Opening a checking account is a fairly simple process, but you need to make sure you bring the right documentation with you. Checking accounts are deposit accounts that allow you to store your cash, make withdrawals and transfers, write checks, and pay your bills. Your bank or financial institution will also provide you with a debit card so you can do your banking at automated teller machines (ATM). If you want to do routine financial transactions, you can choose from a variety of checking account options.

Once you choose a bank and fill out some paperwork, you can leave with a functioning account. But the process can get a little more complicated because you usually have to provide documentation to prove your identity. It can get frustrating and delay your ability to use the account if you don’t provide the right paperwork. Read on to learn about what you’ll need to have with you in order to get your account up and running right away.

Key Takeaways

  • Checking accounts generally come with very few eligibility requirements.
  • When you open your account, make sure you have a piece of government-issued ID to prove your identity.
  • You’ll also need your Social Security number or individual taxpayer identification number, along with something that has your address on it, such as a utility or cable bill.

Ensuring a Smooth Process

There are generally very few eligibility requirements for checking accounts. All banks require that account holders are at least 18 years old, although most allow a minor to be listed as a joint account holder with a parent or legal guardian. A bank may turn you down if you have criminal convictions related to fraud or financial crimes or if another bank closed your account due to mismanagement, such as unpaid overdrafts.

To ensure the process of opening your checking account goes smoothly and efficiently, you need to bring the appropriate documents with you to the bank. While not all banks require every one of these documents, it is better to have them with you even if you don’t need them.

Government-issued identification

Almost every bank requires you to present a valid government-issued photo ID when opening a checking account. This verifies that you are who you say you are and allows the bank to match your name to your face.

The most common form of government-issued photo ID is a driver’s license. If you don’t drive, head to your department of motor vehicles (DMV) and apply for a state-issued ID. Unlike a driver’s license, you don’t need to pass a test in order to get one. Just make sure you bring your birth certificate or valid passport and proof of address with you to the DMV.

Other forms of government-issued ID include a valid passport or a U.S. military identification card. Just check with the bank to make sure these are acceptable.

The bank needs your Social Security number or individual taxpayer identification number so it can report any interest income you earn to the IRS.

Social Security card or individual taxpayer identification number

Banks also require you to have either a valid Social Security number (SSN) or individual taxpayer identification number (TIN) to open a checking account. If you have an SSN, bring your Social Security card with you to the bank so the representative can verify the document. Otherwise, bring proof of your ITIN. If you don’t have either, be sure to apply for an ITIN before going to the bank to open your account. You can do so by filling out and submitting Form W-7 to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Remember, it can take several weeks to get it.

Proof of address

You also need to bring something that verifies your current address. While a few banks allow you to open a checking account using a post office box, most require that you include a physical address on the account. The best way to prove your address is by bringing in a current official document with your name and address. Your most recent utility bill, cable bill, credit card statement, or even a cell phone bill should suffice.

If you’re among those who have gone paperless, you can print a billing statement from your online account. Other options to prove your address include a recent mortgage statement or a lease agreement signed by you and your landlord.

Special Considerations

Student accounts

If you’re opening a student account, the bank may also require proof of enrollment at a qualified school. Student accounts come with low or no fees and may also have other perks, such as discounted rates for credit cards and other debts. You may need to bring your student ID to get access to these benefits.

Joint accounts

For joint accounts make sure the other person is also present, so you can both use the account right away. Because the additional account holder(s) is/are assuming the same liability for the account—fees, balances, etc.—they should also bring the required documentation listed above.

Power of attorney

For anyone who wants a special signing authority on the account, it’s important to bring a power of attorney (POA) for the bank to keep on file. POAs are legal documents that give another person the authority to do specific transactions for the original account holder. This is common for elderly people and those who are ill or otherwise incapacitated.

Additional services

If you’re a new customer, the bank may allow you to apply for credit right away. If you are enticed, you can speed up the process by providing additional information. Consider bringing your last two pay stubs from work or—in the case of certain loans or a mortgage—at least two years’ worth of tax returns. Providing the right paperwork on the spot can help you get immediate access to the services you need.