If you’ve never had a checking or savings account before, the process of opening one might seem intimidating. But it’s really just a matter of figuring out what you’re likely to need, and then searching for banks or credit unions that will meet those needs.
At a minimum, search for both checking and savings accounts without fees. There’s no reason to be charged for allowing a bank or credit union to use your money. At very large banks, many checking accounts require direct deposit in order to avoid a monthly fee. But the direct deposit doesn’t have to be from a job — once-a-month automatic deposits such as child support, alimony, or social security count as well.
Additional things that are good to have include:
- No minimum balance requirements
- Easy accessibility (or lack of easy accessibility, depending on your personality)
- Debit cards & free checks for checking accounts
- Online banking
- No charges for in-person or over-the-phone customer service
- No charges for using their ATMs, or reimbursement of ATM fees
- Free online bill-pay, if you intend to use that service
- The ability to accept and make ACH transfers (again, without a fee). An ACH transfer is a way to transfer money electronically.
- Good interest rates on your deposits
You can use Bankrate.com’s rate comparison feature to compare fees, interest rates, and services offered by a large number of banks. You will find both brick & mortar and online banks listed there. (See “Are online banks safe?” if you have concerns about those.)
Once you decide on a bank or credit union, there will be a series of forms to complete. Be sure that you actually read through the forms and understand what you are signing. If you’re there in person, don’t rely on what the person helping you tells you about the forms — read and understand them for yourself instead. You can always take them home with you to review first if you like. They will be happy to give you the booklet explaining all the terms and conditions ahead of time.
In some cases, there may be a credit check required as well. That information should be spelled out in what you are signing as well. If the credit check concerns you, you may want to consider credit unions first as they are less likely to require that.
Finally, remember that you don’t have to have your checking and savings account at the same place, and that you can have multiple accounts. Don’t feel roped into a single institution — choose the one(s) that will best meet your needs instead.
This post is part of a series. See what everyone should know about personal finance for links to additional posts on the subject.