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How to Open a Bank Account and What You’ll Need

Banking, Banking Basics
how to open a bank account

Opening a new bank account is quick and painless when you know what to expect and how to prepare. You can even do it from the comfort of your home, perhaps in your pajamas, but in some cases you might have to throw on some better threads and step into a branch.

Having the required documents and tying up any loose ends will save you time and money when you go to open a checking or savings account. Here’s what you need to know for a smooth process.

Opening and funding the account

Hopefully you’ve chosen a bank account with low fees and good rates. Applying and making your first deposit online or over the phone shouldn’t be a problem if you have an account someplace else — you simply arrange a transfer of money from that existing account.

However, if this is your first time banking, contact the new bank to ask about its policies. Some will let you open an account and fund it later, but often they’ll require you to open the account in person and fund it with cash or a check.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best checking accounts

Providing the right information

Regardless of how you open an account, the information you’ll be asked to provide will be much the same. Here’s a checklist of the general requirements to open a bank account:

  • Identification: You’ll need to provide a valid, government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or a passport. If you don’t have either, you can get an ID card at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • Personal details: You’ll likely need to provide other basic information to verify who you are, if it’s not on your identification, such as date of birth, Social Security number, phone number and email address.
  • Money: Online, transferring funds from an existing account or submitting a money order will do. Cash or checks are acceptable at most branches.
  • The other applicants, if you’re opening a joint account: Because this account is owned by multiple people, all owners’ information is needed to set it up. Online, this might just mean you need to have their information handy when filling out the application.
  • A parent, if you’re not yet 18: Minors usually must have a parent or legal guardian as a co-owner who can sign legal documents with the bank.

If you’ve had issues with your credit history or if you are not a U.S. citizen, let the bank know about your circumstances to see if it’s the right fit for you.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best savings accounts

Closing an old account

Knowing how to properly switch banks can save you late fees and headaches. Still, it can be tricky. Here’s a list of things to address to make sure the transition is seamless:

  • Direct deposit: Give your employer your new account information.
  • Automatic bill payments: Cancel any old ones — whether in the bank’s own bill-pay platform or through, say, your cable provider’s website — and set up new ones with your new account information.
  • Recurring transfers and linked accounts: This could be between a new checking and an old savings account, or making sure your PayPal information is up to date.
  • Smartphone apps, text banking and alerts: Download your new bank’s app, sign out of and delete your old one, and turn off any alerts you were receiving.
  • Paper checks: Destroy old blank ones.
  • Safe-deposit boxes: If you’re cutting ties completely, collect your items in person and consult your rental agreement for specifics about closing out your box.

Get a written statement from your old bank confirming that your account is closed and ask about its account-reopening policies. Why? Some banks will reactivate closed accounts to honor automatic payments or receive deposits, putting you back on the hook for any fees. So be thorough in your switch.

Getting to know your new account

Monitor your new account for feature changes, new terms of service and, most important, how it charges — and how you can avoid — fees such as monthly maintenance, overdrafts and wire transfers.

Melissa Lambarena is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @LissaLambarena. NerdWallet writer Spencer Tierney contributed to this article.

Updated June 13, 2016.

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