Getting an American bank account takes a little doing. But don’t worry. There are only a few steps between you and your very own bank account. The process for a savings account and checking account are basically the same. It’s definitely worth the effort.
Choosing the Right Bank
Generally, you can choose from big, physical banks (plenty of ATM’s, higher fees), online banks (plenty of ATM’s, lower fees, no cash deposits) and local credit unions (fewer ATM’s, lower fees). Each type of bank has its own benefits and drawbacks. You’ll have to decide if the benefits are worthwhile and if the drawbacks are deal breakers. But since many banks are similar, it’s probably wise to simply choose what’s most convenient for you. You can chase interest rates on your next bank account. Your first account should primarily focus on getting you in the habit of using it.
Applying for a Bank Account
To apply for a bank account you’ll need to locate a reliable financial institution to supply you with a savings and checking account. When you go in you’ll need your social security number. You’ll also need your current address and others where you have lived in the past five years. Other personal information, similar to what you would put on a credit card application will be needed too (like a valid email address). Although you can apply in person in most cases, you can also apply online in most cases. Filling in paper forms is sooo last century.
Considering the sensitivity of your personal financial information, it’s important to apply only over a secure internet connection. Make sure the bank you are dealing with is legitimate and FDIC or NCUA insured as well.
After submitting the application form, you will usually receive instant approval and account details via email, allowing you to start banking right away. If you have a less-than-stellar banking history, however, you could be denied.
Dealing a Negative Banking History
Banks use verification services like ChexSystems that work much like credit reports, recording any negative unpaid banking balances or other infractions. Also, if you apply for a new account each year, that may look suspect. You may get denied because of that. Infractions remain on the report for five years. Just as with a credit report, you have a right to obtain a copy of the report and dispute errors. Banks may also check your credit history for signs of fraud or identity theft.
If a bank denies your application and you cannot dispute the report. You should ask the bank about a second chance account. These bank accounts usually come with a probationary period that restricts access. Fees are generally higher. But, as with a secured credit card, you should be able to get a full access account within a year.
For most of us, opening a bank account is a simple, straightforward process. Just be sure to choose the right bank for your lifestyle and stay diligent about using it wisely. If you have any problems, ask why. Then ask the personal banker how you can get approved. It may take a little patience but remember, the first time is always the hardest. Your 2nd, 3rd, 4th accounts will be a breeze.
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