What You Need to Open a Bank Account

Opening a bank account—whether a savings account or checking account—is a largely a straightforward process and can be done online, over the phone, or in person at a branch using information that verifies your identity. In some cases, you may have to provide supporting documents to get your application approved. For non-citizens without a Social Security number, the process will likely require additional documents and an in-person visit to a bank branch. Those under 18 will require a parent or guardian co-signor to open an account.

What’s Required to Open a Bank Account?

Federal law requires banks, credit unions and other financial institutions to verify the identity of individuals who open certain financial accounts in an effort to combat terrorism and money laundering. What is required may vary slightly by institution, but you will likely need to provide your full name, address, date of birth, Social Security number (SSN), citizenship status and employment status. For joint accounts, both account holders will need to submit this information. Parents or legal guardians will need to provide the same information to open an account for someone under 18.

Depending on whether you apply online, over the phone or in person, you may be asked to submit copies of identification or just provide the required ID numbers, issuing state and expiration dates. Gather the needed documents in advance, so you are prepared for any requests. If you plan to visit a branch, it’s also wise to call the branch manager to find out specifically what you should bring.

RequirementDocumentationNotes
Valid photo identification
  • driver's license
  • state ID card
  • Armed Forces ID
  • US Passport
Wells Fargo also accepts a Matricula Card, an ID card issued by Mexico, Guatemala or Argentina, for its online application.
Second ID
  • credit card
  • gas/store card
  • work ID badge
  • student ID with photo
A second form of ID is not always required.
Proof of address
  • utility, cable, or cell phone bill
  • mortgage statement
  • rental lease
  • printed billing statement from an online account
You may be required to prove your address if your ID does not list it. You also will need to provide a previous address if you’ve lived at your current one for less than a year. P.O. Box addresses are not accepted.
Opening deposit
  • transfer from another bank account
  • debit or credit card
  • cash or check
Some banks require a minimum amount for the initial deposit, which can range between $25 for basic accounts and $100 for premier ones.

Background Check: Most banks and credit unions will also obtain a special report that details whether you mismanaged a checking or savings account in the past, such as a bounced check or failure to pay fees. The most common providers of these reports are ChexSystems and Early Warning Services. You can request your report for free from these companies once every 12 months to check for any errors. Some banks may also pull your credit report from Experian, Equifax or TransUnion as part of the account opening process.

How to Open a Bank Account Without a Social Security Number

Both resident and non-resident aliens without SSNs can still open a US bank account using other identification. For instance, you can often apply for a bank account using an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) issued by the Internal Revenue Service. You'll need to submit IRS Form W-7 in order to obtain an ITIN.

Otherwise, many major banks and some credit unions will work with international students and visa workers to open a U.S. bank account using the following identification documentation:

  • valid foreign-issued passport
  • valid student ID (if a student)
  • F-1 or J-1 visa (if a student)
  • valid temporary work visa (if a worker)
  • proof of funds if opening the account with wired funds
  • proof of residency, such as utility bill, tuition bill or copy of a lease

If you're currently a resident or non-resident alien without an SSN, your best bet is to apply in person at a branch. Call ahead to make an appointment with the branch manager, who should be able to provide specific details about the bank's requirements.

Bank Account Alternative

If your Chexsystems or credit history is making it hard to open a bank account, getting a prepaid debit card is another way to deposit funds and swipe for purchases in stores or online. Prepaid debit cards require the same important personal information as a bank account, but they usually skip background checks. Prepaid cards often restrict how much money you can load, have stricter withdrawal limits and don’t allow overdrafts. While they aren’t as closely regulated as bank accounts, prepaid cards are FDIC-insured. More information about prepaid debit cards can be found here.

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