Stepping out into the world as an adult, it can be hard to tell where exactly adulting begins. When you come of age there are plenty of things you will need to do to establish yourself, support yourself, and help yourself grow. And when the field of options is so big, it can help to start small.

We’re here to help! is launching an “Adulting Series”. In this series of posts, we will be focusing on the various how-tos of adulthood, from building resumes to making shopping lists, pushing through elections and enduring holidays, breaking old habits and setting new ones. Our goal is to help you take the first steps into #Adulting!

We’ve chosen to start this series with the basics of bank accounts. Bank accounts are necessary for most aspects of adult life and are useful for learning financial responsibility. Whether you are depositing checks, saving, shopping, or doing everyday tasks, you will find life is easier with a bank account. So, let’s talk about what you will encounter when it comes to opening a bank account and what you’ll want to look for.

Types of Bank Accounts

There are three types of bank accounts you should consider: Checking, Savings, and Student.

Checking Accounts

A checking account is an account used to store and access the money you deposit. These accounts contain your money and keep it secure. With checking accounts you can access your money for daily transactional use with a debit card.

To open a checking account you need:

  • Your Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) – While not a legal requirement, most banks will ask for your SSN to confirm your identity.
  • A Government Issued ID – You must present a government-issued ID when opening a bank account. This can be a driver’s license, state ID, passport, alien registration card, etc. Birth certificates may also be accepted.
  • Proof of Address – You must present something with your address on it when opening a bank account. This will be the address on your account. This can be a piece of mail, bills, documents, etc.

Check with your intended bank or credit union to confirm which documents are required, as accepted documents may vary.

Savings Accounts

A savings account is an account used to store money for extended periods. Unlike checking accounts, savings accounts are not open for everyday transactional use. You can transfer money in and out of these accounts, but you cannot use them when shopping at the grocery store.

What you need to open a savings account:

  • SSN or ITIN
  • A Government Issued ID
  • Proof of Address
  • Bank Account Number and Routing Number – A checking account is usually a prerequisite for a savings account, as you need to be able to fund the account. Take note of your bank account number and routing number to present.

Student Accounts

Student accounts are checking accounts held by college students. These accounts exist to make money management easier for students, allowing them to work around issues like limited funds by offering special features like:

  • Waived monthly fees – Monthly fees do not apply to student accounts as they do to regular accounts.
  • No minimum balance requirement – There are no limits or penalties on your balance
  • Low initial deposit – Student accounts can be opened with a low initial deposit ($0-$50).

What you need to open a student account:

  • Your Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
  • A Government Issued ID
  • Proof of Address
  • Proof of Enrollment at a Qualified School – If you would like to open a student account, you must present proof of enrollment or acceptable intention to enroll. This can be a student ID, an acceptance letter, an enrollment form, etc. (accepted proof of enrollment may vary).

Banks with Student Accounts:

Choosing a Bank

What should you look for in a bank?

Choosing a bank should be a careful, informed process.

When choosing a bank, look for:

  • Member FDIC – You want a bank that is a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The FDIC insures deposits; examines and supervises financial institutions for safety, soundness, and consumer protection; makes large and complex financial institutions resolvable; and manages receiverships. This means that your money will be protected. Individual depositors can ensure up to $250k.
  • Large ATM Network – ATMs are a huge part of keeping a bank account. Choose a bank that has a large network of ATMs to be able to access your account at your leisure.
  • Nationwide Availability – Access is crucial. Look for a bank with nationwide availability (access to a bank location anywhere in the country) for optimal use.

Research products and services before committing to a bank, and if you want any further information, contact potential banks, or check out their websites.

Opening an Account

Eligibility Requirements for Bank Accounts

  • Age Requirements – You must be 18 years old to hold an independent account. Minors can hold an account jointly with a parent or guardian, but restrictions may apply. The age range for student accounts varies, usually falling around 17-24.
  • Fees (if applicable) – You must be able to pay any fees that come with opening an account.
  • Good Credit – While most banks will accept young adults with average credit or little to no credit, a bad credit score will make it more difficult to find a bank willing to accept you. If you intend to apply for loans, mortgages, an apartment, etc., you will need a good credit score.

Applying for a Bank Account Online

If you don’t want to apply in person, some banks and credit unions will allow you to apply online. You will still need the documentation required for in-person applications to verify your identity,  but website features should make this option relatively easy. Banks that allow you to open checking accounts online include:

Overdraft Protection

If you’re planning on opening a bank account, you’ll want to have overdraft protection.

When you “overdraft”, or make a withdrawal or transaction exceeding the amount in your account, your bank will either cover the remaining amount for the transaction or reject the transaction. If the bank chooses to cover the charge, you will owe the bank the amount covered, or the amount your account has overdraft. If your bank chooses to reject the transaction, you might still face non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees for attempting to make a transaction without the funds to pay for it.

Overdraft protection is an option provided by most banks that prevents the user from overdrafting by automatically denying insufficient transactions (unless given further approval by the user). Overdraft protection is provided by most banks and is useful because it will prevent the account holder from accidentally overdrafting and incurring overdraft penalties, like overdraft fees. In approving transactions that do overdraft the account, the account holder will invite these fees. Overdraft protection will also protect account holders from NSF fees.

Credit Card vs. Debit Card

What’s the difference?

While they look alike and have similar purposes, credit cards and debit cards are incredibly different in how they work.

A credit card is a bank-issued card that allows you to borrow money from the bank to pay for things. The money you use on the card is a loan, and there is an agreement between the cardholder and the bank that the money spent (plus interest and additional fees) on the card will be paid back either by the monthly billing date or over time.

A debit card is a bank-issued card that allows you to use the money you have in your checking account. The debit card acts as a wallet. It eliminates the need to carry around physical money and uses your own money in transactions. When you deposit money and checks into your checking account, you can then use the card to spend that money.

Which one should I get?

What kind of card you should have is dependent on your needs. Some people’s lifestyles are more suited to credit cards, while others do better with debit cards. There is also the possibility of having both.

Benefits of a Credit Card:

  • Borrowing – Credit cards are popular because they allow the user to borrow money that they otherwise would not have when they need it.
  • Building Credit – Credit cards are also a tool for building or maintaining your credit score. A good credit score will make many financial aspects of your life easier, like getting a loan or buying an apartment.
  • Options – There are also different types of credit cards for different purposes, some with amenities like rewards points and discounts, making them more versatile in general.

Benefits of a Debit Card:

  • Connected to Bank Account – Debit cards come with checking accounts. With them, you can access the money in your account, while credit cards do not have that ability.
  • No Debt – Debit cards are your own money, not money borrowed from the bank. This minimizes the bills and fees associated with your account and gives you more freedom to purchase what you want without fear of affecting your credit score or spending more than you can afford. As long as you don’t overdraft, your debit card should not put you in debt.
  • May not require checking or savings account – In addition to a standard card, there are two other types of debit cards: Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards and prepaid debit cards. While EBT cards are issued by state and federal agencies, a prepaid card is an easy to purchase, easy to use alternative to a bank card.

Opening your first bank account is an accomplishment to celebrate! There is no rush to become completely financially independent as a young adult, but once you’ve got this step-down, you are one step closer!

This is just the start of our Adulting Series and we will be bringing you content like this in the future! For more posts like this, check out our blog weekly, and look out for our next post “Making Your Own Appointments” on February 9. Make sure it hits your inbox by subscribing to our blog!

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