• Money Matters
  • Banking 101

Opening Your First Checking Account

Opening a checking account is one of life's milestones. In spite of the wide use of credit, there are many situations where only a check will do. Here are some guidelines for opening your college checking account.

Opening a Checking Account

Opening a checking account is not difficult. You'll need to fill out the bank's forms and deposit some money. Most banks request a Social Security Number, but some allow for alternative forms of identification.

When you open your account, the bank will issue you temporary checks, which do not show your contact information. When using these checks, you'll need to write your name and address on each check as you use it. You will usually order printed checks at the time you open your account, because many merchants will not accept temporary checks. Most banks will also give you an ATM card, so you can get cash and make deposits at the bank's ATMs.

Checking Accounts with Debit Cards

The bank may also offer you a "debit" card, which you can use to make purchases from merchants that accept them. Unlike credit cards, which you pay when you get a statement of your charges, the debit card charge is deducted from your checking account within a few days. Debit cards can be a useful consumer tool for students since they allow convenient cash-based spending. Plus they provide the student with a spending record of where that cash went. Find out more about debit cards in the CollegeData article Using a Debit Card.

The Right Way to Write Checks

When writing a check, fill in all of the blank spaces and draw a line through any unused spaces. Be sure to write the check amount both as a number ($25.00) and spelled-out (twenty-five dollars). Always sign your checks as you write them. Never sign a blank check. If you make a mistake while writing a check, write "VOID" in large letters across the check, note the voided check in your checkbook, tear up and dispose of the check so that no one else will be able to use it, and write a new check.

Protect Yourself from Overdraft Charges

Once you begin writing checks or using your debit card, consider recording every check amount, deposit, and debit (withdrawal) in your check register. That way you can more easily reconcile your monthly statement from the bank with your own running balance. Both banks and merchants can charge you fees for bouncing a check or using your debit card with insufficient funds in your account. You can arrange for overdraft (bounced check) protection at your bank. This provides an automatic loan or transfer of money from your savings account to cover any overdrawn amount. You usually pay a fee for this service, but at least your check won't bounce.

Financial information contained on the CollegeData website is for general informational purposes only and may not apply to you or your situation. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any financial content contained on the CollegeData website without consulting with a financial or tax advisor, or your parents, high school counselors, admissions representatives or other college counseling professionals. We disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on any content on the CollegeData website.