Advertiser Disclosure

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

You'll need to show a government-issued ID and some basic information. If you're under 18, you may need a legal guardian to co-own the account.
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 ready and tying up any loose ends will save time and money when opening a checking or savings account.

Here’s what you need to do.

Decide on checking or savings

Choose checking if you want to:

Choose savings if you want to:

  • Pay your bills

  • Write checks

  • Make debit card purchases

  • Build an emergency fund

  • Put away money for specific goals

What to look for in a checking account:

What to look for in a savings account:
  • No monthly fees

  • Low or no overdraft fees

  • Convenient ATM access

  • High interest rates
  • As the chart shows, a checking account is best for paying bills and using a debit card. Look for ones with fewer fees, nearby ATMs and, if you overdraft, low or no overdraft fees. (You can compare accounts side by side with NerdWallet’s list of top checking accounts.)  Meanwhile, savings builds that crucial financial cushion. Some banks, especially online banks, offer competitive interest rates while others pay next to nothing. That makes a difference. (Compare rates for savings accounts with our best savings roundup.)

    Collect your personal information: A checklist

    Whether you are opening a checking account or a savings 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 your date of birth, Social Security number, phone number and email address.

    You’ll need to provide a valid, government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or a passport, or a state ID card from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

    Identification details for other applicants, if you’re opening a joint account: Because the account will be owned by multiple people, all owners’ information is needed. If you’re setting up the account online, this might just mean having the other applicant’s information handy when filling out the application.

    Do you need a co-owner? 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

    Is this the right fit? 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.  (Those who have been denied a bank account can get a fresh start with a second chance checking account: See what’s offered in your area. And if you’re not a citizen, check out our financial guide for immigrants living in the U.S,, including info on opening a bank account as an immigrant.)

    Open your new account

    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.

    Apply and make your first deposit online or over the phone. You can also transfer money from another account.

    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.

    Monitor your new account for feature changes, new terms of service and fees — and find out how to avoid them. Fees can be charged for monthly maintenance, overdrafts and wire transfers.

    Close your old account, if needed

    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

    Cancel any automatic bill payments from your old bank 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.

    » Ready to open up your account? Here are some next steps that will help you find the best one for you:

    See our picks for the best checking accounts and savings accounts that combine competitive interest rates, low fees and other customer-friendly features.

    If you’re willing to consider online-only banks and want more options, see our picks for best high-yield online savings accounts and best online checking accounts.

    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 October 4, 2017.