Before you open a bank account, educate yourself on available options. Learn about the types of bank accounts, how best to use them, and key banking terminology.
There is no one bank that’s best for everyone. Choose a bank based on your needs. Are you looking for an online-only bank or one with branches you can visit in person? Do you want a large bank with lots of services and locations or a smaller institution that may have better rates and lower fees but fewer branches and services? Once you answer those questions, you can narrow your search and then look at reputable reviews to find the best bank for you.
Look for your routing number (also known as your ABA number) in the lower left part of a check or deposit slip from your personal checking account. It is a nine-digit number that identifies the bank to other banks so that they can collect funds when you write a check. The routing number is usually to the left of your account number.
There are several ways to deposit checks at most financial institutions. You may be able to deposit it in person at a branch, via a mobile app, or at an ATM. You’ll need to endorse the check by signing your name on the back, and you may need to fill out a deposit slip as well.
You can wire money through your bank to someone else in the U.S. or in another country. You’ll need to fill out a form from your bank, either in person or online, that lists your bank account number and the recipient’s name, account details, and routing number (for international transfers, you’ll need the SWIFT ID or BIC instead of a routing number). If the recipient is in the U.S., they may be able to get the funds the same day you make the transfer. Fees typically run from $15 to $50.
You can stop payment on a check any time before it has been cashed. You’ll need to call your bank and give them the check number, amount, payee, and date. You’ll also need to pay a fee ($30 is typical) and follow up on your request in writing. The bank will flag the check and reject it if anyone tries to cash it. Most stop check orders last for about six months.
An overdraft occurs when a transaction exceeds your available balance, and your bank or credit union covers the cost with the expectation that you’ll make good on the amount it fronted you.
Compound interest is interest earned from the original principal plus accumulated interest. Not only are you earning interest on your beginning deposit, you're earning interest on the interest.
A beneficiary is the person(s) or entity that you designate to receive assets after your death. If you don't name a beneficiary, your assets will go to the person designated next in line by your state or by the institution that holds those assets.
A money order is a paper document, similar to a check, used as payment. You buy a money order by giving cash or other guaranteed funds to a cashier at a bank, post office, supermarket, or drug store. They issue you a check that you can give or send to someone who can deposit it in their bank account or exchange it for cash at a business or post office. Money orders have lower limits than cashier's checks.
Cashier’s checks are checks that banks issue and guarantee, making them more secure for the recipient than a personal check. They're similar to money orders, but have much higher limits and require a bank account. Your bank or credit union prints a cashier's check with the name of the payee and the amount. The recipient can then cash it at their bank.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is an independent agency created by the U.S. government that is designed to protect consumers in the U.S. financial system. The FDIC is best known for deposit insurance, which helps protect customer deposits in case a bank fails.
A time deposit is an interest-bearing bank account that has a set maturity date or term on it. To earn the stated interest rate in a time deposit, you must keep your money in the account for a fixed term. A certificate of deposit is the most common type of time deposit.
Neobanks are financial technology firms that offer internet-only financial services and lack physical branches. The offerings of a neobank are usually limited compared to traditional banks—sometimes to no more than a simple checking and savings account. But neobank customers often enjoy fewer fees and higher-than-average interest rates.
An interest checking account is a type of checking account that earns interest on your account balance. As long as the requirements to earn interest are manageable, the interest benefit of these accounts gives savers an opportunity to grow their deposits on autopilot.
A money market account is essentially a high-interest savings account that has some of the features of a checking account. You'll usually get checks or a debit card, and you can make a few transactions each month, but often not as many as you could make with a typical checking account.
ChexSystems is a specialty consumer reporting agency that banks use to determine the level of risk that a potential customer might present to the institution. It is the banking equivalent of a credit reporting bureau.
Automated clearinghouse (ACH) payments are electronic payments to a biller that pull funds directly from your checking account. Instead of writing out a paper check or initiating a debit or credit card transaction, the money moves automatically.