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How To Open A Bank Account

U.S. banks offer many types of accounts: checking, savings, money market account, CD's (certificates of deposit) and other investment vehicles to help you save for retirement.

To open a bank account, you will need to bring the following identification:

  • your driver's license or state i.d. number
  • Another form of i.d. (like a credit card, passport, work i.d. card or student i.d. card)
  • your social security card, if you are a resident

When opening a bank account you should balance cost and convenience. Shop around to different banks. Some banks and credit unions offer accounts with no monthly fee and no minimum balance, others offer accounts with monthly fees and a minimum balance but more ATM (automatic teller) machines and branch locations, while still others pay out interest.

! Beware of extra ATM surcharges for using other banks' ATM machines. Some can charge up to $2 in extra fees just for withdrawing money.

Check to see if the bank requires:

  • a minimum deposit to open the account
  • a minimum "balance", or amount of money that must remain in the account (many banks charge a fee if the account falls below a certain minimum balance). Many banks offer free checking with no minumum balance.
  • a monthly service fee
  • a per-check fee
  • a per-transaction fee
  • ATM fees
  • if you open several accounts, like a checking and a savings account, ask whether you can combine balances to avoid paying a service charge on the checking account if you go below the minimum balance.

Some larger banks now offer online banking so you can pay your bills online. Other newer banks are completely online.

Try to find a bank with:

  • Free online bill-pay
  • Overdraft protection plans (watch out for the costs!
  • No charge to use ATMs outside the banking family
  • Reimbursement of ATM fees charged to you by another ATM

Credit Unions

Employees of many businesses and institutions can open an account with their employer's credit union. Many credit unions offer no-fee, free checking accounts with no minimum balance, as well as credit cards. Ask your employer.


If you receive an ATM card from your bank you will be asked to choose a four-digit PIN (personal identification number) to use at an ATM. Make sure this number includes four different numbers, not 1111.

  • When using an ATM, especially in a large city, make sure it is located in a safe area.
  • Avoid using ATM's at night if in an urban area. Many ATM's have security cameras, but this does not mean you won't be in danger of being mugged.

Checking Accounts

A checking account lets you write checks or withdraw money as often as you like without penalty as long as you meet the bank's minimum balance requirement. Some types of accounts at some banks require no minimum balance. These are called "free checking" accounts. Ask your local bank if they have free checking.

>> Info on Free Checking

Banks offering free checking include:

Useful Tips on Checking Accounts:

!Before depositing a check, you must endorse the check on the back with your signature and/or account number. To be safe, you should also write "for deposit only" on the back. If you do not add "for deposit only", once you endorse the check, it is as good as cash and can be cashed by others if it is lost or stolen.

!If you wish to use the check to pay someone else, you should write, "Pay to the Order of {the payee's name}".

Savings Accounts
Savings accounts are usually accounts that pay a certain amount of interest. They are designed for savings, not withdrawals, but most allow you a fixed number of withdrawals at a small or no fee using a book of savings checks you can obtain from the bank.

CD's - Certificates of Deposit

If you are planning to keep more than $500 in your account for longer than 6 months at a time, it might be useful to place the money in a certificate of deposit, or CD's, interest-bearing bonds held for a fixed period of time like 90 days or 6 months. CD's generally earn higher interest rates than savings accounts and pay out interest depending on both the length of time (60-day, 90-day, 6-month, year) and the amount invested.

>> BestCashCow provides information on "the best CD (certificates of deposit) rates, the best money market rates, the best savings rates, and more - as well as financial information that can help you make better decisions with your money."

!When pondering where to put your money, regularly check the interest rates of the different types of accounts. Some banks offer specials from time to time on CD's and money market accounts.

Debit Cards: When you open an account, you will receive a debit card which will let you deposit and withdraw money from your account at the ATM as well as pay for expenses with the card at shops and restaurants and allow you to make online purchases.

Debit Card Tips:

  • Be careful of Debit card fees.

  • Try to use your debit card only at your bank when withdrawing cash.

  • These fees can sometimes go up to several dollars per transaction. More below:

ATM fees now commonly reach $2.00, and can be as high as $6.00 or even higher in cash-intensive places like bars and casinos. In cases where fees are paid both to the bank (for using a "foreign" ATM) and the ATM owner (the so-called "surcharge") total withdrawal fees could potentially reach $11.

While many consumers are faced with multiple fees as described above, a number of standalone and internet banks, such as USAA, E-Trade Bank and Ebank among others, not only do not charge their customers for using another ATM but they also provide reimbursement, worldwide, of another ATM's fee. Thus, customers at some banks in the US can avoid ATM fees altogether.

Another popular way to avoid paying ATM fees is to make a cashback purchase at a retail store: many retailers will allow a customer who is paying with a debit card to withdraw more than the total due the retailer and get back the difference in cash.

More helpful information from this page:


Open a Bank Account?

Wire Money?
Write a Check?
Understand U.S. Currency?

Get a Credit Card?

Apply for a Loan?

Learn About Taxes?

Plan for my Financial Future?