How to Open and Use a Checking Account

Tips for using a checking account to pay bills and manage your money

You got your first job and need a place to deposit your money. Sounds like you need to open a checking account. Using a checking account can help you to make purchases, pay bills, and keep track of your spending, especially when you choose an account with features that best fit your needs. It's a good idea to talk to your parents, family members and friends about where they have accounts. You can also do research online or visit your local branch to learn about their checking products.

How to use a checking account

Once you open a checking account, you will have different options for accessing your money to get cash, make purchases or pay bills. Here's what you need to know about each option:

  • Your debit card: When you open a checking account, you will most likely be issued a debit card (and PIN number) that will enable you to make purchases similar to a credit card. The difference is that the purchases are not billed to you later; rather, they are paid directly from the balance in your checking account. You will also be able to use your debit card with your PIN to withdraw money from your account using ATMs at your bank and other locations. However, be aware that there may be fees for using non-bank ATMs. Remember to keep your PIN number in a secure, private location and never give it out to anyone.
  • Choosing between debit and credit cards: Some stores will ask you if you want to use your debit card as a debit or credit card. The difference? Processing the payment as a debit card transaction requires your PIN number while processing as a credit card requires your signature (no PIN number necessary). Both come out of your checking account automatically.
  • Online Banking: Most banks offer you the chance to access your account through a secure connection online. You can usually move money between your accounts and transfer funds to other parties. You can also pay bills online to avoid the expense and hassle of mailing your payments. Most of the time these services are included in the pricing of your account.
  • Mobile Banking: Consider downloading the mobile banking application from Citizens Bank to handle daily account maintenance from your smart phone. You can check your balance, schedule transfers, find a branch and view automatic payments on your phone wherever you are. Plus, with our online banking guarantee, you know your transactions will be secure.
  • Checks. In addition to your debit card, you can also order checks for your checking account. Sometimes checks are free but you may have to pay based on the style you choose. Checks are still used for most payments sent by mail, but many people have replaced them with debit cards for day-to-day purchases.

How to write a check

If you need to write a check (to pay a bill or make a purchase) but don't know how, follow these simple steps:

  1. Write in the date on the "Date" line (in any format - such as mm/dd/yy - as long as it's legible).
  2. Write in the name of the company or person you are paying in the "Pay to the order of" line.
  3. Next to that line in the box after the dollar sign ($) write the amount in dollars and cents as follows: 25.50
  4. On the line that ends with the word "Dollars" write the amount in words for whole dollars (twenty-five) and a fraction for the cents (50/100). Fill the remaining space with an actual drawn line until you reach the word "Dollars." The line should read as follows: Twenty-five 50/100 Dollars
  5. Put your signature on the line in the lower right corner of the check.
  6. The "For" line is the spot to include the reason for the check. Usually if you pay a bill the company will ask you to put your account number or invoice number on that line. If you've made it out to a person, it can simply be used to remind you of why you wrote the check.
  7. Record your check in the Transaction Register that came with your checkbook, and deduct the amount of the check from your account balance.

Balancing your checking account

When using a checking account, it is very important that you keep track of your spending. Balance your checking account using the Transaction Register or create a spreadsheet on your computer. Subtract all payments (including checks you write and debit card transactions), fees and withdrawals from the amount of money you have in your account. Always make sure you have enough money in your account to cover your expenses BEFORE you write out a check or use your debit card.

Keep track of daily activity and balances on your account with Online or Mobile Banking. You can even set up alerts that will let you know when your balance reaches a set level so you can adjust your spending accordingly.

How to use a checking account safely

Be sure you keep your checking account number, debit card number and PIN number safe and secure. If you ever lose your debit card or think it has been stolen, call your bank immediately to cancel the card and they will issue you a new one. You should also take the time to educate yourself on how to prevent check fraud.

Open a checking account with Citizens Bank

Once you've decided what's important to you in a checking account, open an affordable personal checking account from Citizens Bank. To get started, call and talk to a customer service representative at 1-877-360-2472 or apply for a checking account online today. You may also choose to visit a local branch and open a checking account in person.