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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. Whether you’re applying online or in person, 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.

Steps for opening the account

  • Choose a bank account with low fees and good rates. Depending on how you like to access your money and your spending habits, for checking accounts you may also want to seek out banks with large ATM networks or lenient overdraft policies.
  • Apply and make your first deposit online or over the phone. If you already have an account someplace else, this shouldn’t be a problem — you can simply arrange to transfer money from that existing account into the new one.
  • If it’s your first account, contact the new bank about its policies. Some banks 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:

  • Identification: You’ll need to provide a valid, government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or a passport. Non-drivers can get a state ID card at the Department of Motor Vehicles office.
  • 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.
  • If you’re opening a joint account, identification details for the other applicants: Because this account will be owned by multiple people, all owners’ information is needed to set it up. If you’re setting up the account online, this might just mean you need to have their information handy when filling out the application.
  • If you’re not yet 18, you’ll probably need to 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’re 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 high-yield savings accounts

Closing an old account

Knowing how to properly switch banks can save you late fees and headaches. Address these items 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 involve setting up a transfer between a new checking and an existing 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 any leftover blank ones from the old account
  • 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 the bank’s 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.

Getting to know your new account

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

What to doHow to do it
Choose a bank account
Look for low fees and good rates.
Apply for account
Be ready to make a deposit: cash, a check, or funds transferred in from an existing account.
Provide the right information
Have ID (driver’s license, passport or state ID from the Department of Motor Vehicles) and additional identifying details (Social Security number and phone number) for everyone on the account.
Deal with special concerns
Ask about rules for minors, people with imperfect credit or noncitizens.
Close old account
Change your direct deposit, automatic bill payments, recurring transfers, linked accounts, and smartphone apps and alerts.

Shred your old bank’s paper checks.

Empty and terminate safe-deposit boxes.

Get a written confirmation of closure from your old bank.
Monitor your new account
Be aware of feature changes or new terms of service.

Learn how to avoid fees for monthly maintenance, overdrafts and wire transfers.

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

Updated May 25, 2017.