How to Open Bank Accounts Online: What You Need to Know

Online Account Opening
••• Find out if you'll need to sign forms before you fund your account. Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

In a busy world, the ability to do things online is priceless. Fortunately, you can complete most banking tasks online, which means you don’t need to make trips to a branch or fire up your printer and sign forms. Once your account is open, you can then transfer funds, pay bills online, and do much more.

What You Need to Open an Account Online

To open a bank account online, be prepared to provide personal information so that the bank can verify your identity. You may also need to make an initial deposit or arrange for electronic deposits to your new account.

Gather the following items before you start the process:

Personal information: You need to tell the bank who you are and provide personal details about yourself.

  • Your Social Security Number, Tax ID Number, or equivalent
  • Date of birth
  • Any government-issued ID (driver’s license, passport, U.S. military ID, etc.) numbers, with the issue and expiration dates

Contact information: Banks need your home address, phone number, and email address. Even though you’re operating in the virtual world, federal law requires that you provide a physical address—where you actually live—but you can also give a P.O. Box or similar as a mailing address.

Funding information: How will you add funds to the account? Banks often require an initial deposit to get your account opened. To do that, you might be able to use your credit or debit card. Alternatively, you can provide routing and account numbers to create a link to another bank account

No Forms? Ever?

With some banks, you’re done opening your account once you provide the information above. You sign any legal agreements with an e-signature, and you can start using the account almost immediately.

Other banks let you begin your application online, but they eventually need a signature.

With those banks, you typically get something like a “Welcome Kit” in the mail (at least you don’t need to print anything yourself) with any required documents. For example, your bank might want to see your signature so they know what it looks like when you write checks or sign for debit card purchases.

When speed matters: If you need to use your new account quickly, call the bank and ask what the process is (or chat with customer service online). If the bank needs your signature on paper, you’ll need to wait longer before using your account. Banks that require paper signatures can also cause problems if you made a significant initial deposit and the funds are frozen. You might be better off opening an account in person or going with a bank that lets you open an account entirely online.

Challenges Opening an Account Online

In some cases, you can’t do everything you need online—you need to visit a branch or provide additional documentation to open an account. Some common reasons include:

“Thin” credit: Banks verify your identity as you open your account. One of the ways they do this is by checking your credit (yes, they check your credit even if you’re not borrowing money). If you don’t have much of a credit history—because you’re young and you haven’t borrowed enough to build credit, for example—they won’t find anything. As a result, they may require that you visit a branch with a government-issued ID to open your account.

Under 18: People under the age of 18 cannot open bank accounts on their own. If you’re under 18 and want to use a checking or savings account, there are options out there, but you need an adult (not necessarily a parent) on the account. You might need to visit a branch in person.

Checking account history: If you’ve overdrawn checking accounts (or bounced checks) in the past, you might not be able to open a new checking account online. Be sure to review your Chexsystems report for errors if you’re having a hard time getting an account. Again, you might have better luck at a branch.

Citizenship: It’s easiest to open accounts online if you’re a U.S. citizen. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible if you’re not a citizen, but a visit to the branch might be necessary.

Entity accounts: Most banks with online account opening allow people to open an account. If you need an account for a business, trust, or other organization, some banks require you to head to the branch (or submit account forms by mail). The ability to open these accounts online is increasingly available, but it’s still not a given.

Where to Open an Account

Almost any financial institution lets you open accounts online. They might require signatures on paper later, but they’ll get the ball rolling and mail forms to you. Even small credit unions and regional banks accept e-signatures. If you have an idea of where you’d like to bank, simply visit that institution’s website and look for an option to “Open an Account Now.”

If you’re having any difficulty, your best bet for getting an account opened online is to use an online-only bank—they’ve been doing this for years. Captial One 360 (read a review), Ally Bank (read a review), and others offer great accounts and a smooth online experience.