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What is a Checking Account? A First-timers Guide to Checking Accounts

What is a checking account

If you’re starting to take on financial responsibilities, chances are you’ve been told to get a checking account. But exactly what is a checking account and why do you need one?

The concept might be relatively new to you. But now that you’re taking on bills and managing your own money, it’s time to start exploring tools that can help you.

This guide covers everything you need to know about your first checking account so you can start your grown-up life on the right foot.

What Is a Checking Account?

Checking accounts are basic financial tools that help you keep track of your money.

You open an account with a bank and deposit your money into the account. When you need to access your money, you can make a cash withdrawal or use a debit card linked to the account.

When you use a debit card, the money comes directly out of your account. You do not receive a bill like you would a credit card.

Some checking accounts are free, but others cost money. If you’re a first-time checking account user, you should be able to get a basic or student account for free.

Benefits of a Checking Account

There’s more to a checking account than storing your money and paying for purchases. Consider the following benefits when exploring your options:

Online Banking

Most banks offer online banking features that let you bank from your mobile device or computer. You can log into your account remotely to check your balance, pay bills, transfer funds, and other actions.

Electronic Deposits

Your student loan or refund checks can end up in your account quicker with electronic deposits. Rather than waiting on a check, have the funds directly deposited into your account.

If you do get checks, you can use your mobile device to deposit checks without having to go to the bank.

Mobile Banking

Many banks have their own apps that let you bank from anywhere. Download your bank’s app and use it to check your account balance, deposit check, and other activities.

Automatic Bill Pay

If you want a hands-off approach to paying bills, you can set up automatic bill pay to streamline the process. It only takes a few minutes to set up for each bill and saves you from writing paper checks.

What You Need to Open an Account

Anyone can open a checking account if you have the right credentials.

For starters, you’ll need a driver’s license (or other government issued ID) and social security card. If you’re not 18 years of age, you may need a co-owner on the account. The co-owner will need to provide an ID and sign any necessary paperwork.

Banks require a minimum cash deposit at the time of opening the account. This amount can vary by bank, but it’s usually between $25-$50 for student checking accounts. You can deposit more than this if you have the funds available.

You will also need to bring proof of address, such as mail with your name on it. Another form of ID may also be required, such as a student ID.

Bring all of these things with you when you’re ready to open the account. The process usually takes about 30 minutes to an hour.

What to Look for in Your First Checking Account

Checking accounts can vary by bank. Take time to figure out what you want from a checking account to ensure you’re getting the best deal.

Here are a few things you might consider:

Overdraft Protection

Spending more than you have in your account can rack up costly fees that can sink you into debt even more. Even if you didn’t mean to overspend, banks aren’t too forgiving on their overdraft fees.

To avoid this, look for a checking account that offers overdraft protection. This can keep those expensive fees away so you don’t waste money on negligence.

ATM Fees

ATM fees are usually minimal, but they can add up quickly. For clients using their own bank’s ATMs, there may or may not be a fee.

However, if you use another bank’s ATM, you could be subject to fees from your bank and the ATM’s associated bank.

Find out how much your bank charges in ATM fees to know exactly how much a withdrawal will cost you.

Account Perks

Some banks offer perks with their checking accounts, such as a free gift upon opening an account.

You may also be eligible for a debit rewards program that lets you earn points each time you use your debit card. These points can be converted into prizes. Check with your bank to see if they participate in a rewards program like this.


Your bank’s location might be a deciding factor in whether or not you open an account. If you plan on visiting a physical branch often, it’s best to find a bank that has multiple locations near you.

Though online banking has reduced the need for local banking services, it hasn’t completely eliminated them.

Additional Fees

Too many bank fees can make your free checking account anything but free.

For example, if you close your account within six months to a year after opening, you could face an early closure fee.

Also, if your account remains dormant for an extended period of time, the bank may close your account, give the funds to the state in your name, and deduct a hefty fee from your balance.

Find out about other banks fees prior to opening an account so you can keep more money in your pocket.

Start Your Free Checking Account Today!

Maybe you’re a student ready to step out on your own for the first time. Or maybe you’re about to graduate high school and tackle the working world.

Whatever your needs, good money management is a skill that will follow you for a lifetime.

Now it’s time to move from “What is a checking account?” to “What is the best checking account for me?”

Explore your options for a checking account with our free comparison tool!

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