What do you need to open a bank account? Not very much -- mainly some money and proof of identity. But beyond that, there are some important things you need to know about opening a bank account, things that can help you save or earn hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Let's start with the basics. Here's what you need to open a bank account:
- You need to be 18 or older. If you're a minor, you can still open a bank account, but it will have to be a joint one, with a parent or guardian as a co-owner.
- You need to give the bank information about yourself, including your name, birthdate, address, phone number, and Social Security number. The bank will often want more than just your word, so you'll have to produce your driver's license or other government-issued photo ID and perhaps a second form of ID, such as a utility bill, credit card, or student ID.
- You need money, but not necessarily very much. Many credit unions, for example, require as little as $1 to open an account. Be careful, though: At many banks, there may be a low minimum for opening the account, but if your balance stays low, then you could face regular "maintenance fees."
The big picture
Beyond just opening a bank account, you would do well to consider the bank account in terms of your overall financial condition and goals, so that you use it in the most productive way.
To do so, you first need to know what kind of bank account will serve you best. Generally speaking, there are two varieties: savings accounts and checking accounts. Savings accounts are designed for accumulating money, as most offer a higher interest rate than checking accounts (most of which either don't pay interest at all or instead pay only a nominal amount). Checking accounts are good for facilitating transactions via checks, online bill-paying, debit card usage, and so on.
You also need to decide what type of financial institution you want to join. Your choices include small locally owned banks, big national banks, and credit unions. Discount brokerages generally offer banking products and services as well. When shopping around, compare terms and fees. Many banks will offer better terms, such as free checking, unlimited check writing, linked accounts, or higher interest rates, to those who keep sizable minimum balances in their accounts. Many will also sock you with a monthly maintenance fee that can be as high as $20 or more if your balance dips below a certain amount or if you don't make a certain number of deposits or direct deposits or meet other requirements.
Whatever account you choose, however, be sure that it's insured by the Federal Insurance Deposit Company or the National Credit Union Administration.
Finally, if you plan to use ATMs a lot, you might want a bank with ATMs all over, or at least in places you frequent. If you'd like to use your mobile device to manage your finances, see what apps and services various banks offer. Some will let you pay bills electronically with your device, and others may even let you deposit checks by taking a photo of a check's front and back with your smartphone or tablet.
In sum, you don't need a lot to open a bank account, but knowing your options can help you open the right one.