How to Open a Bank Account

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Updated on Monday, August 31, 2020

You can open a bank account online, which is an easy and convenient way to get your banking needs met, or you can opt to visit a bank branch in person to open your account. However, opening a bank account either online or in-person requires a little bit of research and preparation beforehand. Here’s what you need to know about how to open a bank account.

What do you need to open a bank account?

The most critical component of opening a bank account is making sure you have all of the required documents. Before opening a bank account online or in-person, make sure you have the following information on-hand:

  • Legal name: You’ll need to provide the bank with your full legal name.
  • Driver’s license or state ID: Not every bank will ask for a copy of your driver’s license, but some do. Be prepared to have a government-issued photo ID available.
  • Date of birth: The bank will verify this via your government-issued ID, so be accurate.
  • Address: Your bank may offer you different rates or features depending on your location. Your address will be verified before you finish the application process.
  • Social Security number: If you don’t have a Social Security number, you’ll likely have to provide an alternative tax identification number or a foreign passport. You might have to do this in person if the bank has branches.
  • Citizenship information: If you’re not a U.S. citizen, be prepared to indicate your citizenship or if you hold dual citizenship.
  • Contact information: You’ll typically need to provide your phone number and email address. Be sure to use a secure address that you check often.
  • Employment information: Depending on the account you open, your bank may want to verify your annual income.
  • Co-applicant’s information: If you want to open a joint bank account, your co-applicant will need to provide the same information listed above.
  • Signature: You may have to sign a signature card so the bank has a copy of your signature on file.

What kind of bank account do you need?

Once you decide to open a bank account online or in-person, the next challenge will be deciding what kind of bank account is right for your needs. Here are some options you may consider:

Type of accountChecking accountSavings accountMoney market accountCash management accountCertificate of deposit (CD)
Best for...Everyday spending needsStashing an emergency fund or saving for short-term goalsSaving for mid- to longer-term goalsTransferring money to and from checking and savings accountsSaving for long-term goals
ProsOffers unlimited transactions and  withdrawals, easy access to funds

Low or no monthly fees  

FDIC insurance
Offers higher APYs than checking accounts 

Low or no monthly fees 

FDIC insurance
Typically has higher APYs than savings accounts

Low or no  monthly fees 

FDIC insurance
Offers liquidity of a checking account through unlimited withdrawals and transfers 

Competitive APYs  

Low or no monthly fees 

FDIC insurance
Typically has higher APYs than other deposit accounts

Offers a locked-in rate for a set period of time 

Low or no monthly fees

FDIC insurance
ConsMinimal interest earnedMonthly withdrawal limitsOften requires higher account minimums than savings accountsTypically only offered by online financial institutionsTypically requires higher minimums 

Hefty penalties for early withdrawal

How do you fund a bank account?

When you open a bank account online you usually have to transfer funds from an existing account in order to fund it. To do this, you’ll need the routing number and account number of your original bank account. Depending on the bank, there might be a minimum deposit required to open your account.

Banks with branch locations may let you visit a branch and make an initial deposit, which could be helpful if you don’t have an original account to transfer money from. Also, some banks might allow you to fund your account by depositing a check through a photo taken on your phone or by completing a wire transfer.

Challenges of opening a bank account

Opening a bank account from the comfort of your own home is typically easy, but there are instances where it may be better to visit a bank branch in person:

  • If you need in-person help: A personal touch can be helpful when it comes to managing your money. If you have a question about which bank account is right for you, it might be smart to visit a local branch and discuss your options.
  • If you’re not a U.S. citizen: It’s possible to open a U.S. bank account if you aren’t a citizen, but you might need to show extra documentation beyond the fields of the online form. In this case, it could be helpful to visit a branch.
  • If your banking history is poor: Banks usually run a ChexSystems report (like a credit report but for banking). If you have adverse marks on your report, you might not get approved to open a bank account online and may have to visit a branch.
  • If you have a lean credit history: If you don’t have any credit history, it could be hard for the bank to automatically verify your identity online. In this case, you might have to visit a brick-and-mortar location to complete the process.
  • If you’re a minor: Typically, people under the age of 18 will need to visit a bank with their parent or guardian to apply for a bank account in person.

Opening a bank account: FAQ

Usually, you have to be at least 18 years old to open a bank account. However, some banks offer accounts to minors as long as they have an account co-owner that is over the age of 18, such as a parent or legal guardian. Minors are often only allowed to open bank accounts in-person at a branch, with a parent or legal guardian present.

As long as you have the correct documentation on-hand, opening a bank account does not take long at all – the entire process should take around 30 minutes. If you are opening a checking account, you may receive temporary checks until your regular checks arrive in the mail, and you might have to wait a few days for your debit or ATM card to be delivered.

Often, you will need your Social Security number, your citizenship information, contact information, employment information and your driver’s license or state ID.

Depending on your financial institution, you might be required to make a minimum deposit or pay a monthly maintenance fee before opening. Be sure to do your research beforehand.

Not all banks check your credit before you open a bank account online, but some do. A credit check can show your bank how well you manage your money by revealing any adverse credit events in your past.

If this is part of your bank’s process, the bank will typically access a report from ChexSystems, a reporting system that shows previous checking account history from banks or credit unions that report. This does not show information reported by credit card, personal loan or mortgage lenders. Instead, it will reveal any unpaid overdrafts or suspicious activity on your prior checking accounts.

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