Switching bank accounts doesn't have to be as complicated as some banks make it. These three steps will help you switch without the hassle.

Closing a bank account and opening a new one can be tricky.

Banks like to keep customers, so they make the closing process complicated.

A Consumer Reports survey found one in five customers opted out of switching banks because of the effort – not to mention possible fees. But sometimes it has to be done. And it’s easier than you think.

Follow the three steps and you’ll be able to switch banks with as little stress as possible.

1. Find a new bank account first

Open the new account before closing the old one. That way your automatic transactions can continue smoothly without a gap in between.

If you haven’t already picked a new bank, do some research on different banks’ requirements, perks, and fees. These tips for checking and savings accounts and for online bank selection should help.

Go into the bank in person if you can, rather than opening an account over the phone (unless your bank is online). You’re more likely to get all your questions answered.

Although requirements vary depending on the bank, you’ll want to bring:

  • An official photo ID like a driver’s license, state ID, or passport.
  • Your Social Security Number (you may not need your Social Security Card, unless the bank specifically asks for it).
  • Cash, check, or payment info (routing and account number) for the opening deposit.

The minimum you’ll need to deposit will depend both on the bank and the type of account you’re setting up.

If you’re looking for a low minimum amount, or no fee required to open an account, your best bet is an online checking or savings.

2. List and reroute any automatic transactions from your old bank

Now that you have a new bank account, it’s time to transfer your regular deposits and withdrawals. Start as soon as possible: this part may take a while if you have a lot of automatic transactions. It’s a good chance to review which services you’re spending money on (like video streaming services or memberships you forgot you had).

Here’s where your old bank statements come in handy. Get a list of your statements from the past year. Statements should be available online at your bank’s website if you don’t have paper copies.

This is a two-step process.

Step one: look over the past 12 months of transactions

Some automated transactions may be annual, so you might miss them in less than a year’s worth of statements. Note when deposits show up in your account and when payments are automatically withdrawn.

Keep some cash in the old account until this step is complete. You want to avoid missing scheduled payments or getting hit with overdraft fees. If you’ve written checks recently or if payments are pending, keep the old account open and funded until those payments clear.

Step two: switch over your deposits and payments

Once you know which deposits and payments to transfer, you can start switching them over to your new account.

If you get direct deposit from your employer, submit your new bank info (via a canceled check or just a routing and account number).

Reroute any automatic payments to your new account as soon as you can, since the change may take a few days or weeks to finalize. Some billers require notice up to a month in advance for new payment info.

3. Close the old account for good

Read up on your bank’s procedures for closing an account first. Some banks will let you close an account by mail, online, or over the phone; some require you to show up in person.

This list collects info on how consumers successfully closed accounts at multiple American banks. But since procedures may change, your best bet is to ask the bank directly how it’s done.

Close the account in person, if possible

I recommend closing the account in person if time and convenience allow.

A bank visit makes it easier for you to get the transaction in writing. “Zombie accounts” sometimes come back from the dead – a closed account might get reactivated if you forgot to reroute an automatic payment or if there’s a billing error. To minimize the risk of a zombie account haunting you, ask for a letter from the bank stating you closed the account.

Even if you have no funds in the account, you still need to formally close it. You may be able to close an empty account online by following the instructions on the bank’s website.

Make sure you get all the money from your account

If you have funds in the account you’re closing, the bank will usually write you a check for the amount of the balance, or just transfer funds to your new account.

Your bank may require a formal written request (such as a notarized letter) to close an account with an open balance. You may also have to go to the bank in person to pick up the check. Give the money one to two business days to transfer. A wire transfer’s faster, but it costs more.

Make sure closing the account won’t affect your credit score!

If you owe money on the account you’re closing, you won’t be able to shut it down until you pay the balance and any fees.

The bank might close an account with a negative balance after a month or so, but don’t wait for this to happen – it will negatively impact your credit. You want a neat, clean closure.

When should you switch bank accounts?

You’re merging finances with a partner

In a committed relationship where you have decided to split expenses, a joint bank account can save you money and time (many people merge accounts after marriage or entering into a domestic partnership).

You might combine finances in a brand new account, or join your partner’s existing account if their bank has more of the services you need.

The fees are too high

With so many banks offering fee-free checking accounts and dropping fees from high-yield savings accounts, you don’t need to stick with a bank that piles on fees.

For example, if you keep getting hit with overdraft charges despite your best intentions, look for a bank with minimal (or zero!) overdraft fees (or one without minimum balance requirements). Similarly, if you use cash frequently, pick a bank with no ATM fees.

Another bank’s features work better for your needs

It’s normal for financial situations and priorities to change, and your banking needs might change with them.

Whether you want an account that connects to a budgeting app, offers a significantly higher interest rate over time, rewards you for better credit, works with poor credit, or lets you complete all your transactions online, there are plenty of options if your current account lacks features you need.

The bank isn’t FDIC-insured

Most banks and other financial institutions have insurance from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which protects your money up to $250,000 in case the bank fails. (They’ll mention FDIC coverage somewhere on their website, or you can see which banks are covered here). A lack of FDIC coverage is a security red flag.

You’re relocating

If you’re moving and your current bank doesn’t have physical branches near your new location, it’s often more convenient to switch – either to a big-ticket bank with branches all over the world, a local community bank in your new area, or an online-only bank.

You don’t agree with your bank’s values

Social responsibility is a big deal to a lot of consumers, and if your bank supports a cause or makes a decision you don’t agree with, you may want to put your money where your values are.

I switched from a national to a local bank for this reason with no issues (it wasn’t even awkward when I told the teller at my former bank why I was switching).

Summary

Closing your bank account and opening a new one can be a pain, but if you take the right steps and make sure you do everything correctly, it doesn’t have to be a huge hassle.

If you’re wondering why you should switch banks in the first place, here’s five solid reasons you should consider finding a new one.

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Amy Bergen Writer
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Amy Bergen is a writer and editor based in Portland, Maine. She's interested in technology, literature, and how the world will change in the future. You can reach Amy on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.