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:
What to look for in a checking account:
|What to look for in a savings account:|
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.)
Have the right 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
- 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 to set it up. 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.
- 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
- 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:
Melissa Lambarena is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @LissaLambarena. NerdWallet writer Spencer Tierney contributed to this article.
Updated September 5, 2017.