What to know about checking.

If you ever plan on writing a check or using a debit card, or simply need to store your money someplace where you have quick access to it, you'll want to open a checking account. Applying for this financial product can be as painless and straightforward as managing one. It's simply a matter of knowing where to get started.

Here's a look at the application process, as well as tips on how to use a checking account properly.

Gather personal information to apply

Most financial institutions, like Blue Ridge Bank, let customers apply for new checking accounts online. To open an account online, you typically have to be at least 18 years old and a U.S citizen. Others may have to apply in person. You'll need several pieces of personal information to confirm your identity, like your driver's license or state-issued ID, your Social Security Number and your address.

Applying for a new checking account can take as little as 10 minutes. You should hear back from the financial institution within a few days on whether your application was approved. 

Consider taking advantage of direct deposit, e-statements

Congratulations: You're now the proud owner of your very own checking account. Now what? To get the most out of it, consider signing up for direct deposit with your employer. Your paycheck will automatically go into your checking account — plus, some financial institutions will waive or reduce your monthly fee if you sign up for direct deposit. Signing up for electronic monthly statements, rather than paper forms sent through the mail, may also reduce your fees. 

Many checking accounts also come with debit cards, which means you won't need to carry cash around wherever you go. Just try not to lose it, as getting a new card could incur a replacement fee. Also, keep an eye out for checking accounts that come with refunds on ATM withdrawal fees;* otherwise, you'll be charged for using an out-of-network machine. Lastly, some checking accounts carry monthly service fees that can run from around $6 to$12 unless waived by the bank.

Be cautious about overdrafts

Misusing your checking account can also lead to fees. You will, for instance, be hit with an overdraft charge if you spend more money than is available in your account. One-time overdraft fees can cost you as much as $40, according to research firm Moebs Services. Don't fret if this happens once or twice, but avoid making a habit out of it

Check your account balance routinely. Many financial institutions offer mobile banking, which gives customers access to their accounts using their smartphones. If you think you're about to purchase something for which you may not have the necessary funds, just whip out your phone and check.

The bottom line

Once you get into the flow of things, managing your checking account will be a breeze. Just remember to take a glance at your balance on a regular basis. This will protect you against overdrafting and will ensure that you're the only person accessing your hard-earned dollars. 

—Tony Armstrong, NerdWallet

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