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Published: Jun 27, 2023 13 min read

With a bank account, you can easily deposit and withdraw money, make payments and transfer funds electronically. A bank account also provides a safe place to store your money compared to keeping it at home or carrying cash.

Many employers offer direct deposit, which allows you to receive your paycheck directly into your bank account. You can also set up automatic bill payments or schedule recurring payments for utilities, rent, mortgage, credit cards and other bills. A bank account can also grant you access to various financial services such as loans, credit cards and investment opportunities.

To open an account, you need a government-issued ID, proof of address and an opening deposit. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to open a bank account, and what the application process will involve.

What's needed for opening a bank account?

Before you start the process of opening a bank account — whether in person or online — you need to gather some personal documents. Make sure you have the following items ready to go:

A valid ID

It likely comes as no surprise that banks require you to have a valid ID when you open an account. Generally, banks will accept any form of government-issued ID from the following list:

  • Driver’s license
  • Passport or passport card
  • Birth certificate
  • REAL ID card
  • Social Security card
  • DOD ID card (Department of Defense ID card)

If your financial institution requires two forms of ID to open a bank account, they will typically ask you to provide at least one photo ID. You may be able to offer an alternative form of ID if you don’t have any of these government-issued IDs. You can also get a state ID card at your local Department of Motor Vehicle office.

How to open a bank account if you don’t have a Social Security number?

People who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents do not have a Social Security number. Small banks and credit unions in the U.S. typically require a Social Security number to open an account.

Larger institutions are more likely to accept other forms of identification, but foreigners may still require more documentation than citizens and permanent residents. For example, what do you need to open a bank account at Bank of America if you don’t have a Social Security number?

You’ll need the following:

  • A primary ID: a foreign passport, a U.S. non-immigrant visa, or a Mexican, Guatemalan, Dominican, or Colombian consular ID.
  • A secondary ID: a foreign driver's license, a U.S. driver's license, a U.S.-issued employment/work ID card, a debit or major credit card, a major retail credit card, a U.S. Department of State diplomat ID, or a Mexican voter registration card.

You can also use your individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) to open a bank account. You can apply for an ITIN even if you are not a U.S. resident or citizen.

Basic information

You will need to provide your date of birth, Social Security number and phone number to fill out the application forms for your new bank account. You may also need to provide your email address.

Before opening a new bank account, certain banks may conduct a credit check by reviewing your credit history. To facilitate this credit check, you might be required to provide additional information, such as your employment history.

Required documents and paperwork

Each bank will have different documents and paperwork you need to fill out to open a bank account. These documents can be accessed as part of the online application process, or if you prefer to apply in person, a bank representative will provide you with the necessary paperwork.

Money for an initial minimum deposit

Some banks require you to fund your new account with an initial deposit. The specific amount for the initial deposit will vary depending on the bank, but generally, larger banks tend to set it between $25 and $100.

If you’re opening your bank account online, make sure you have sufficient funds available in another account to directly deposit into your new account. On the other hand, if you choose to open your bank account in person, you can transfer the funds electronically or bring the initial minimum deposit in cash.

Proof of address

You will need a document that verifies your current address. While most banks accept post office box addresses, most banks require proof of your physical address. Any recent official document that includes your name and address may work as proof of address. Acceptable documents include credit card statements, internet, cable, cell phone or utility bill. These documents should have your name and current address clearly visible.

If you’ve gone paperless and do not receive physical copies of these documents, you can print out a statement from one of your online accounts that displays your name and current address. You may also present a lease agreement or a recent mortgage statement confirming your residential address, provided it is an official document between you and your landlord.

Additional tips for opening an account

Having the right documents and information isn’t all you need to open a new bank account. Follow these additional tips to make the process as seamless as possible:

Decide what type of account you need

When you visit a bank to open a new account, the first question a bank representative will typically ask is whether you prefer to open a checking or a savings account. These two types of accounts are the most commonly used and cater to different financial needs. Other types of accounts you might consider opening are money market accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs).

Checking accounts

Checking accounts allow you to make frequent withdrawals and deposits. Once you have a personal checking account, you can use a debit card to easily make payments from your account. Many checking accounts now come with mobile banking features, allowing you to manage your account on the go.

The best checking accounts typically offer low fees, access to extensive ATM networks and additional perks, such as rewards on purchases, cashback programs or discounts on certain services. Pay close attention to overdraft fees, as they can quickly add up.

Savings accounts

Savings accounts are deposit accounts that earn interest on the funds you deposit. By placing your money in a savings account, you can receive a modest interest payment based on the account’s interest rate. Savings accounts are generally considered a safe and reliable option for holding funds that you may need quick access to in the short term.

Unlike checking accounts, savings accounts are not set up for frequent transactions. Instead, they are intended for accumulating and growing your savings over time. As a result, savings accounts often have limitations on the number of withdrawals you can make in a given period, such as a monthly limit or a limit on certain types of transactions.

The best savings accounts typically offer high annual percentage yields (APYs), low or no fees and $0 minimum opening balances. Some savings accounts like Barclays even offer online bank-to-bank transfers. If you’re specifically looking for higher APYs, read our guide to the best high-yield savings accounts.

Money market accounts (MMA)

A money market account is a type of interest-bearing account that offers more flexibility in terms of monthly transactions compared to a regular savings account. These accounts may also provide debit cards or checks.

One of the advantages of a money market account is that it typically pays higher interest rates than a standard savings account. However, these accounts often require a higher minimum balance to open and maintain the account.

Money Market accounts are suitable for people who want the flexibility of a checking account while still seeking the potential to earn higher interest and can maintain a minimum monthly balance.

Certificate of deposit (CD)

When you open a certificate of deposit (CD) account, you agree to give your money to the bank for a fixed period of time. During this time, you cannot withdraw your funds without paying a penalty. CD terms typically span from one to five years. The longer you keep your money in the account, the higher the interest rate you will earn.

It’s important to make sure you won’t need to access your money before the term ends, as early withdrawal penalties can be significant — sometimes as high as six months’ worth of interest.

Pick the right financial institution before opening

Before you open a new account, you want to be sure you choose the right financial institution for your needs. You’ll also want to pay close attention to the fees and select a bank that charges low or no fees.

Here we list some of the main features of different types of financial institutions:

  • Large banks are the traditional choice for banking services. They offer a wide range of financial products and services, have an extensive network of physical branches and provide robust digital features. Larger banks also make transferring money easier, so they’re a good option for frequent travelers and people who regularly send money to family and friends abroad.
  • Small banks offer the same financial products as large banks, but differentiate themselves by providing more personalized customer service. They may also have some regional products and give back to the community. Make sure the bank you choose has physical branches near your home or work.
  • Online banks are the primary choice for younger or tech-savvy people. These banks handle customer service by phone, email or online chat instead of in person. Since online banks don't have to pay for physical branches, they can offer lower fees, higher interest rates and 24/7 customer support. Just as you would for a regular bank, compare the products and services of several online banks before opening an account.

Be sure to close out your old account successfully

To close your bank account, some banks offer the option to initiate the process online through your account portal, but you still may need to contact your bank’s customer service by phone or visit a local bank branch. It’s important to note that once closed, you won’t be able to reopen your bank account.

Before closing your account, make sure you settle any outstanding balances and transfer any remaining funds. Don’t forget to update your direct deposit information with your employer (if applicable) and change the account information on all your bill payments tied to your old account.

If your account has a positive or zero balance with no pending transactions, your bank can close it promptly upon receiving your request. However, if there are pending transactions or unpaid fees, closing your account may take longer.

What do you need to open a bank account FAQ

How to open a joint bank account?

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You will need additional information and documents to open a joint bank account since both account owners have to go through the application process. The requirements for opening a joint account are typically the same as for opening an individual account — you just need to provide the documentation and information from both parties instead of one.

Do I need a co-owner to open a bank account?

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You generally do not need a co-owner to open a bank account. However, if you are under 18, you will need a parent or legal guardian to act as a co-owner until you turn 18. Your co-owner will simply need to fill out and sign the new account forms with you and provide their information.

What do you need to open a bank account online?

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Opening a new bank account online is similar to opening one in person. You will need the same documents listed above. The online application form may ask you to input personal information, such as your driver's license number.

Do you need a business bank account?

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You don't need a business bank account if you intend to do your personal banking through your new account. However, if you are a small business owner, opening an account specifically for business banking makes sense. A business account helps your business operate as a separate legal entity from you, the owner.

You will need different documents to open a business bank account than you need for a personal business account. You'll need your employer identification number (EIN), business license, formation documents and applicable ownership agreements.

Some banks may ask for additional documents. Once you have the required documents, you can open a business bank account online or at a local branch.

Bottom line on what do you need to open a bank account

Now that you’re familiar with the information on “What do you need to open a bank account?” you’re ready to open your new account. Before you begin, make sure you have all the required documents and information readily available. It is also important to have a clear understanding of the type of account (or accounts) you wish to open and which bank is best for your needs and preferences.