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How to Open a Bank Account and What You’ll Need

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Opening a bank account can be a confusing process, especially if it’s your first time.

However, you can make the process a lot smoother if you prepare with the documents and information you’ll need.

1. Decide on the type of account

If you’re unfamiliar with banks in your area, see which ones have accounts with the features you’re looking for. A basic checking or savings account might be all you need. Compare offerings at banks, local credit unions and online-only banks to see which offers the best rates of return, the lowest fees and perks such as online and mobile banking. Also, big national banks, credit unions and community banks, and online-only banks tend to offer different levels of customer service. Decide what level is best for you. Once you decide on an account and a type of financial institution, make sure to ask the bank or credit union these questions:

  • Is the account federally insured? Money in most banks is backed up to at least $250,000 by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. or FDIC, to protect depositors in case the bank fails. Credit unions that participate in a similar insurance program through the National Credit Union Administration, or NCUA, provide the same level of protection. Those that offer this insurance must display the FDIC or NCUA logos.
  • Is there a daily or monthly minimum balance? If so, check for any fees that apply

    if an account goes below that amount.

  • Is there a monthly maintenance fee and can it be waived? You may need  to fulfill some requirement to avoid this fee, such as setting up a direct deposit, using a debit card, creating a recurring transfer or linking savings and checking accounts.
  • Are there other fees? Check for a fee disclosure page on the bank’s website for other costs, such as out-of-network ATM charges, overdraft and international transaction fees.

2. Review how to apply

Determine whether you need to visit a branch to open an account or if you can do it online. The information you’ll provide in either case will be similar, if not the same.

In the application process, the financial institution will ask for proof of your identity and personal information. Depending on the account, you may need another person to join you. Here’s a general checklist of what to have:

  • Identification: You will most likely need to provide a valid, government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or a passport. If you don’t have either, you can get a state-specific ID card at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • Personal information details: You’ll need to provide basic information to verify who you are, including your name,  date of birth,  current address,  phone number, Social Security number (in most cases ) and email address.
  • Cash: Have some money, either cash,  a check, a money order or digitally accessible funds, that you can easily transfer into the new account for the opening deposit.
  • A second applicant if you’re opening a joint account: Because this type of account requires two people, both may need to be present to provide their information and verify their  identities. Applying online may be an exception. Joint accounts are most often used by couples who want to manage bills together.
  • A parent, if you’re not 18: To open an account, minors usually must have a parent or legal guardian as a co-owner who can sign legal documents with the bank.

With this information in hand, you should now be able to apply and open the best checking or savings account for you.

Spencer Tierney is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: . Twitter: @SpencerNerd .

Updated August 11, 2015.

Image via iStock.

Category: Personal Finance

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