If you don't have a bank account, you might be surprised to learn that you can open one with as little as $25. The 2015 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households found that 57% of the 15.6 million unbanked Americans thought that they didn't have enough money to keep an account. While this may be true for some, opening a regular checking or savings account doesn't require much money if you take the right steps --and online-only accounts cost even less.
Opening an Account at a National Bank
If you visit a large national bank like Chase, Bank of America or Wells Fargo, you'll need an opening deposit of $25 to open a standard checking account. As for fees, banks will offer you different ways to waive the account's monthly maintenance charge. One way is to keep a balance of at least $1,500 every day of the month, but parking that much money in the bank to dodge a $12 fee will be a hard sell for most people.
Instead, you can also waive the monthly fee by receiving a certain amount in direct deposits each month. The largest banks require at least $250 to $500 in direct deposits to avoid the fee --a much easier option than the $1,500 minimum balance. Direct deposits from your employer or benefits provider are free and don't take long to set up, so linking them to your new account should be the first order of business when you get started.
Savings accounts at these big banks also require an opening deposit of at least $25. Their monthly fees are around $5, but typically you won't be charged if you also hold a checking account at the same bank. For $25 per account, and at least $250 in monthly direct deposits, you can open and keep two standard checking and savings accounts at most major banks.
Opening Online-Only Bank Accounts
If you aren't receiving any direct deposits, there are even cheaper options for low-cost banking. Online-only banks provide all of their banking services through online and mobile apps, with no physical branch locations. Because they spend less to operate, online-only banks can offer checking accounts with no monthly fees. Most of them don't even require a minimum opening deposit, although you'll need at least $0.01 to earn interest on your balance.
If you're willing to give up access to in-person service with tellers and branch locations, an online checking account may be the most cost-effective solution. You don't need a set amount of money to start, and you don't have to worry about jumping through hoops to avoid monthly fees.
However, using an online account is a different experience from traditional banking. All of your business is conducted through the Internet, and you'll need to call by phone if you want to speak with someone about your banking. You can add funds to an online account via mobile check deposit and cash deposits at the bank's ATMs.
Online savings accounts also require no monthly fees or minimum balances, making them another good alternative to brick-and-mortar banking. However, you should make sure that the bank provides some way to move money in and out of the account without excessive transaction fees. Person-to-person transfer services and ACH transfers are a few of the most common ways online accounts receive funds.