One of the assumptions many of us have is that anyone can open up a checking account, and enjoy the benefits of free checking.
While it is true that most consumers can open a checking account, whether or not you end up with free checking is something that is decided according to your consumer profile, and other information.
ChexSystems and Your Checking Account
One of the first things you have to realize is that some banks make use of a consumer reporting agency called ChexSystems. When you overdraw your account, or have a bounced check, the information is recorded with ChexSystems. Banks that make use of the reporting agency can then check to see what problems you have had in the past. If it appears that you regularly overdraw your account, the bank might decide not to allow you to open a checking account.
Your Credit Report and Your Checking Account
Even though you aren’t asking for credit when you open a checking account, some financial institutions still decide to check your credit report. A poor credit report can mean that you don’t qualify for a free checking account. This can be disappointing. However, a bank might be wary of your past financial problems, and decide that it would be too costly to work with you.
Second Chance Checking
In some cases, you might be offered a second chance checking account, instead of a “regular” free checking account. You might have to pay a monthly fee for one of these accounts. Some banks will “upgrade” your account to free checking if you go long enough without incident on your second chance account. However, you normally have to ask to have your account status changed. Most financial institutions won’t just do it for you automatically. After several months, you can ask for an account review, and find out if you have some other options.
Prepaid Debit Card
As some of the requirements for a free checking account become a little more onerous, some consumers are turning to prepaid debit. These cards can often take the place of a bank account for the unbanked. You might have to pay a monthly fee, though. You can compare the monthly fee — and other fees that often come with prepaid debit — to the monthly fee on a second chance checking account.
Run the numbers to see what makes sense. In some cases, prepaid debit can be a lot like a bank account. You can get cash from an ATM, have your paycheck directly deposited to the card, and even arrange bill pay. However, there are a number of pitfalls associated with prepaid debit, so you do need to be careful.
Improve Your Financial Habits
If you want to make sure that you can qualify for a free checking account, you need to show good financial habits. More and more, banks are profiling consumers, and looking for indications about how they will behave. Make sure that you strive to live within your means, and try to avoid overdrafting your bank account, or racking up debt. That way, you will have less to worry about when it comes to qualifying for a bank account.