What you need to open a checking account depends on whether you’re applying online, by phone or in person at a bank branch. At the very least, you’ll need proof of identity with a Social Security number or tax identification number, valid government-issued identification (like a driver’s license or state ID), proof of residential address (current utility bill) and other contact information.
You’ll also have to decide if you’re opening the bank account for yourself, your business or jointly with another person — this will affect what information you’ll need to supply.
What do you need to open a bank account?
No matter which bank you decide to go with, you’ll have to provide verifiable identification to open a new checking account. The requirements for opening a bank account typically fall into the following categories:
- Proof of identity: This can include your Social Security number or tax identification number and valid government-issued photo identification, such as a driver’s license, passport or a state or military ID. This information is also used to determine your age, as you must be over 18 to open your own bank account.
- Proof of address: Evidence that you’re a legal U.S. resident, which, if you’re applying in person, includes a utility bill or other official documents mailed to your current address.
- A minimum opening deposit: Some financial institutions require a minimum opening deposit to open a checking account. Though the amount varies and isn’t always required, it can be a good idea to have some money in your account to start with, especially if you want to avoid paying monthly checking account fees.
If you’re opening a joint checking account, you’ll need to ensure that each person provides the same information listed above and that each of you signs the signature form to make it official.
If you’re a parent or legal guardian opening an account with a child, you’ll also have slightly different requirements. In this instance, you would need to provide the minor’s name, birthdate and Social Security number in addition to your own personal identification and contact information.
If you want to open a checking account for your business, expect to still provide proof of identification with an Employer Identification number or Social Security number. You may also be required to show formation documents for your business, ownership agreements and a business license.
How to open a checking account
The easiest way to open a bank account is by doing it online through your bank’s website or over the phone. Of course, you’re always welcome to visit your nearest branch if you’d rather set up a bank account in person with an associate’s help, though you may want to schedule an appointment online ahead of time.
Whichever way you decide to do it, these are the steps you’ll generally go through:
- Gather all the necessary items: You’ll need to get together all of the items outlined above so you can easily provide essential identification, such as your Social Security number, driver’s license (or state ID) number, current address, phone number and email address. You’ll basically need to prove you’re a legal U.S. resident over the age of 18 to open your own account.
- Choose a checking account that best suits your personal needs: Which checking account is right for you depends on why and how you plan on using it. Consider whether banking with a brick-and-mortar institution is a priority for you, how you plan on making deposits and withdrawals from the account, how often you plan on accessing ATMs or using paper checks and what interest rate and account fees you can expect.
- Be prepared to make a minimum deposit to open the account: Though some institutions may not require this, you could still be on the hook for monthly maintenance fees later on if your account is empty, because you will often need to meet a minimum balance requirement in order to avoid the fee. If you want to transfer money from another bank, make sure you have the routing number and account number handy. You could also fund your account by depositing cash or a check, which can be done by visiting a bank branch or using its mobile banking app once your account is created.
- Complete the application process: You’ll likely be asked if you want to order paper checks, enroll in online or mobile banking to better monitor your checking account, set up direct deposit or receive a debit card. You may also be asked to choose an overdraft setting in the event you accidentally withdraw more money than you have. Expect to get your official paperwork, including a notification of whether your application has been approved — and, if so, your new account number — shortly after applying.
How to open a bank account for a minor
Setting up a bank account for a minor requires a parent or legal guardian to complete the same steps as above, plus provide the name, birthdate and Social Security number of the child they’re opening the account for. You may need to visit in person or follow other instructions that apply only to accounts for minors — such as providing a minimum opening deposit.
How to open a bank account online
While you won’t need to hand over actual documents to an associate when you’re opening a bank account online, you'll still need to provide varying levels of personal information outlined above. You may need to supply further details such as your employment status, income sources and what your account would be generally used for.
During the online application process, you’ll be asked to sign an Electronic Communications or E-Docs Disclosure — essentially giving the bank permission to share new account documents virtually rather than in person — along with other forms. In most cases, clicking the boxes and continuing to fill out the application counts as an e-signature, while you’d be expected to sign your paperwork when opening an account in person.
If you’re having any issues submitting your information online or don’t feel comfortable signing documents or providing personal information virtually, simply stop by your local branch to open your checking account in person instead.
Can I open a bank account online?
Yes. It’s a very convenient way to set up a bank account because you can sign documents electronically and enter all your personal identification and contact information from home.
How much does it cost to open a bank account?
It’s free, but you may be required to make an initial deposit to get started — and keeping a balance will usually be important if you want to avoid paying monthly maintenance fees, which vary by bank and account.
How long does it take to open a bank account?
It only takes about 10 minutes to fill out your application, whether online or in person. It may be another one to two business days before you’re approved, then up to 10 business days to receive your official bank documents and debit card in the mail.
Why should I open a checking account?
A checking account provides a safe and accessible place to store your money. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. or FDIC will insure up to $250,000 of funds per account owner. A checking account also gives you easy access to your money 24/7, whether through your bank’s website, mobile app or via an ATM; allows you to receive paychecks through direct deposit; and makes it easy to move your money using transfers and checks. In addition, banks provide a certain amount of fraud monitoring and other security protections should you need them, all while providing you with tools to help you manage your money.
How do I decide which checking account to open?
It depends on your current financial needs. Consider how you plan to use the account and what features are most important to you. Factors include the account’s interest rate, ATM availability, mobile app access, fee frequency and costs, as well as whether you plan to use paper checks or a debit card and if you prefer doing business with an online or brick-and-mortar institution.