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How to open a savings account: Here are the steps to take

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By TJ Porter, Bankrate

Opening a savings account is an important step on the path toward a healthy financial life.


Almost every bank and credit union in the U.S. offers a savings account. These accounts are not only a great way to keep your money safe, but they help grow your savings through the interest they pay.
If you want to open a savings account, whether you're saving for a specific goal or want to set some cash aside for a rainy day, this step-by-step guide will help you get started.

How to open a savings account (step-by-step)

Banks and credit unions do their best to make it easy to open a savings account. Here are the steps you usually have to take.

1. Compare your options

There are many financial institutions that offer savings accounts. Before you open your account, make sure you've chosen the right bank for your needs. Look for some of these key features when making your choice:
  • Competitive interest rate
  • Low or no minimum balance requirement
  • Low or no monthly fee
  • If there's a monthly fee, is it easy to avoid?
If you already have a checking account, it's often easy to open a savings account at the same bank. Still, it's worth comparing other options to make sure your bank is offering a reasonable deal with competitive terms.

2. Gather required documents

When you open any bank account, you'll need to provide some information about yourself, as well as some documents. Make sure you have the following information ready when you go to open the account in-person or online.
  • Identification, such as a driver's license or passport
  • Social security number
  • Date of birth
  • Address (and a proof of address, if your ID lists a previous address)
  • Contact information
  • Bank account information to fund your new account, if applicable

3. Choose a joint or individual account

If you're opening an account for yourself, open an individual account. If you're opening a savings account with another person, such as your spouse or your child, you should open a joint account.
Joint accounts offer a few benefits.
  • Easier for your joint account holder to access the funds in the account
  • Higher level of FDIC insurance (up to $500,000 instead of $250,000)
The joint account holder should bring the same documentation when you open the account.


4. Fund your account

In opening a savings account, you will need to make an initial deposit. If you're opening the account in person you can usually do this with cash or a check. The catch is that some banks have a minimum opening deposit requirement. Typically, the minimum deposit is in the range of $25 to $100. Depending on your financial situation, it might be hard to come up with the cash required to open an account.

On top of the minimum opening deposit, some savings accounts charge a monthly maintenance fee that can eat away at your savings. To avoid these fees, many banks require that the account holder have a minimum balance of a few hundred dollars.

When you're opening an account, make sure you deposit enough to meet the minimum opening deposit and keep a big enough account balance to avoid any maintenance fees.

5. Submit your application

Submit your application with all of the required information and wait for the bank to open your account. This usually happens quickly, and you can start making additional deposits and withdrawals within a day or two.

6. Set up online banking

Almost every bank and credit union offers some form of online banking these days. It makes it very easy to check your balance, transfer money, and manage your account. Sign up for an online banking account and download the bank's app to your phone for on the go access.

Can I open a savings account online?

Most banks and credit unions let their customers do their banking online, and that includes opening a new account over the internet.

Some banks operate solely online and don't have any physical locations. That means that you can open a savings account without ever leaving your home.

Many online-only banks offer the best savings account deals, with low minimum balances, low or no maintenance fees, and high interest rates. Some of the top online banks, like Ally and Radius, pay rates over 1 percent and charge no maintenance fees. They also claim that it takes just minutes to open an account.

If you're tech-savvy and don't mind doing all your banking from a phone or computer, online savings accounts are a great choice. People who are more comfortable with doing their banking in-person might be better off with a traditional bank.

How to choose the best savings account

Choosing the best savings account is important because the right account can help you make the most of your savings.

Interest rate

One of the top things to look for is the interest rate. The higher the rate, the faster your savings will grow. Consider this example:

You have $10,000 to save and open a savings account at a bank that pays 0.10 percent APY. Over the course of a year, you'll earn $10 in interest. If you choose an account that offers 1.10 percent APY, you'd earn $110 instead, or $100 more per year.

Fees

Monthly fees are another important consideration. Some banks charge a monthly maintenance fee unless you meet certain requirements. Typically, the requirements involve making a minimum number of transactions or maintaining a balance above a threshold amount.

If you deposit $500 to an account that charges a $5 monthly fee, by the end of the year you'll have $440, a loss of more than 10 percent of your initial balance. Your money might not be as safe as you think it is if you have to worry about fees eating away at your balance. Look for accounts with no monthly fee.

Reason for saving

Finally, consider your reason for saving.

If you want to build an emergency fund that you can access at a moment's notice, opening an account with the bank that you have a checking account with makes a lot of sense.

If you're saving for a specific goal and don't need easy access to the funds, it makes more sense to shop around for the best rates or to choose an online bank. You can get a better interest rate, which accelerates your progress toward your goal.

Bottom line

Savings accounts are valuable tools for people who want to set aside extra cash for a goal or a rainy day. Consider all of your options, including small local banks and online banks, and look for the account that offers the best interest rates at the lowest cost. Taking the time to do some comparison shopping can save (or make) you a lot of money.

See more at Bankrate

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