So You’re Ready to Open a Bank Account? Here’s Exactly What You Need

A man gets his receipt from a bank teller.
Milan Bajmoczi receives a receipt from bank teller Dalton Iohrke at Mount McKinley Bank in Fairbanks, Alaska. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder Mt. McKinleyBank: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1CGJ2BDNF-BAo8-_kWbyooIW7hyGn-_pS Milan: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1CGJ2BDNF-BAo8-_kWbyooIW7hyGn-_pS Dalton: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1CGJ2BDNF-BAo8-_kWbyooIW7hyGn-_pS

Regardless of where you are in life, you will likely need to open a bank account at some point. 

But what do you need to open a bank account, exactly?

Whether you’re a total newbie or just haven’t opened one in a long time, the process of opening an account can be stressful. But it doesn’t have to be. Prepare yourself before you head to the bank, and the process will go much more smoothly.

What Do You Need to Open a Bank Account?

Usually, you can open an account online or in person at a local bank branch. If you go in person, make sure you collect all your documents ahead of time to avoid delays. (We’ll discuss what you need to bring later on.)

No matter how you open your bank account, you’ll need to fill out an application. This will include personal information like your name, address and Social Security number. If you’re applying online, you’ll need to enter your photo ID number so the bank can verify that you are who you claim to be.

How to Determine if You’re Eligible to Open a Bank Account

Each bank has different eligibility requirements, so it’s a good idea to do some research before choosing a bank. But all banks have certain eligibility requirements mandated by law.

First, you need to be at least 18 years old to open a bank account on your own. 

If you’re under 18, you may be able to open a joint account with a parent or legal guardian. You might also check with your bank to see if they offer accounts designed for minors. 

Opening a bank account at a young age can help you learn how to properly manage your money, making the transition to adulthood an easier one.

Many banks will look at your financial history before allowing you to open an account. So if you have a history of overdrafts or have had accounts closed by the bank before, you may be ineligible. Some banks will work with you even if you have a bad history, so it’s worth doing your research if this applies to you.

In some circumstances, banks will only allow you to open an account if you’re a U.S. citizen.

What to Bring When You Open a Bank Account

A woman uses the ATM machine.
Aileen Perilla/ The Penny Hoarder

Once you’ve chosen a financial institution where you want to open a checking or savings account, you’ll need to make sure you show up with the right documents to ensure a smooth process. Here’s what to bring.

Photo ID

When opening an account for the first time, you will need to bring some form of photo ID. The most common form is a state-issued driver’s license, but a passport will also work. 

If you don’t drive and don’t have a passport, you can get a state ID from your local Department of Motor Vehicles office. To get an ID, you’ll need to provide the DMV with your birth certificate and proof of address.

Social Security Card

You may need to show your Social Security card to open an account, so it’s a good idea to bring it along just in case. 

If you don’t have a Social Security number, you will need an Individual Taxpayer Identification number. You can get one by submitting Form W-7 to the IRS.

Proof of Address

You will need to bring some sort of proof of your address, such as a utility bill or mortgage statement. You can also provide a lease agreement that lists your address.

Deposits

Most banks require you to make an initial deposit when you open a new account, so make sure you ask what the minimum deposit is and have that amount of money with you when you go to open the account.

What Happens After You Apply for a Bank Account?

Once your application is complete, the bank will review it and check your history with bank accounts, if applicable.

If you’re approved for the account, you will receive the account number and routing number so you can begin using it immediately. This is when you will pay your initial deposit. 

If you’re opening the account in person, you can use cash, a check or an electronic transfer. If you’re opening the account online, you should be able to use all of the above options, with the exception of cash.

After a few days, you’ll receive a checkbook, deposit slips and a debit or ATM card in the mail. The card will include instructions on how to activate it, which you’ll typically do over the phone or online. Make sure you sign the card or it could be considered invalid.

Once you have your bank account details, you can set up a direct deposit for your regular monthly income, whether that’s a paycheck, retirement funds or other benefits. Direct deposits make it easy to access your money each month and avoid the extra step of having to cash a check.

Next, you can set up online access to your bank account. Make sure you choose a password that you’ll remember but that isn’t too easy to guess. Some banks have different login methods for additional security, so make sure you choose one that won’t be too hard for you to use to access your funds.

Opening a bank account, whether for the first or 50th time, can be daunting. But by making sure you have everything you need ahead of time, it can be quick and easy.

Catherine Hiles is a writer, mother, runner and avid reader. She enjoys cooking (and eating), good beer and spending time with her husband and two young children.