Financial Skills – Opening a Bank Account
I was surprised when I asked parents to tell me the life skills they wish their kids knew, and there was a resounding request for kids to learn how to open a bank account.
Similarly, there was a huge call out for:
- How to budget & balance accounts
- How to write checks and pay bills
- And how to start saving for retirement
It seems some of the things we take for granted are, as a result, missing from what we teach kids.
This article is the first article in the four-part series and will discuss the best and simplest way to get started with opening a bank account.
It seems easy, but there are several questions many people never think of that we’ll address in this article:
- Which bank?
- Checking or savings account?
- Are there fees or minimum balances?
- Should I get a Debit Card too?
- Should I have my name on the account with my kid?
1. Choosing a Bank
When you choose a bank, there are a few criteria you’ll want to look at:
- Number of branches
- Ease of access
The location should be convenient to your home, but also have enough branches so that – in the case of an emergency – you can get to your bank.
I opened an account with Elevations Credit Union when I was attending CU Boulder. It was convenient and credit unions are really great to bank with. However, after I graduated and moved, there were no branches around me, which made things very inconvenient. I ended up opening an account with US Bank since they are in about every King Soopers, where I do my grocery shopping.
This is especially important with kids because you don’t want them to have to drive too far just to bank.
Similarly, ease of access into the branch is important. I remember having a Norwest (now Wells Fargo) account, and getting in and out of the bank’s parking lot was terrible. I had several near-miss car accidents and dreaded even going to the bank.
2. Checking or Savings Account
As you’ll learn in the future article about saving and budgeting, there should be an account that is used for saving and investing.
That means it’s important to have BOTH a checking and savings account.
The reason a checking account is important, is so that kids can learn how to write checks, and have a designated spending account aside from a designated savings account.
Checking accounts are important for paying bills (be it online or via mail) and will give kids the opportunity to learn how to write checks. Even if check writing isn’t as prevalent as it once was, it’s still important.
I was shopping one day and realized I forgot my wallet, which had my credit cards and cash. I started to panic because I needed some food. Fortunately, I keep a couple of checks in the car and was able to save myself by writing a check… they still come in handy!
3. Fees & Minimum Balances
Some banks have fees to have an account and others don’t. Obviously get the one that doesn’t since your kid shouldn’t have a huge account. Likewise make sure there isn’t a minimum balance or a very small ($10 or less) minimum balance.
Just as important is how overdrafts are handled!
When I was in college, it never failed: my peers (who hadn’t learned how to balance an account) would routinely trigger their overdraft protection and the hefty fees that went along with it.
They would look at their balance online and it would show $10. Then they’d check it again a few days later and it was at $30.
It was the magical growing bank account; and they never wondered where the extra money came from. Until the end of the month when they had over $200 in overdraft protection fees!
I would suggest NOT getting overdraft protection and instead making darn sure they can balance their account (which we’ll cover in a future article).
4. What About a Debit Card?
Here’s my thoughts on kids having debit cards: it makes it much, much harder to balance the bank account while making it much easier to overspend and run into trouble.
Are ATM machines convenient? Yes, but I have never once used one in my entire life. Part of teaching kids life skills is to teach them to be prepared. I keep an extra $10 in cash plus a few checks in my car. It wouldn’t bother me if it got stolen.
If you’re determined that your kid gets a debit card, wait at least six months after opening their account so they can learn “the old fashioned way” and understand how the debit card affects their account when they actually start using it.
5. Should I Be On The Account Too?
I think it’s a very good idea for you to be on your kid’s first account so you can monitor their spending and make sure they don’t cause a train wreck.
It’s good to get statements so that you can use that as a learning experience to go over them with your kid and teach them how to properly dispose of them (in a shredder) so that they decrease their risk of identity theft.
Come up with a time frame or benchmarks until you pull yourself off the account and let your kid take on the responsibility of an individual account.
Opening a bank account is a huge step into a new world for kids and it should be a great experience. Walk your kids through the setup and look for the learning opportunities along the way.