What you Need for a Bank Account

Requirements to Open a Bank Account

Digital Banking
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Opening new accounts isn’t something you do every day. You might wonder what you need to open a bank account – even if you’ve done it before. Whether it’s your first account or your fiftieth, the goal is to get the task completed as quickly as possible (you’ve probably got more enjoyable things on your to-do list).

Make Sure you’re Opening the Right Account

Switching banks and opening new accounts is not easy, so make sure you’re completely informed about the type of account that meets your needs.

Most banks and credit unions offer more or less the same types of products. A few key services can make the difference between a bank you’ll want to break up with and one that you’ll stick with for years.

See what features your next bank account needs before you decide on a bank.

Fees are also important. It’s harder to build up savings – and you’ll just feel cheated – if you pay hefty charges to your bank. Free checking is not dead. Get familiar with the worst bank fees (and how to avoid them).

Of course, you’ll only want to bank where your money is protected by FDIC insurance (or NCUSIF coverage if you use a credit union).

What you Need to Open an Account

Now that you’ve chosen the right account, it’s time to complete an application. In many cases this can be done entirely online. However, some banks require you to print the application (or at least a signature card) and mail it in. With others, you might need to visit a branch in-person.

Get the following items handy for your application (you want to get this done in one shot so you can move on to more important things):

  • Social Security Number (SSN) or other Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN)
  • Date of birth (see below if you’re under the age of 18)
  • Your physical address (you can also use a separate mailing address, but a physical/street address is required under federal law)
  • Identification (a driver’s license, passport, or other government-issued ID)

You might need a secondary form of ID. Contact your bank or read through the documentation for any other requirements.

If you’re under 18 years old, you’ll need somebody over age 18 to open the account with you. You still might be able to use a debit card and online banking, and you can eventually get your own account – but banks need at least one adult on the account. With some banks, it does not need to be a parent.

Joint accounts: if you’re opening a joint account of any kind, you’ll need the personal information for all of the accountholders – and a signature from each of them. It’s best to get everybody together in one place.

Initial deposit: you’ll also need to fund your account. Ask your bank what the minimum is to open the account. At many credit unions, it’s $5 or $25. At online banks, there’s often no minimum balance. In addition to the minimum to open, watch out for ongoing minimum balance requirements – which can result in monthly fees. To make your initial deposit, you can bring cash in-person, write a check to the account, fund it with a debit card, or link a different bank account for electronic transfers between banks.

Credit unions: credit unions are similar to banks, but they are “member” or customer-owned institutions.

To open a credit union account, you need to qualify by sharing some characteristic with the other members in the group. That might be the city you live in or the industry you work for – just ask local credit unions what it takes to be a member and they’ll explain (it’s generally easy to qualify for most credit unions). If you’re still not sure about credit unions, see how they compare to banks.

Business accounts: if you’re opening an account for a business, you’ll need additional documents to open a business bank account. Those include any documents about your organization (articles of incorporation, for example) and a corporate resolution. For more details, see How and Where to Open a Business Checking Account.

Your History

You don't need a squeaky clean history for a bank account, but it helps. Many banks check your credit to see if you’ve had problems repaying loans in the past. These credit checks are usually “soft” pulls, meaning they do not damage your credit – but it’s best to ask if you’re concerned. You don’t necessarily need good credit to get a bank account, but having bad credit can sometimes lead to denials. If that’s the case for you, look into prepaid debit cards as a temporary substitute for a bank account, and improve your credit so that you can use real accounts within a few years.

If you’ve had problems with checking accounts in the past – repeated bounced checks and negative balances, you might also have a hard time opening an account. Banks check databases such as ChexSystems to decide whether or not to open accounts. If you’ve got negative items in your ChexSystems reports, you’ll need to search for banks that offer “second chance” accounts.

Other items from your history might or might not be a problem. If you’ve been convicted of a felony, it depends on the type of felony and the bank. For example, financial crimes (such as money laundering) can prevent you from getting an account, while other felonies might not matter.

Up and Running

Once that your account is open, make sure things continue to go smoothly for you:

  • Set up text or email alerts to let you know when your account balance is running low or large withdrawals are made
  • Monitor your account regularly – reporting errors and fraud quickly are the best way to take advantage of consumer protection laws
  • Set up online bill pay so that you can pay bills on time (and easily)