How to Open Your First Checking Account
Opening your first checking account is a major personal finance milestone. Perhaps you've started your first job or you're headed off to college and would simply like to take control of your finances — either way, this is an important step in your financial journey.
Here's what you need to know before you open your first bank account.
The Basics: Key Differences Between Checking and Savings Accounts
First, let's review the key differences between checking and savings accounts.
Checking accounts are designed for everyday use. Consumer checking accounts don't usually impose transaction or withdrawal limits. Most come with debit cards that can be used to withdraw cash at ATMs and pay for goods and services at participating merchants.
Savings accounts are designed to hold funds over longer time frames. Consumer savings accounts allow a limited number of withdrawals each month. Many, although not all, earn interest (yield) on deposited balances at competitive rates. However, savings accounts don't generally come with debit cards. If you wish to spend funds held in your savings account, you'll need to make a transfer from savings to checking.
The Research: What to Look for in a Checking Account
Your very first bank account may be a checking account, though there's a strong case to be made for opening a savings or money market account as well.
Here's what to look for in a checking account:
- Minimum Deposit and Balance Requirements: Many checking accounts require a minimum opening deposit. Some require a minimum ongoing balance as well. Once you understand these requirements, confirm that you can meet them before opening your account.
- Monthly Maintenance Fee: Many checking accounts charge a monthly maintenance fee. However, it's often possible to avoid this fee by maintaining a minimum balance, executing a certain monthly transaction volume or cumulative value, or meeting other criteria set by your bank.
- Other Fees: Other checking fees may include ATM withdrawal and balance check fees, check fees, and relationship rewards fees.
- Benefits and Capabilities: This is a catch-all category that includes check-writing privileges, online account access, mobile capabilities (such as mobile check deposit), debit and credit card privileges, and ATM services.
The Process: How to Open Your First Bank Account
Opening your first bank account won't take all day. If you're able to open your account online, the process could take about 10 to 15 minutes from start to finish. Here's a step-by-step rundown of the process:
- Choose what type of account you want by comparing your options
- Select the option that best fits your needs
- Make sure you have enough cash on hand to fund the minimum opening deposit
- Gather all of the information you'll need to open your account
- Determine whether you can apply online or whether you need to visit a branch in person
- Begin the application process
The Goods: What You Need to Open Your Account
What do you need to open your first bank account? Though policies vary by bank and certain accounts may require additional documentation, you'll likely need to provide:
- Your Social Security number or other relevant tax identification
- Your driver's license or state identification card
- An acceptable funding method for your opening deposit (such as a bank check)
If you're not sure what you need to apply, ask a bank representative for a complete list.
Opening your first checking account is a major milestone in your journey toward financial independence, but it's not the only personal finance victory worth celebrating. The day you're approved for your first credit card is just as important, as is the day you close on your first major loan. Here's to more personal finance milestones on your terms.