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How Can I Easily Open Bank Accounts?

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Customer writing cheque at bank counter
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Question: How can I easily open bank accounts?

Ready to open a bank account but not sure how? The process is easy, and we've broken it down into several separate steps. Use this document as a checklist; you'll always know what you need to do next, and you'll find tips to help you complete each step.

Step 1: Choose an Institution

You may have already done this. If not, shop around. What type of account do you want? A savings account? A free checking account? Should you use a credit union? See who has the features you want and and who offers competitive rates. Remember that you might do business with this institution for years, and it's likely that you'll use several of their services over that time.

If you appreciate using technology, find out what you can do online (or with a mobile device) at each bank. Pay attention to any fees for online bill payment, and check for convenient features like mobile check deposits. You might even decide to open an account at an online-only bank -- but you'll still need a traditional brick-and-mortar bank.

Step 2: Visit the Bank Branch or Website

The easiest way to open an account is generally to visit the institution’s website. Search for the bank on Google, or visit the website listed on the bank's marketing materials (be careful when you type in the web address -- imposter sites with similar names may exist). The advantage of opening accounts online is that you can do it at any time, from anywhere. However, if you're only comfortable opening accounts in person you can simply show up at the branch during business hours. Be sure to bring identification and any initial deposit that's required.

Step 3: Pick the Product You Want

Any financial institution will have a variety of account types and services that you can mix and match. They’ll all have fancy names that you may need to learn, but they're basically the same products you'll find elsewhere: checking accounts, savings accounts, and loans. Pick the option that has a mix that is right for you. For example, if you'll keep a low balance in the account, be sure to use an account that keeps fees at a minimum (avoid the accounts that require a large balance in order to qualify for fee waivers).

When working online, you may have to drill down to the product that is right for you. You might click “Open an Account”, and then click “Checking”, and hunt among the various choices for “Free Checking”. If you open your accounts in person, you can just chat with a banker who will help you find the best account for your needs.

Step 4: Provide Your Information

In order to open a bank account, you'll need to provide sensitive information to the bank. In order to protect themselves and comply with a regulations such as the Patriot Act, they simply can't open an account without verifying your identity. You’ll need to provide simple details like your name and birthday, as well as identification numbers (in the U.S. this is most likely your Social Security Number). You should also be prepared to provide a valid government ID (such as a Driver’s License or passport).

If you’re doing this online, you’ll just type the information into a textbox. If you open your accounts in person you'll hand your ID’s over to the banker, who will probably make photocopies.

Step 5: Agree to Terms

You’ll have to agree to abide by certain rules and accept responsibility for certain actions. When you open an account at a bank, you form a relationship based on a very important subject – your money. Therefore you should know what you’re getting into. If you open bank accounts online, you complete this step by clicking an “I Agree” (or similar) button, and performing the next step.

Read your agreement carefully. Although disclosure is getting better, there are a lot of important tidbits buried in the fine print. In particular, you'll want to know about any fees charged to your account, and when your funds are available for withdrawal.

Step 6: Print, Sign, and Mail (If Applicable)

If you open a bank account in person, this step does not apply; skip to Step 7. If you are opening an account online, you may have to print, sign, and mail a document to the bank before the account is opened. Some banks use electronic disclosure and consent that is legally binding, but many still won’t open bank accounts unless you complete this step. Until they receive the documents, your account is not active.

Step 7: Congratulate Yourself!

Congratulations, you are the proud owner of a new account.

Now, you’ll just need to wait a few days to a few weeks for the bank to process your paperwork (the process is getting faster and faster -- so you might only need to wait a few minutes). Then, they will mail you anything you need for the account such as checkbooks and debit cards.

Once your account is open, it's a good idea to link it to other bank accounts (this might even be a requirement if you're opening an online bank account). Find out how that process works so you can move money electronically.

Opening bank accounts is really quite easy as long as you know what to expect. Just be ready to complete the required steps.

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