I Can't Open a Checking Account: What Are My Options?
If you are unable to open a checking account due to unpaid bank fees or a history of overdrafts, you may be wondering how you're going to pay bills or survive financially. Many people take for granted the benefits and advantages that a checking account affords them.
It's easy to write checks, pay your bills online with automatic bill payment, and purchase items with a debit card. If you find that you are unable to open a checking account, you do have a few options available to you.
Try Another Bank
First, you should look at other banks in your area. You may not qualify for the best account at the bank, but many banks may work with you, though you may have to pay higher fees. Credit unions, which are alternatives to your traditional bank, are also great options to consider. They generally offer better interest rates and are more community-oriented, but you must qualify to open an account.
Each credit union has its own criteria, but they may include stipulations such as being a veteran, working for a government agency, or living in a specific area. If you can't qualify for a checking account right away, try starting off with a savings account. This will help you to build a relationship with the bank and hopefully open the door to opening a checking account down the line.
Clear Up Your ChexSystems Report
ChexSystems is a nationwide consumer reporting agency that compiles information on closed checking and savings accounts. If you have been reported to ChexSystems, you will need to clear up the report before opening an account. You can call ChexSystems at 800-428-9623 or visit their website to request your report. If you have been reported to ChexSystems, it means you owe a bank money for an account that you have overdrawn.
If you do find that you owe a bank money after looking at your ChexSystems report, it's important to work with your creditors or those banks you owe money to come up with a plan to pay off that debt. The bank may allow you to come up with a plan to pay off your debt, or they may want you to make a lump payment.
Paying off your bank debt is an important step, as many banks will not even let you open a savings account until you have cleared up your ChexSystems report.
Use Alternative Methods
If you find that you cannot find a bank or credit union that will work with you, you will need to address how you pay your bills. You may need to switch to money orders for some of your major bills since you should never send cash via mail. You can purchase money orders through your bank, the post office, or most convenience and grocery stores. You should shop around and find the price that is right for you.
When you pay via money order, be sure to include your account number on each money order and keep a ledger at home stating the money order number, place that it was purchased, and what bill it went towards in case it gets lost in the mail.
Switch to Cash
Being unable to get a checking account is an excellent time to switch to the envelope budgeting system. By switching to a cash-only budget, you can begin to discipline yourself for when you can open an account again. A simple way to get started with the cash-only budget is to set aside an envelope for each bill you have and put the appropriate amount of cash in them. This type of budget is great for those who have trouble controlling their spending since once it's gone, it's gone.
Consider a Prepaid Credit Card
You may also consider getting a prepaid credit card to make online purchases or pay your bills. These cards allow you to put a specific amount of money on them—typically at a retail location—and then use them like you would your typical debit card.
Luckily, they will not allow you to spend over the amount that you deposit on the card, so you can avoid going into debt. You may pay a fee every time that you deposit money into a prepaid credit card account, but the convenience may outweigh the cost when you are in this financial situation.
Commit to Changing
Finding yourself unable to get a checking account should be a wake-up call to change how you deal with money. Commit to start living on a budget and get your finances under control so that you are never in this situation again. Pay off your debts—with a commitment to stay out of debt—work on rebuilding your credit history, and keep a close eye on your spending and saving habits. This can help you to turn this headache into a learning experience.