How To Open a Checking Account [The Complete Guide]

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By Andrew Greenspan

Money Basics

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Opening a checking account is truly the one of the first starts to your financial journey. And selecting the right checking account is also an opportunity to save yourself a lot of money and be more financially responsible.

The goal of this post is to help you with opening a checking account, the simple steps to follow, and how to determine the right bank for you.

You may already know how to do this or maybe the opposite, either way I hope this helps!

Already have a checking account? It’s never too late to switch to a better option! Click here to skip ahead to determine how to choose a bank.

What is a Checking Account?

A checking account is an account you open with a financial institution, such as a bank or credit union, where you can deposit and withdraw money on a frequent basis. 

Checking accounts are the first step towards doing anything financial related because you need a central location to access your funds.

Without a checking account you cannot write checks, have a credit card, use PayPal or Venmo, invest money, etc.

How does a checking account work?

You deposit money into the checking account when you open it. Let’s say it’s $100. You now have $100 that you can withdraw from the account.

The most basic ways of withdrawing money are writing a check, making a purchase with a debit card, withdrawing money from an ATM, or going to your bank and handing the teller a withdrawal slip with your account information.

There are two simple ways of depositing money into your checking out as well.

You can set up auto-deposit with your employer to deposit your paychecks directly into your checking account or by filling out a deposit slip at your bank to deposit cash or checks.

More common ways of depositing money now include mobile check deposit and ATMs owned by your bank where you can deposit cash or checks.

Nowadays mobile deposit is much more common and is highly recommended that you use a bank with this feature. We’ll cover this in more detail later on in the article.

How Do I Open A Checking Account?

Selecting where to open your checking account is the hard part, opening one is easy!

1. Select Your Bank

Select the bank or credit union that you would like to use.

2. Go To The Bank

Go during their business hours, no appointment necessary.

3. Talk With A Banker

Tell them you would like to open a checking account. Normally this will happen at a desk or in one of the manager’s offices.

Ask anyone for assistance, including the bank tellers, and they will point you to the right person.

4. Have Cash and Your I.D.

Have cash (normally $100) for your initial deposit and your identification. You may want to call ahead or check on their website if they have any other items they want you to bring and to confirm how much cash is required to open the account.

5. Option To Open a Savings Account

They may ask if you would like to open a savings account. Sure! Go over the details with the banker and open one if it makes sense for you.

However, many banks do not offer great interest rates on your money anymore. So if you are looking to do that, I’d recommend looking into some online banks. Check out our post on savings accounts to learn more.

6. Order Checks

A small amount of checks should be free with opening an account. You might be asked to select the color and how your name will be printed on the checks.

In the meantime you should receive temporary checks that you can use until your checkbook arrives in the mail in nondescript packaging.

7. Get a Debit Card

They may ask if you want a debit card, say yes! Debit cards provide an easy way to access your account should you need to withdraw cash or purchase something.

It might also make the banking experience quicker by using it to deposit money into an ATM or for a teller to pull up your account information.

You will probably have to wait to receive a debit card in the mail though some banks print them right there for you.

All debit cards have a 4 digit Personal Identification Number (PIN). You will either choose a PIN when you open the account or when you receive your debit card in the mail. 

Want more info on what a debit card is and how it differs from a credit card? Checkout our article on credit cards vs. debit cards.

8. Leave the Bank With the Following:

  • Your checking account number and routing number
  • Temporary checks
  • An idea as to when you’ll receive your checkbook and/or debit card
  • A Personal Identification Number for your debit card or instructions on when to create your PIN
  • Instructions on how to create or access your checking account online
How To Open a Checking Account [The Complete Guide]

How Do I Choose A Bank For My Checking Account?

Choosing a bank to open a checking account or making a switch can sometimes be overwhelming. You have a lot of options to choose from, how do you pick the right bank?

  1. Determine The Technology You Need
  2. Avoid Monthly Fees
  3. Select Small Bank, Big Bank, or Credit Union

The Technology You Need

Almost all banks should have the ability to access your account online or on your phone. There are however a few technologies that some banks have and others do not that you may require.

Mobile Deposit

Deposit a check with your phone. Open the bank’s app, take a picture of the front & back of the check, enter the check amount, and deposit it right into your account. No need to go to the bank!

Most banks have mobile deposit now. Mobile deposit is a must have for us. If it’s a must have for you too, then make sure to choose a bank that has it.

Transfer Money Online

Need to move money around between your savings and checking accounts? You can easily do so through most banks either on their website or app. This is a convenient way to move money around on your time.

Deposit Cash/Checks in ATMs

Using an ATM to deposit cash or checks may be for you if you deal with cash a lot, don’t trust mobile deposit, and can’t make it into the bank during banking hours (or just don’t like dealing with people).

This is a common feature of big banks and smaller banks are readily adopting these ATMs.


Zelle is a tool integrated with certain banks that allows you to instantly send money to another person to be directly deposited into their account.

It is similar to PayPal and Venmo in that you can easily send money to a friend, however there is no lag time for them to get their funds. 

Pay your friend with Zelle and the money goes right into their account. Assuming your bank uses the platform, you can sign up and use it for free

This might be the only reason to choose a bigger bank should you require Zelle. This feature is beginning to roll out to smaller banks albeit slowly. Alternatively you can easily send money to people with PayPal or Venmo.

Avoid Monthly Fees

Do not be fooled by commercials and advertisements. Many banks offer the same exact services while some charge a monthly fee and others do not.

Find a bank without a monthly fee! You should be able to find a good local bank that does not charge you a monthly fee just to have an account with them. 

You can look at big name banks though most will charge a monthly fee. Look at what they offer versus other institutions and decide if it is right for you.

Select a Small Bank, Big Bank, or Credit Union

First step is to determine which technologies and features you want your checking account to have. 

Next consider if you ever plan on opening a business banking account down the road. 

Then think if you’ll need the ability to go to your banks brick and mortar location while traveling. Chances are you don’t but maybe you do.

Lastly keep reading for the differences between banks and credit unions so you can choose one or the other. If you decide to use a bank, then read on small vs. big banks to choose which one makes sense for you.

Looking for a digital option with banking? Two online bank accounts we recommend and you might want to consider are Chime and Radius Bank. Take a look at those two and see how they may fit into your finances.

What is the Difference Between A Bank And a Credit Union?

Credit unions are financial institutions owned by the members that operate like banks. Typically there are little to no fees and you might even find a higher interest rate in a savings account.

You may not get as good of technology from a credit union. This is probably the biggest downside that you should look into before choosing a credit union. Otherwise they function very much like a bank.

Double check but nearly anyone can join any credit union. Historically credit unions had a requirement for commonality between members such as a credit unions for teachers though this requirement has mostly passed. 

Are you an aspiring entrepreneur or business owner? Then you may want to have your personal and business checking accounts with the same financial institution for simplicity.

Credit unions may offer business checking solutions but also are slower with adapting to technology for better connections to other tools such as the bookkeeping software QuickBooks

Need better technology and access to more branch locations to deposit or withdraw money? Then choose a small or big bank.

Small vs Big Bank

A small bank is best for you if:

  • You want to avoid monthly fees
  • You do not travel a lot where you need to deposit money in a bank branch
  • You want features like mobile deposit but do not need Zelle
  • Creating a simple checking account

A big bank is best for you if:

  • You travel a lot and need to deposit money in a branch location (not a common need)
  • You want access to Zelle

Find a Bank That Works For You

You need a checking account to start your financial journey and you should probably open a savings account while you’re at it.

Don’t worry about what bank commercials say about loyalty and trust. Most banks are nearly identical with good people working at them, so don’t unnecessarily pay a monthly fee! 

Determine the technology you want, find a bank with no monthly fees, and start your checking account. 

If you are looking for some more financial steps, check out this personal finance basics list to help you be prepared.