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

Online Account Opening
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In a busy world, the ability to do things online is priceless. Fortunately, you can complete most banking tasks online, meaning you don’t need to make trips to a branch, or print and sign paper forms. It's all handled digitally, and once your account is open, you can transfer funds, pay bills online, and more.

What You Need to Open an Account

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

  • 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 you provide a physical address—where you actually live—but you can also give a P.O. Box or the equivalent 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 (typically it's between $25 and $100). 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 that information. You sign any legal agreements with an e-signature, and can start using the account almost immediately. 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.”

Other banks let you begin your application online, but eventually require a signature. In such situations, you typically get a "Welcome Kit" in the mail containing any required documents, including a formal signature card. Although paper-check-writing is on the decline, these banks still like your file to contain an official signature to verify a check or debit card purchase in the event of a dispute.

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 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 haven’t borrowed enough to build credit, for example—they won’t find anything. As a result, they may require 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 a minor and want a checking or savings account, there are bank accounts for people under 18, but you need a guardian co-owner on the account and 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.

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.

Article Sources

  1. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. "§ 1020.220 Customer Identification Programs for Banks, Savings Associations, Credit Unions, and Certain Non-Federally Regulated Banks." Accessed March 18, 2020.

  2. Discover. "How to Open an Online Savings Account." Accessed March 18, 2020.

  3. Bank of America. "Personal Schedule of Fees," Pages 3-6. Accessed March 18, 2020.

  4. Bank of America. "Applying for Bank Accounts FAQs." Select "How Do I Make an Initial Deposit For An Account That I Just Opened?" Accessed March 18, 2020.

  5. Wells Fargo. "ESIGN Consent to Use Electronic Records and Signatures (ESIGN Consent)." Accessed March 18, 2020.

  6. Truliant Federal Credit Union. "Docusign." Accessed March 18, 2020.

  7. Bank of America. "Applying for Bank Accounts FAQs." Select "What's a Signature Form? Why Do I Need To Send It Back To You?" Accessed March 18, 2020.

  8. Bank of America. "Before You Apply." Accessed March 18, 2020.

  9. Wells Fargo. "Wells Fargo Teen Checking." Accessed March 18, 2020.

  10. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "When Can I Be Denied a Checking Account Based On My Past Banking History?" Accessed March 18, 2020.

  11. BBVA. "Applying for a Checking Account Online." Accessed March 18, 2020.

  12. PNC Bank. "International Students." Accessed March 18, 2020.

  13. Ally Bank. "How to Bank With Us." Accessed March 18, 2020.