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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.
Jan. 25, 2018
Banking, Banking Basics
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Opening a new bank account is quick and painless when you know what to expect and how to prepare. Whether you apply for an account online or in person, you’ll need a government-issued ID and personal details such as your Social Security number on hand, and potentially a way to pay a minimum opening deposit.

Here’s what you need to open a new checking or savings account.

Know the basics: checking and savings

You’ll likely open a checking or savings account, or both. Here’s what you need to know about each.

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

  • No monthly 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. (Compare rates for savings accounts with our best savings roundup.)

    » Need more detail? Read more about the difference between checking and savings accounts

    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 — identification and personal information — is needed.

    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.

    Find a bank that suits your needs

    Browse through our list of best banks. Good accounts should combine competitive interest rates, low fees and other customer-friendly features.

    If you’re willing to consider online-only banks, see our picks for best high-yield online savings accounts and best online checking accounts. Online banks tend to have lower fees and higher interest rates.

    If an online bank sounds like a hassle, check out one of these three — it takes less than 15 minutes to open an account at each.

    BankTime to openWhat else we like
    8 minutesLow fees and minimums and interest on checking

    at Discover,

    Member, FDIC

    13 minutesBonus for account opening and large ATM network
    Goldman Sachs Bank USA

    at Goldman Sachs Bank USA,

    Member, FDIC

    10 minutesGreat rates on savings and CDs

    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. Some banks will require you to put in a minimum opening deposit, typically around $25 to $100 for basic accounts, while others won’t. If you already have an account at a different bank or credit union, you can simply arrange to transfer money from that existing account into the new one. Your original bank might charge for this transfer

    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.

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

    Updated Jan. 25, 2018.