1. Banking 101

Opening a Checking; Account

If you are mostly using your bank account as a source of ready cash and to pay bills, what you need is a checking account. (You might also need a savings account if you want to use your bank for money funds; see below.) Except for some specialized free or low-income accounts, checking accounts generally let you make unlimited deposits and withdrawals, unlike the rules that limit the number of monthly withdrawals from savings accounts.

Before you spend too much time deciding on which bank to use, you should first make sure you qualify to open a checking account. Here’s what banks generally need from customers.

Opening Deposit

The amount of money you’ll need for an opening deposit depends on the bank you choose and the type of account you want to open. Plenty of banks allow you to open an account with as little as $1, so if you don’t have much to deposit, shop around. You’re more likely to need a substantial opening deposit at a traditional brick-and-mortar bank than at an online bank.


To open an account in person, you’ll need to provide identification such as a Social Security card, birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, or state identification card. To open an account online, you’ll be asked to provide your date of birth, Social Security number, and possibly your driver’s license number, and the bank may follow up with requests for copies of supporting documents.9 If you are opening a bank account in the United States and are not a U.S. resident, you’ll need one or two of the following:

  • A foreign passport with photo
  • A foreign driver’s license with photo
  • A foreign state-issued ID
  • An employment ID with photo
  • A college ID with photo
  • An alien registration card with photo
  • A permanent resident card with photo10

Contact Information

This will include your physical address (where you live), phone number, and email address. The reason banks ask for all this information is to comply with federal laws that require them to obtain and verify identifying information for every person who opens an account.

Also, you have to be at least 18 years old (or the age of majority, which is higher in some states—19 in Alabama, for example) to open a bank account.11 If you’re younger, you may be able to open a joint account with a parent or legal guardian. 

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