How do I Open an Online Checking Account?

Post Series: The Basics

Virtually all U.S. banks make it very easy to add online and app services to your regular checking account – so if you already have a checking account, you just need to sign up.

If it’s your first time opening an account, you can do the whole thing online. Which bank you choose can depend on several different factors. Figuring out which of those are most important to you can make it much easier to choose the best bank for you.

  • Do you want a bank with a physical branch near your home or job?
  • Do you want to be able to quickly access a person if you have questions or problems?
  • How convenient is ATM access?
  • If it doesn’t offer ATMs, will it pay you back for ATM fees?
  • How can you deposit paper checks?
  • Which has the lowest fees?
  • Which offers the highest interest rates?
  • Is the bank FDIC insured?
  • Does the website offer the highest level of security?
  • Can you get a credit card from the same bank?
  • Do they also offer savings or money market accounts?
  • Will you need a single or joint account?

If you want to compare different banking options and pick the best one for you, check out this great tool at NerdWallet.

Once you choose a bank, opening an online account is pretty straightforward, but you will need to have some information on hand:

  • Your social security number
  • A valid, government-issued ID (like a driver’s license)
  • A credit card, debit card, or bank account information (if you have another bank account) including routing number and account number.
  • A way to transfer money into the account (you may be able to use a prepaid card if you don’t have already have a bank account or credit card)

Make sure that you use a secure Internet connection when you’re setting up the account. Then fill out all the forms very carefully – typos can cause a lot of problems down the line. Most online-only banks will let you e-sign documents, but some will require you to mail or fax signed paperwork to open the account.

Once your account is set up, and you’ve made your initial deposit (usually somewhere between $25-$100), it will take a few days before you can access that money.

Direct deposit: When you have your paycheck automatically deposited it on your checking account every pay period, most banks waive their monthly service fee, saving you that extra fee along with the time and trouble of having to deposit the check yourself.

FDIC insured: Since the FDIC was created in 1933, no American has lost even one penny of their insured deposits – even in the case of bank failures. FDIC insurance covers up to $250,000 per person per bank. If you use a bank without FDIC insurance and it goes bust, so do you.

Fees: Most checking accounts come with fees that can quickly eat away at your bank balance. From maintenance fees – which can run as high as $15 a month unless you maintain their minimum balance – to debit card/ATM fees to overdraft fees, it can feel like the bank gets you coming and going. When you’re choosing a checking account, look for one with no-fee or very low fee checking.

Joint account: Accounts owned by at least two people are joint accounts – and the two owners are normally family members, significant others, or business partners. Be aware that both parties to a joint account have access to 100% of the money at all times.

Routing number: A 9-digit bank ID number is called a routing number. If you have a checking account, it’s the number printed on the bottom left of your checks, right before your account number.

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