checking account. Withdrawals from your account made at other banks’ ATMs are also subject to fees. Most banks don’t charge maintenance fees on savings accounts but charge maintenance fees on checking accounts.

Can I open a bank account with bad credit?

Some banks may deny your bank account application for bad credit, but some others offer “second chance” accounts without going through the ChexSystem or another credit check. They might require more strict compliance for maintaining the minimum balance requirement or may require a certain number of direct deposits each month.

Bottom line: Should I open a bank account?

You should open a bank account for the security, convenience and savings. As long as you are eligible and have the proper documentation, you shouldn’t have trouble opening a bank account. Just make sure you are able to provide two forms of government-issued ID, proof of address and a minimum deposit. Opening a bank account is well worth it and a great step toward a more stable financial future

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Profile picture of Tom Rains
by Tom Rains ConsumerAffairs Research Team

Tom Rains graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2014 with a master’s degree in Professional Writing. Tom’s passion for delivering quality content fuels him to provide consumers with accurate, well-researched information on major life purchases.