Office of Financial Empowerment
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Checking Accounts

A checking account allows you to write checks or use a debit card to pay bills or purchase items. Opening a checking account at a bank or credit union can be an easy three-step process.


  • STEP 1: Find the right bank or credit union account for you.
    Just as you should go to more than one store to find the best deal, the same care should go into choosing a financial institution that fits your needs. Visit several financial institutions at locations that are convenient for you and compare their checking account product offerings. As a starting point, look for these ideal account features which can help you save money:
  • Reasonable monthly maintenance or service fee (under $5), or fees that can be waived
  • Free use of in-network ATM, and ATMs located where you need them
  • No monthly fees to use debit card
  • No overdraft fees
  • Low minimum balance and initial deposit requirements (under $100)

    Be sure to request and review required disclosures about fees because financial institutions may charge high fees for:

  • Not maintaining required minimum balance or meeting required terms
  • Replacing lost cards
  • Withdrawing cash from out-of-network ATMs
  • Overdrawing your account (overdraft or non-sufficient funds)

  • STEP 2: Complete application form.
    Most financial institutions require potential customers to complete a short application. Applications usually request basic information, such as your name, address, and date of birth. Financial institutions will usually need at least one form of identification (for example, a driver's license, state ID, or passport) to prove you are who you say you are and proof of address such as a utility or phone bill. You may ask the financial institution in advance (by calling or visiting their Web site) to see what forms of ID they accept so you bring the right documents with you.

  • STEP 3: Make a deposit.
    Depending on the type of checking account, the financial institution may ask you to make a minimum deposit so you can start writing checks. However, if it's a "free" checking account, the amount you deposit is up to you.

If you are applying in a branch, the representative will let you know whether or not you can open an account that same day. If you are approved, the financial institution will give you an account number and a starter book of checks. You may receive a debit or ATM card in the mail in the next few business days. You will have to activate the card before using it; you may be issued a Personal Identification Number (PIN) or you may need to create your own. Keep your account information in a safe place to prevent identity theft. Keep track of the balance in your account with these helpful tips or visit a free Financial Empowerment Center to get help balancing your checkbook.

If you have had problems managing your accounts in the past, you may have been reported to ChexSystems, a consumer reporting agency that collects information on how people have managed their accounts in the past five years. If you have negative information in your ChexSystems report, this can affect your ability to open a checking account quickly. If you are denied, or if you are concerned that you may be denied, ask the financial institution what they may require you to do to open an account. For example, they may ask you to pay the outstanding debt you owe to a previous bank or credit union before allowing you to open an account with their institution.

If you would like to order a free copy of your ChexSystems consumer report to see what information has been reported, visit or call 1-800-428-9623. You may dispute inaccuracies found in your report and use this information to help identify any outstanding debt you may owe. Counselors at the City's free Financial Empowerment Centers can help you order your report, and address or dispute items. Counselors can also help you open the NYC SafeStart Account, a safe starter banking account. Note: The NYC SafeStart Account is not a checking account.