Checking Accounts

A checking account makes personal financial transactions simple, efficient, and reliable—even if you don’t write paper checks. Learn how to treat a checking account as a fundamental personal finance tool.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you open a checking account?

    Opening a checking account is as simple as filling out a form with the bank or credit union. You’ll also need to provide some information, including your address, a Social Security number or other tax ID number, and your date of birth. A driver’s license or other state-issued ID and a bill with your name and address on it is usually all the documentation required.

  • What do you need to open a checking account?

    You’ll need at least two forms of identification—a driver’s license and a bill with your home address, for example—and you may need a small opening deposit of $100 or less, depending on the bank. Banks and credit unions don’t check your credit score, but they may check your profile through ChexSystems (which tracks bank account activity rather than credit account activity) to make sure you haven’t mismanaged a checking account in the past.

  • Can you set up a checking account online?

    It depends on the bank or credit union. Some banks and credit unions require you to open an account in person, while others allow you to open an account online. And some banks and credit unions are online-only, so online is the only way you can set up a checking account with those institutions.

  • What is the difference between a checking and savings account?

    A checking account is used for everyday spending, and there are no restrictions on how many purchases or transactions you can make per month. A savings account, on the other hand, is designed to hold money that you don’t expect to spend soon, and money stored in this account usually earns a bit of interest. The Federal Reserve used to cap the number of “convenient,” non-branch transactions account holders could make with a savings account, but that restriction is no longer a regulation (although many banks still do enforce transaction limits).

  • Can you open a bank account with no money?

    Yes, some banks and credit unions allow you to open an account with no money, while others require a minimum opening deposit of $25 to $100.

  • How do you close a checking account?

    You can close a checking account by notifying your bank. If you have any outstanding fees or overdrawn balances, you’ll need to settle those up. If you have any automatic deposits or payments associated with the account, you should also make plans for those—redirect your deposits to another account and reschedule your automatic payments from another account as well.

Key Terms

Couple at a bank.
Voided Check
Woman placing money into her wallet
Sample blank, voided, and filled checks
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Image shows the front of a blank check showing a series of three sets of numbers at the bottom. Text reads: Finding your account and routing number on your checks. (Number series one) Routing number, (number series two) account number (number series three) check number. Don’t have checks? check your monthly statement, find in your online banking account, ask customer service
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How To Set Up Direct Deposit
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Hispanic couple looking at computer
ACH Debit
Young woman depositing check by phone in the cafe
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Image shows three figures with arrows pointing from one character to the next and the endorsement area on the back of a check. Text reads; How to Sign Over a Check. Friend 1, The person writing the check. You, the person signing the check over. Friend 2, the person depositing the check. Ask friend A’s bank if they will allow you to sign the check over to friend B. Ask friend B’s bank if they will accept a check signed over to their customer. In the endorsement area on the back of the check, write “Pay to the order of” and then include the full name of friend B. Endorse the check with your signature.
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Entering PIN
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How to endorse a check including when and how to sign it such as where to endorse it on the back of the check: To be endorsed correctly, the name on the back of the check needs to match the payee name written on the front of the check. A blank endorsement has you only signing your name; a restrictive endorsement has you signing your name and "For deposit only"; and to sign it over to someone else, sign your name and write "Pay to the order of" with the person's name.
There's More Than One Way To Endorse a Check
Image shows a woman online checking her checking account balance online. Beside her are four credit cards, a check, and a scale.
Best Online Checking Accounts
Consumer looking at phone with debit card in hand. An open laptop is in front.
Checking Account
Illustration of a check describing the different line items
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Text reads: Where to Cash a Check Without Paying a Fee. Your bank or credit union, checkwriter's bank, retail stores, prepaid cards, and check cashing stores.
Here Are The Best Places to Cash a Check Without Paying Fees
How to cash a money order including first bringing payment to a location that cashes money orders like banks, credit unions, grocery stores, and check-cashing stores. Next, sign the back of your money order, and then show valid ID. Pay any fees and then get the cash and place it in a secure area.
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Image shows a man handing a bank teller a check. Text reads: "What to know about check expiration: personal checks are typically valid for six months after the date written on the check; if it's been more than six months, you may want to ask for a re-issued check; if you write a replacement check, it's wise to request a stop payment on the original check"
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woman writing a check
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A woman writes a check.
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Young couple with smartphone at bus stop
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Check Register
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Image shows a check. Title reads "parts of a check" and highlights 12 area on the check's front side.
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woman at bank counter
Certified Check
Illustration showing four icons: a check marked iou, a notification symbol, a piggy bank, a checkbook ledger. Text says: how to avoic overdraft fees for insufficient funds: sign up for an overdraft line of credit, set up alerts with your bank, link a savings account to your checking account, keep track of your balance.
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Illustration of money order purchasing options
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Track a Money Order: Image shows money orders from MoneyGram, Western Union and where to find the number you need to track the money order.
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Deposit Slip Example
See How To Fill Out a Deposit Slip for In-Branch (or Mail-In) Deposits
What to know about waiting for a check to clear. Using the same funds twice while waiting for a check to clear is fraud. Only write checks when you have funds available—it is illegal to do otherwise. How long the check takes to clear depends on whether the payee deposits the check sooner or later.
What Happens When You Write (or Deposit) a Check?
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Money order sign sitting atop assorted foreign currency
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ATM Card
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Customer in Retail Banking Counter Window with Bank Teller
Image shows a woman at her computer working on paypal and holding a credit card. Text reads: "Adding your debit card to paypal: log into your account; go to your 'wallet'; go to the 'link a debit or credit card' section"
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Person writing a check in a checkbook
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Image shows a counter-check and a pen on a string sitting on a wooden table. The images above show a bank teller, a hand filling out a check, and someone holding the check. Text reads: "What are counter checks? You can get counter checks at a bank branch, typically from a teller or a personal banker. Can be printed and used instantly, so they're available immediately after you open a new account. Handy in a pinch, or if you run out of checks and need one quickly"
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Image shows a woman depositing a check on her phone. Text reads: "How to quickly cash a check: certain checks, like cashier's checks, payroll checks, and those issued by the government process quickly. Big-box stores and convenience stores often cash checks for a modest fee; use your judgement when it comes to cashing postdated checks"
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'Text on check, close-up'
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Custom illustration showing how to stop check payments with your bank
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Title: How to Deposit Checks. Showing person using a smartphone to take a photo of the check, visiting a teller at a branch location, placing the check into a mailing envelope, and using an automatic teller (ATM).
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sketchy ATM
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Worried looking man at home looking at bills in front of laptop
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Woman writing checks in kitchen
Postdated Check
Custom illustration of the back of a check
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Inserting bank card into ATM to perform automated banking transaction
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Illustration of money orders vs. cashier's checks as explained in article
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A concerned-looking man leaning on his crossed arms against a tabletop holding bills, a calculator, and a laptop
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This illustration shows what you need to know about ATM withdrawal limits including that withdrawal limits are only applied to checking accounts, larger amounts can be withdrawn from savings accounts, some accounts, like student accounts, may have lower limits, and the typical daily ATM withdrawal limit is $300 to $500.
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Custom illustration of home check printing setup
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Woman working on financial paperwork on laptop in her home at laptop with coffee
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how to verify a check
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A check
How to Close Your Checking Account
Young family with two children making a purchase using a debit card.
Check Card

Page Sources

  1. ChexSystems. "About ChexSystems."

  2. Board Of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. "Consumer Affairs Letters, CA 21-6: Suspension of Regulation D Examination Procedures."

  3. Bureau of the Fiscal Service. "Automated Clearing House."