Top Tips for Opening a Bank Account

Jul 20 2021

Whether you want to learn how to avoid sneaky bank fees or figure out which checking account makes the most sense for you, we’ve got you covered with the banking basics you need to know.
Opening a checking account

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What to Know About Checking Accounts

A checking account is a useful tool for managing your finances. It allows you to deposit your money at a bank or other financial institution, and spend it when you need it using a debit card, checks, online money transfers or by withdrawing cash from the account at the bank, through an automated teller machine (ATM) or by receiving cash back at the grocery store. You can even set up a checking account so your paycheck is automatically deposited and your bills are automatically paid each month.

Checking accounts don’t typically have limits on how frequently you can withdraw your money – though they may come with a minimum balance or they might have limits on the amount of money you can withdraw at one time. Some banks charge fees to maintain the account, and others, like Bell Bank, offer free checking options.

In addition to the convenience of accessing your money anytime, nearly anywhere without having to carry it around with you, your money is guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) up to $250,000 per individual depositor, per insured bank, if the bank is an FDIC-member bank.

 

How to Open a Checking Account

Opening a checking account is something you need to apply to do. While banks do not check your credit score when you apply for a checking or savings account, they might review your banking history for potential problems, such as unpaid fees, overdrafts or bounced checks.

To open a checking account, you will need:

  • Your Social Security number
  • A government-issued ID, such as driver's license, passport, state or military ID
  • Funds to deposit
  • Contact information
  • Employment status

There are typically 3 ways to open a checking account:

Online Online

Visit a location icon Visit a location in person

Over the phone Over the phone

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Explore these FREE online financial education courses from Bell:

Which Checking Account Is Right for You

There are a few different types of personal checking accounts to consider, based on what you need.

Personal checking: If you want your own account and don’t want to maintain a higher minimum balance, opt for a regular personal checking account.

Joint checking: If you want to share an account with someone who will have joint ownership responsibility for any overdraft or penalty fees, you can open a joint checking account.

At Bell, we call our personal checking account America's Best Checking, because we haven't found a free checking account in America that beats all the frees we give our customers. Check out all of the free features here.

Interest-bearing checking: If you want to earn interest for keeping money in your checking account and you’re able to maintain a higher minimum balance, you may want to consider an interest-bearing checking account.

At Bell, we offer 2 types of interest-bearing checking accounts:

  1. America's Best Interest Checking gives you all the free features found in America’s Best checking – and you can earn interest. You need to maintain a minimum $500 balance to earn interest and avoid a service fee.
  2. America's Best Premier Interest Checking gives you all the free features found in America’s Best checking – and you can earn a higher rate of interest. You need to maintain a minimum $5,000 balance to earn interest and avoid a service fee.

Person icon Need some help deciding which checking account to choose? Find a Bell personal banker near you to help walk you through your options.

Bank iconOr, when you’re ready to get started, you can choose from 3 convenient ways to open your America’s Best Checking account:

Avoid These 5 Common Sneaky Bank Fees.

A bank is more than a place to keep your money. The right banking relationship can also help you reach your financial goals, whether you’re looking to save, start a business, buy a home or invest in your future. So when you’re trying to figure out which bank is best for you, it’s important to compare customer ratings – and look for a bank that puts your best interest first.

Consider the extra features that make for a better banking experience. Do you want a bank that will arm you with free tools to improve your financial literacy? How about a bank that will have your back if you’re a victim of identity theft? How important is it to you to bank with a company that gives back to the community?

Finally, make sure to read the fine print, so you know what you’ll be paying for. You might expect to pay fees for certain things – such as when you overdraft (spend more than you have available in your checking account). Unfortunately, there are some common “sneaky” fees you might not expect – and you might not realize your bank charges – until you find yourself paying them.

Watch for fees icon

Watch out for these 5 common sneaky bank fees:

  1. ATM Withdrawal Fee

    This is the fee commonly charged for taking money out of an automated teller machine.

     

  2. Out-of-Network ATM Fee

    Banks commonly charge this fee when you use another financial institution’s automated teller machine.

    Note: Depending on where you bank, you might be charged double at the ATM – with a withdrawal fee and an out-of-network fee!

     

  3. Monthly Service Fee

    Banks commonly charge this fee to maintain your account or when your account balance drops below a certain amount.

     

  4. Paper Statement Fee

    Banks commonly charge this fee when they send you a paper statement. Even if you review your statements online, you typically have to opt out of receiving paper statements.

     

  5. Membership Fee
  6. If you’re considering a credit union instead of a bank, keep in mind some credit unions charge membership fees to cover the union’s costs. (Credit unions are not-for-profit, cooperative financial institutions that provide financial services, such as accepting deposits and making loans.)

 

It’s your money, so it can be frustrating when you have to pay to access it. When shopping for a bank, make sure to ask about fees and how to avoid them.

At Bell Bank, an employee- and family-owned company, we know we have America’s Best Checking. To prove it, we set up a bank fee comparison tool, so you can easily compare bank fees, customer ratings and the extra features that make for the best banking experience. Check it out to see which bank has the most features you want at the lowest fees!

Checking vs. Savings – Why Have Both?

It’s possible to keep all of your money in one place, but that might not be the best strategy. When deciding where to stash your money, consider the main differences between checking and savings accounts. A checking account is designed for more day-to-day expenses, while with a savings account, you can squirrel away money for a big purchase or emergency.

There are 3 main reasons you should have both checking and savings accounts:

Security Icon Security

While you’re protected if you’re a victim of fraud – and daily debit card limits help to both hinder fraud and flag potential risk – it’s a good idea to limit the amount of money you keep in your checking account. A savings account stands alone. Typically people don’t unknowingly “advertise” their savings account information like they might their checking account with frequent use. Whenever you make a purchase with a check, that information is out there. With a savings account, your information is held within the bank, making it much harder for criminals to access.

Savings icon Savings Incentives

Did you know federal regulations only permit 6 withdrawals from savings per monthly statement period? (If you withdraw more often than that, you are subject to a fee.) To further promote saving, debit cards aren’t offered for Bell savings accounts. Unless specifically requested, your Bell savings account is not “linked” to your checking. For instance, you cannot withdraw money from your savings account at an ATM. (You may see the option but that money is not accessible.) It kind of creates a barrier between you and your savings account, making it harder to spend the money you’ve worked so hard to save.

(Check out this article to learn more tips and tricks to make saving simple.)

Budgeting Budgeting

With entirely different purposes, checking and savings accounts help you budget for different reasons, whether monthly expenses or future goals. You can even have as many savings accounts as you want, and label them to designate them for different purposes. (Think of tagging your accounts with names such as “Vacation Savings,” “Home Repairs,” “Emergency Fund,” “Wedding Expenses” or “College Savings.”)

 

Ready to get savvy with your spending and saving? Start now by setting up Bell Bank checking and savings accounts.

How to Make Your Money Work for You

You work hard for your money. Once it reaches a certain threshold in your checking or savings account, you should move it into an interest-bearing account to make your money work harder for you.

It can be challenging to know when it makes sense to move your money or open a different account. These 5 questions can help you figure out where it makes most sense to keep your money:

  1. Do you have more than $500?
  2. When your regular savings account reaches $500 and you know you can maintain that balance, you might be ready to switch accounts. This is a good time to convert your savings account to a money market savings account, which rewards higher balances with higher interest rates.

  3. Do you have an emergency fund in place?
  4. It’s a good idea to keep 3 to 6 months’ salary, or an emergency fund of at least $1,000, in an easily accessible savings account.

  5. Are you looking for an option with better returns, yet low risks?
  6. If you have enough money readily available in your savings account and you want a safe investment, consider a certificate of deposit (CD) to get a better return on your money.

    Opening an individual retirement account (IRA) is another good option. A bank IRA can be a low-risk investment for retirement, with several tax advantages.

  7. Are you saving enough for retirement?
  8. If you participate in a retirement plan, you may want to consider contributing more to that. You should try to contribute at least the minimum amount to maximize all matching employer contributions.

    If you already contribute the maximum amount allowed to your 401(k), you can save more in an IRA. Bell Bank’s financial advisors can provide guidance on what’s best for your situation.

  9. Are you ready to take your investments further?
  10. If you already have an emergency fund of 3 to 6 months’ salary, you’re contributing fully to your employer retirement plan, and you feel like you want to do even more with your money, it might be time to meet with a financial advisor to talk about the possibility of investing in stocks, bonds, exchange traded funds (ETFs), index funds or mutual funds.

    When to take your investments beyond your 401(k) plan is a personal decision that depends on more than how much money you have to invest. Your decision should include considerations such as your risk tolerance (how much you’re willing to potentially lose) and your financial goals. A financial advisor will help you figure out what to do by asking the right questions, getting to know you and your goals, and letting you know which options might best fit your situation.

 Find an investment management professional near you who can help you invest toward larger goals.

  • Find an expert
  • Investing and wealth management products are: Not FDIC Insured | No Bank Guarantee | May Lose Value | Not A Deposit | Not Insured by Any Federal Government Agency

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