How to Open a Checking Account and Get a Debit Card

Desmond Rhodes  | 

Depending on financial needs, there are several different types of bank accounts a person can open. For instance, some may open a savings account to accrue interest on their savings — letting their money sit and grow in case of large expenses or emergencies. Others may be looking toward retirement, and are choosing to pay into it now to enjoy their pension later.

One typical bank account that many users enjoy is a checking account. A checking account is versatile and offers features that may be used daily. By opening one, you can take advantage of online banking benefits, write checks, and can officially get a debit card. Opening a checking account isn’t terribly difficult, but you will need to do your research to find out if it’s the right move for you.

What You Should Do Before Opening a Bank Account

People open checking accounts for many reasons — making debit card purchases, checking their online banking statement, paying bills, and more. Knowing about these kinds of features helps when deciding to bank with one institution over another. Additional deciding factors may include banking requirements, location, and fees. Choosing which bank, or financial institution, to open an account with, will most likely hinge on whether they can provide the right features to accommodate your financial objectives.

Compare Banks and Financial Institutions

There are plenty of banks and financial institutions you could choose to open a checking account with — all offering various features and perks. To narrow down your options and find out which bank is best for you, examine what your financial needs are and what you can and can’t do without. It may be the case that a particular bank provides many benefits, but none of them pertain to you. When looking to open a checking account, understand your prospective financial institution’s stance on the following:

  • Fees. Before opening a checking account, know what charges will need to be paid. Overdraft fees, and whether one will be applied, can be enough of a deciding factor to look elsewhere. If you are not concerned about overdrafting your account and a bank offers additional features that are useful to you, consider looking further into banking with them.
  • Incentives. Not many checking accounts feature interest rates. However, you may choose to bank with an institution if they do offer this feature, and enjoy making a little extra off of the money sitting in your account. Many banks do offer cash incentives or a monthly credit that you may take advantage of as well. On some occasions, you may have a tough time deciding between banks, but the bank that offers the better incentives will likely win you over.
  • Convenience. You may prefer walking into your bank instead of speaking with a representative over the telephone. Alternatively, maybe you favor the ease of online banking. Your decision can even come down to the fact that a bank has a branch or ATM close by. Whatever the case, you’ll want to make sure the bank you are choosing to open a checking account with provides the types of services you are most comfortable with, and that are most convenient to you.

Comparing your various banking and financial institutions may be overwhelming. However, if you know what you are looking for, and how a bank can best suit you, you can quickly check many of the options off your list as soon as you learn they are of no benefit to you.   

Requirements for Opening a Checking Account

Finding and choosing a bank or financial institution that you trust and will support your financial goals is only the beginning — you’ll still need to open an account with the bank. Although some banks may request additional material, general requirements and information you need to open any bank account include:

  • Some form of identification. This may be a driver’s license, passport, or state-issued ID.
  • Social security number.
  • Address and phone number. In the event your bank needs to contact you.
  • Date of birth. To show proof that you are over 18 years of age.

If you are under 18, or the legal age of adulthood in your state of residence, you may provide identification of a co-owner who is of age and who will be opening up a shared account with you. You may also be asked to pay an initial deposit before you can start banking with an institution, and certainly before you start using your debit card.

How To Get Your Debit Card

Once you have opened a checking account, your bank will grant you — among other things — a debit card to make purchases. Many banks will give you a debit card for free to activate. Activating a debit card is usually just a matter of assigning a PIN code to your card. A PIN is typically a four-digit security code that stops others from using your debit card and obtaining your money. It is vital to remember your PIN code, as you won’t be able to make a purchase or withdraw cash from an ATM without typing it into a teller machine.

What is a Debit Card?

It is essential to understand what a debit card is, so as to use it properly and avoid missteps like overdrafting your account. A debit card is different from a credit card, in that credit cards use borrowed money. Debit cards only use the funds located in your checking account. Unfortunately, if you make a purchase, but don’t have a positive balance in your account, it will become overdrawn. Overdraft fees can accrue when you have a negative balance on your account — making it more and more challenging to get your account back to a positive balance.

Where credit and prepaid cards may not allow you to make a purchase when you have reached your limit, a debit card may allow the transaction and overdraft your account. It is crucial to understand what happens when you overdraft your card, as you may end up in debt that is hard to escape.

Opening a checking account isn’t a daunting task. However, you will want to pay attention to which bank you are choosing and why. Why spend the extra fees or go through additional trouble for a bank that is not right for you?

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Desmond Rhodes is a writer out of the Northwest. A philosopher, gamer, and enjoys his Hunter S. Thompson.

This post was updated May 21, 2019. It was originally published May 29, 2019.