Having a bank account can provide a solid foundation for your financial life. It can make it easier to pay bills, track spending, and get paid if you’re enrolled in direct deposit. But how can you know you’re putting your money at a financial institution that’s the right fit for you?
If you’re interested in moving to a new bank or you’re opening a bank account for the first time, it’s important to do your research first. That starts with knowing what questions to consider when opening a checking account or savings account. Asking the right questions can make it easier to choose an account that fits your needs.
Read on to learn the key questions to ask, as well as the answers to look for, before you open a new bank account.
Get up to $250 towards your holiday shopping.
Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account with direct deposit and get up to a $250 cash bonus. Plus, get up to 4.60% APY on your cash!1
The Importance of Choosing a Reliable Bank
Where you choose to keep your money matters when it comes to things like convenience, benefits and features, and cost. Ideally, you want to choose a bank that:
• Has a good reputation
• Is fee-friendly or fee-free
• Offers a good selection of products and services
Does that mean you have to choose a brick-and-mortar bank? Not necessarily. Online banks can be just as reliable as traditional banks or credit unions, and often charge fewer fees. The difference, however, is that online banks usually lack a physical presence.
It’s also important to choose a bank that’s going to keep your money safe. That means banks that are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or credit unions that are insured by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).
These institutions insure deposits against the rare event that a bank or credit union fails. The primary difference between the FDIC vs. NCUA is where deposits are insured. Coverage limits extend up to $250,000 per depositor, per account ownership type, per financial institution.
10 Questions to Ask a Bank Before Opening an Account
Ready to get your new accounts set up? Here are 10 of the most important questions to ask a bank before opening an account.
1. What Are the Options for Accessing Accounts?
One of the most important questions to ask when opening a checking account or savings account centers on how you’ll be able to deposit or withdraw money. It’s a good idea to know what options you have, which may include:
• Branch banking
• Phone banking
• Online and mobile banking
• ATM access
If you’re opening an account at a traditional bank, you may ask a secondary question about where branches are located. With an online bank, you might want to review features like direct deposit, mobile check deposit, or whether you can deposit cash at an ATM.
2. What Is the Minimum Deposit to Open an Account?
It’s not unusual for banks to impose minimum deposit requirements for new and existing customers. So what is a minimum opening deposit? It’s just an amount of money that you’re required to deposit upfront as a condition of opening your account.
The amount of money needed to open a bank account typically varies from institution to institution. At online banks, the sum might be as low as $1 or even $0, while traditional banks might set the minimum at $25, $50, or more. Credit unions may require a $5 minimum to join and open a savings account, with a different minimum for checking accounts.
3. What Are the Fees for the Account?
One of the ways banks make money is by charging fees, so you’ll want to be clear on what you might pay to have your account upfront. Some of the most important fees to ask about include:
• Monthly maintenance fees for checking and savings accounts
• Overdraft fees and returned item fees
• Check ordering fees
• Paper statement fees
• Excess withdrawal fees, if you’re opening a savings account (these may be triggered by more than six withdrawals per month)
• Wire transfer fees
You may be able to find a copy of the bank’s fee schedule on its website. If not, you can ask the bank to provide you with a list of fees. That way, you can review them before opening an account.
4. Is Overdraft Protection Offered?
Overdraft occurs when your checking account balance ends up in negative territory. Your bank can charge an overdraft fee for each item that exceeds your balance. One option for avoiding overdraft fees is enrolling in the bank’s overdraft protection.
That feature allows you to link a savings account to your checking. Then, if you’re in danger of an overdraft, the bank can transfer money over for you. The bank might charge you a fee to transfer funds, but the fee is usually less than the typical overdraft fee.
5. How Large Is the ATM Network?
If you routinely visit the ATM for cash, then you’ll want to ask the bank how large its network is and where you can complete transactions fee-free. It’s also a good idea to ask what fees you might pay for using an out-of-network ATM; the fee typically runs between $2 and $3.50 per transaction. You may also want to check whether any of those fees might be refunded to you at the end of the statement cycle.
6. Are There Transaction Limits?
Here’s another in the list of what questions to ask when opening a bank account: What are the transaction limits? This will let you know how much money can move in and out of your account over a set time period. Some of the transaction limits you might want to ask about include:
• Debit card purchases
• Cash withdrawals at ATMs
• Cash withdrawals at a teller
• ACH transfers
• Wire transfers
• Deposits, including direct deposits, ATM deposits, or ACH deposits
Banks can impose daily, weekly, or monthly limits on different types of transactions so it’s helpful to know what they are beforehand. You don’t want to be stuck trying to withdraw cash or make a large purchase, for example, only to find that you’ve already exceeded the allowed limit.
7. Do Accounts Earn Interest?
Savings accounts, money market accounts, and certificate of deposit (CD) accounts typically earn interest. If you’re interested in one of these accounts, it’s important to look at the interest rate vs. APY to see how much you could earn. Also of course check other details such as minimum deposit and account fees to make sure you get the best deal for your situation.
This is also a wise question to ask when opening a checking account. While some banks offer interest checking, those accounts are more of an exception than the rule. But if you’re specifically looking for interest-bearing checking, then you’ll want to ask the bank if that account option is available. You may find the best high-interest checking accounts at online banks and credit unions.
Recommended: Different Ways to Earn More Interest on Your Money
8. What Documents Are Needed to Open an Account?
Banks ask for certain information when opening an account. Knowing what you’ll need can save time during the account opening process. A typical bank account opening checklist includes:
• Personal information, such as your name, date of birth, and address
• Social Security number and birth date
• Government-issued photo ID
• Bank account information if you’re making your initial deposit via an ACH transfer.
What if you’re opening a bank account for someone else to use? For example, what if you’re setting up a checking account for your teen, but you’re listed as the account owner? In that case, the bank might ask for some information about your child, like their name and date of birth.
9. Are Accounts FDIC- or NCUA-Insured?
As mentioned, the FDIC and NCUA insure deposit accounts against losses in case a bank or credit union fails. While it’s rare to find a bank or credit union that isn’t insured, it’s still a good idea to double-check and make sure you’re protected. An easy way to tell if a financial institution is covered is to look for FDIC or NCUA signage at a branch or on its website.
10. What Other Banking Products and Services Are Offered?
When opening a bank account, consider what else the bank or credit union offers besides checking and savings. For example, you might be interested in:
• Credit cards
• Home loans
• Auto loans
• Student loans
• Personal loans or lines of credit
• Business loans
• Retirement products
• Investment accounts
• Wealth management services
Looking at the bigger picture can help you to find a bank that fits where you are in life currently and where your financial goals might take you down the line. If you know you may need one or more of these products in the not too distant future, it could be wise to open your account at a place where you can easily access these offerings.
Setting up a new bank account shouldn’t be a headache. Knowing which questions to ask and answer can make the process easier and help you determine which financial institution best meets your needs. It’s also helpful to compare accounts from different banks to get an idea of what each one has to offer.
If you’re interested in banking online, you might consider opening an online bank account with SoFi. You’ll pay no account fees while earning a great APY on deposits, both of which can help your money grow faster. And it’s super convenient: You can quickly open an account online and then spend and save in one place with our Checking and Savings account.
How much money do you need to open a bank account?
The amount of money you need to open a bank account can depend on the bank. At online banks, for instance, you might be able to open an account with as little as $1 or even no money at all. Traditional banks, on the other hand, might require $25 or more for a minimum opening deposit.
Is there a fee for closing a bank account?
Banks can charge a fee for closing an account if it hasn’t been open very long. For instance, you might pay a fee if you open a new account and then close it within six months. If there’s an account closing fee, it should be included on the bank’s fee schedule, so check their details or contact customer service.
Are online banks better than traditional banks?
Online banks can offer some advantages that you don’t always get with traditional banks. For example, online banks may not charge any monthly maintenance fees for checking or savings accounts. Initial deposit requirements may be lower, and interest rates for deposit accounts might be higher. Traditional banks, however, can offer branch banking access, so that’s something to weigh in the balance when deciding where to open an account.
Photo credit: iStock/Sakibul Hasan
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.
SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.
SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.
SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.
Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.
Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet..