Checking Accounts: 10 Common Questions Answered

By Zach Buchenau

Last Updated: October 29, 2021

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Opening a checking account is a pretty straightforward process, as long as you’re prepared.

But before you open an account of your own, you should be fully informed about them so there are no surprises down the road.

In this article, we’re going to answer some of the most common questions people have about checking accounts.

Let’s get started.

How Much Does It Cost To Open A Checking Account?

In most cases, it is completely free to open a checking account. That said, most banks do require you to make a minimum deposit to open an account. This initial deposit requirement can range from as little as $20 to several thousand dollars depending on your bank and the type of checking account you want to open.

To be certain about whether a bank requires a minimum deposit, visit the bank’s website or contact your branch.

It’s also important to note that checking accounts at credit unions work a little differently.

All account holders at a credit union are shareholders, meaning they own portions of the union.

So, if you want to open a checking account, you’ll need to buy a share in the credit union. The cost of these shares is typically low, ranging between $5 and $35.

This fee acts as your opening deposit, and it must remain in your account for it to stay open.

Even though checking accounts don’t typically have any opening charges, you may have to pay certain fees or maintain a minimum daily balance. Obviously, this will depend on where you open your checking account, so be sure to check with your bank before opening a new account.

Can I Open A Checking Account With No Money?

Yes, some banks will allow you to open a checking account with no money. In fact, many online banks offer this option as a way to attract new account holders. As with any bank account, just make sure to do your research before opening an account or committing to anything.

Why might you open a checking account without depositing any money?

Well, you may simply need an account where you can receive direct deposits from your employer, and you might not want to fund the account with your own money right away.

Checking accounts aren’t just for holding your money; they’re perfect for receiving income, budgeting your money, and paying your bills.

If you want to open a checking account without having to pay anything upfront, you’ll probably be better off choosing an online bank.

The tradeoff of opening an online checking account is that you won’t be able to visit a physical branch of your bank. But if your goal is to open a checking account with no money, the benefits of an online bank may be worth it.

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How Long Does It Take To Open A Checking Account?

In general, if you choose to open an online bank account and you’ve already compiled all the necessary information, it shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes. However, if you choose to open an account in person, you should prepare for a 30-minute appointment.

After that, it may take one to two business days for the bank to process your application and provide you with an account number.

It will likely take between five and 10 business days after applying before you receive your debit card and account information in the mail.

If you can’t wait this long, you may be able to visit a physical bank branch where someone may be able to provide you with these materials. The benefit of opening a checking account in person is that you’ll typically receive a temporary debit card right away.

What Documents Do I Need To Open A Checking Account?

To make sure the process of opening a checking account goes smoothly, be sure to bring the necessary documents with you to the bank. If you’re opening a checking account online, you may be asked to submit electronic copies of your documents.

While some banks may not require you to have certain documents, it’s always better to come prepared. Usually, banks require you to have the following three documents to open a checking account:

  1. Government-issued photo ID
  2. Social Security Number
  3. Proof of address

Firstly, government-issued photo identification lets the bank know you are who you say you are. The most common form of government-issued ID is a driver’s license.

If you don’t have a driver’s license, you can apply for a state-issued ID card at your local DMV. To obtain one, you’ll need to bring your birth certificate or your passport, along with proof of address, to the DMV.

Other acceptable forms of government-issued photo ID may include a valid passport or a U.S. military identification card.

Secondly, you must have a valid Social Security Number (SSN) or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) to open a checking account. Bring your Social Security card to the bank when you open your account. If you don’t have one, bring proof of your ITIN.

Finally, bring a document that shows proof of your current address. This could be a recent utility bill, credit card statement, or cable bill. If you receive paperless statements, print out a copy of your billing statement.

Can I Open A Checking Account Online?

I most cases, yes, you can open a checking account online. These days, most banks will allow you to open a checking account without visiting a physical branch. Beyond that, many banks operate entirely online, making this the only option.

Keep in mind that credit unions sometimes require you to have an existing savings account before you can open a checking account. You may also have to meet some other requirements to bank with a credit union, such as living in a certain geographic area.

How Long Does It Take To Get A Debit Card?

In short, you should expect to receive your new debit card within 5 to 10 business days after opening your new checking account. However, this can vary, so be sure to check with your bank to find out about more specific timeframe. Most banks publicize this information on their websites, but if you can’t find any information about this, give them a call.

Usually, your bank will let you know when to expect your debit card in the mail after you’re approved to open the account.

How To Open A Checking Account?

The process of opening a checking account is fairly straightforward. Follow these simple steps to open your account in a short amount of time:

Step 1: Choose a Bank or Credit Union

Do some research to help you decide where to open your checking account. Pay attention to any minimum balance requirements, fees, and benefits.

It’s also a good idea to think about your future financial needs when shopping around for a bank. Since it’s simpler to keep your funds at a single institution, learn about the other account types each bank offers.

You can usually find all the information you need on a bank’s website.

Step 2: Decide Who Will Have Access to the Account

Do you share your personal finances with someone, like a spouse?

 If so, you’ll probably want to open a joint checking account that both of you can access. It’s important to determine this before you apply for the account.

Step 3: Gather Your Application Materials

Go through the list of materials provided above, and make sure you have valid copies of each. Whether you’re opening a checking account in person or online, you’ll likely need all of these documents.

Step 4: Complete Your Application

The easiest way to apply for a checking account is to fill out an application online. If you’d prefer to apply in person, visit a bank branch instead.

After you’ve completed your application, the bank will review your information and might even run a soft credit check that shows information about your banking history. This will help them determine whether to improve your account.

If you’re approved, you’ll receive documents that include your account number and account information.

Step 5: Sign For Your Account

Whenever you deposit checks to your checking account, your signature will be matched to your signature card. For online-only institutions, you’ll be able to sign your paperwork electronically, but traditional banks may require you to visit a physical branch to sign it.

Step 6: Make Your Opening Deposit

Some banks require you to make an initial deposit into your new checking account.

If your bank does require this, you may not be able to use your account for a few days until your funds are available.

Step 7: Receive And Activate Your Debit Card

After you’ve been approved to open a checking account, you’ll receive your debit card in the mail. You may also receive personalized checks if you requested/paid for them.

To use your debit card, you’ll need to activate it first and set up online account access. You’ll also need to set up a Personal Identification Number, or PIN, to authorize the use of your debit card.

Step 8: Set Up Direct Deposit

If you want your paychecks to be deposited into your new checking account, you’ll need to talk to your employer’s payroll department.

Typically, they’ll have you fill out a form to authorize direct deposits into your account.

Some checking accounts require you to set up direct deposits to avoid monthly fees or to receive account benefits.

This is why it’s important to make sure you understand the rules and terms of your checking account before opening it.

Does Opening A Checking Account Hurt Your Credit?

In most cases, opening a checking account has little or no effect on your credit score. There are exceptions to this rule, but even if it does affect your credit score, the impact will be minimal.

When you open a checking account, the bank usually performs a soft inquiry on your credit report. Soft inquiries will not affect on your credit score.

In some very rare cases, the bank may perform a hard inquiry which could lower your credit score by a few points temporarily. However, this effect is typically temporary.

Do Checking Accounts Usually Have Fees?

In general, yes, checking accounts have fees. However, most banks are willing to waive these charges if you meet certain requirements. For example, you may have to maintain an average daily balance, open an additional savings account, or set up a direct deposit to your checking account to avoid a monthly fee.

On the other hand, some banks offer “no-fee” checking accounts that don’t require monthly maintenance fees or minimum balances.

The most common checking account fees include:

  • Monthly service fees
  • ATM fees
  • Overdraft fees
  • Nonsufficient funds (NSF) fees
  • Paper statement fees
  • Foreign transaction fees
  • Account closure fees

Should I Open A Savings Account Or A Checking Account?

Checking accounts are great for everyday spending, budgeting, and paying your bills. Savings accounts, on the other hand, are better for long-term savings or money you’d like to have available in an emergency.

Unlike a checking account, you usually can’t spend money directly from your savings account using a debit card. However, you can still make transfers and withdrawals from a savings account.

So, if you’d like to set apart some money that you don’t have direct access to for spending, it’s a good idea to open a savings account in addition to your checking account. Ultimately, the best account types for you depend on your financial situation and goals.

Final Thoughts

Now, we hope you have a better understanding of how checking accounts work.

These days, there are more checking account options available than ever before.

Whether you decide to go with a traditional bank, online bank, or credit union, a checking account makes it easy to manage your finances like a pro.

Zach Buchenau

About The Author:

Zach Buchenau is a self-proclaimed personal finance nerd. When he isn't writing about budgeting, getting out of debt, making extra money, and living a frugal life, you can find him building furniture, fly fishing, or developing websites. He is the co-founder of BeTheBudget, and Chipotle's most loyal customer.

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