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Banking 101: What Do You Need to Open a Bank Account?

We all need a safe place to keep our money. A bank or credit union can offer the opportunity for you to keep your money safe while also earning interest on your deposits. If the financial institution is federally insured by the FDIC or NCUA, you won’t have to worry about losing your money (up to applicable limits) to a bank or credit union failure. However, before you can open a bank account, there are a few steps you must take, and a few pieces of information you’ll have to provide.

Opening a Personal Bank Account

If you want to open an account for personal use, you will need some identification. If you go in person, you will need to show your driver’s license, and the bank may make a photocopy of it, depending on the bank’s policy. Your name, birthday, Social Security number and address will also be asked for. There is typically a minimum opening deposit required, generally around $100, which you will need to bring with you in the form of cash, a check from another institution, or other payment forms that may vary by institution.

As long as there isn’t a line, the entire process usually takes less than 30 minutes. If you are opening a checking account, most banks will give you temporary checks that day until permanent ones can be ordered. It’s normal to have to wait for your ATM card to arrive in the mail a few days later, but some banks can produce them on the spot.

Special Considerations for Credit Unions

You can join a community credit union simply by living in an area.

The requirements for opening an account at a credit union are generally the same as with a bank, with one exception. Unlike banks, credit unions restrict membership to certain groups of people they serve. This is called their field of membership. To join a credit union, you will need to prove that you meet these requirements. The means of doing so will vary based on the credit union’s field of membership. If it is an employer based credit union, you will likely need to show employee identification or a recent pay stub. If it is a community credit union, then a recent bill with proof of address will generally suffice. Most credit unions provide multiple means for you to prove that you or a family member are eligible to join.

Opening an Account Online

If you open an account online, you usually just have type the information into a form and submit it electronically. Your electronic signature is legal, so there is no need for you to send something in, unless the bank requires it. A few online bank accounts require that you print out a signature document and mail it in with copies of identification, but this is rare. For security purposes, you will typically need to verify your email address and possibly your phone number by responding to messages sent to each.

When opening an account online, you have a few options on how to fund it. If you already have an existing bank account, the easiest way to transfer funds is with an ACH transfer. You will need to provide the online bank with the routing number and account number for your existing account along with the amount you wish to transfer, and they will handle it from there. Alternatively, you can write a check and mail it in, but this will, of course, take longer. If you do not already have another bank account, you can wait for the ATM card for your online account to arrive and deposit cash at the ATM.

Credit Checks and ChexSystems Checks

Some financial institutions require credit checks. You might find that if you have a questionable credit history, the financial institution may not be so accommodating when it comes to letting you open an account. Additionally, there are some banks that use ChexSystems as a way to screen potential customers. ChexSystems is a reporting system that some banks use. If you bounce a check or overdraw your account, it is reported. Then, when another bank looks into your record, it can see whether or not you have a past history of overdrawing your account. If you are in the system, you might be denied a bank account – and ChexSystems keeps the records for five years.

Many people who are concerned about these possibilities can find out ahead of time whether or not the bank in question runs a credit check or uses ChexSystems. You can also find out if the financial institution you currently use reports to ChexSystems. It can be helpful information to know. (It is also worth noting that you are entitled to a free copy of your ChexSystems report once every 12 months.) You can ask your financial institution about the information they report and whether or not ChexSystems is part of the equation.

Even though opening an account is fairly straightforward, you should still have an idea of what information you need to open the account. Doing it online might be a little easier, since you will have access to the information that you need in your home and can usually get ahold of it. If you go to open an account in person, call the financial institution ahead of time so that you are sure to know exactly what you need.

Opening a Business Account

Opening a business account requires a little more documentation. In fact, you will have to provide documents to open even an online bank account. Most banks will allow you to scan and email copies of the documents, or fax them, if you don’t want to take the time to send them via snail mail. In addition to the identification information needed to open a personal account, you will also need to provide your EIN (if you have one – and you should unless you are a sole proprietorship). You should also provide a copy of your business license or your certificate of incorporation. For a sole proprietorship, you might not have the same documents, so some banks will accept some other proof of existence. Find out ahead of time what constitutes proof of existence so that you aren’t surprised.

Some banks and credit unions might also require you to bring the Memorandum and Articles of Association. When I opened my business checking account, I had to bring the Articles of Organization for my LLC. You might also need to provide your DBA (Doing Business As) or FBN (Fictitious Business Name) if you want to accept electronic fund transfers and checks in your business name. You will need to register the name and file it before it can be used.

It is vital that you know beforehand what is needed in order to open a business account at your financial institution of choice so that you are adequately prepared. I also had to answer a few additional questions and confirm that I wasn’t going to use the account to support terrorist activities.

Related Pages: savings account

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  |     |   Comment #1
I got rejected yesterday at a bank because of SOMETHING on checksystems.

Never bounced a check in my life. Only thing I can think of is too many bank accounts.

And the funny thing is, I had an account with that bank for many years with no issues whatsoever.

And its NOT a rewards checking account.
  |     |   Comment #18
While they are sweet talking you, they have an employee check your credit rating without telling you they are doing this. If you have your info FROZEN because of the Equifax hack, the bank turns you down or gives you a choice to UNFREEZE during this a hacking crisis. You have a check in hand from another bank down the street and they won't call to confirm you are an outstanding account holder with them just wanting to move $$ into a good CD offering. Their lose, I say. I spent an hour at least, lining up a CD Ladder in their office. Glad it did not work out with sneaky bank #2 in the end.
  |     |   Comment #3
Could you give me an example of an online Bank that really lets you open an account instantly, based on your electronic signature, and withou the need to print out a signature document? Thanks
  |     |   Comment #4
Banks here in Hawaii will let you do it
  |     |   Comment #5
I just opened a savings account with GE Capital Bank earlier today and got an account number issued within minutes.  There was no mention about providing a signature document after the application was approved.  They were provided the external linked bank account information so the opening deposit can be processed after verification of the trial deposits.
  |     |   Comment #24
Discover Bank is a great one , no minimum balance $1 to open or less no fees no annual I know a lot of no fee even overseas no fees great Bank to check out an electronic signature
  |     |   Comment #6
Trying to open an account online with Andrews FCU.  What a hassle ! They will not accept state issued vehicle registration of employer paystub as proof of physical address.  My bills and statements go to my po box for security reasons. 
  |     |   Comment #7
All my documents have po box. but with other financial institutions...they cite the Patriot Act.  I usually give the current "residence" address (there is an undisclosed database the gov't checks like what TSA does) and I immediately change mailing address to PO Box.  Never had a problem.  Suggest also a credit freeze.  :-)
  |     |   Comment #8
Four business days and no response from Andrew Federal Credit Union on how to edit application so I can get them what they need.   It appears my credit check has a different physical address than what I put on my application.--- and that information took several days for them to tell me. This is just to deposit some $$--- imagine the trouble trying to get it back.
  |     |   Comment #9
"It appears my credit check..."...you should know that going in!  I have a credit freeze in effect since "they" don't let me change anything in "their" records!
  |     |   Comment #19
Years ago before I graduated from college, my parents open my bank account. No credit checks. Now some banks even want to see your passport.
  |     |   Comment #31
Hey. If you want to get the benefit of your account.
Tariffs and rules must be fully studied and understood to ensure proper and efficient account opening. Otherwise, you will have difficulties as I could have. But also thanks to your article is very useful.
Good luck.
  |     |   Comment #20
I really appreciate for covering all the necessary points. I must add comparing bank account before opening can add more values to the blog. I found www.compare4benefit.com to be the best site for comparing bank accounts. Anyways thanks for sharing.
  |     |   Comment #25
NerdWallet recommends discover Bank over all others it's easy they want just makes you feel to fill out the application and remember what you say that's all you need then you got to log back in and get the electronic signature with no big deal everything is is no fees no fees no fees no minimum balance easy-to-open you don't have to show my driver's license or nothing they want your state ID

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