Getting Your First Checking Account

Teens sitting on bench outdoors checking mobile devices

Be a checking account smartypants.

Here is some basic, yet important, info you need to open a checking account. Not handling a checking account properly can screw up your credit, cost a ton in fees and just be an overall pain in the patootie – so let’s get you started right.

The basics

A checking account is different than a savings account because it sees more action. It allows you to get money out through your debit card and checks, so you can pay for things.

Points about checking accounts:

  • Many banks or credit unions have a minimum balance requirement (where you have to keep a certain amount of money in your checking account at all times). Luckily, Linn Area doesn’t have this. We require you deposit at least $50 to open the account, but after that we just want you to keep it above zero to avoid fees.
  • Some places charge you to simply have a checking account. (Why yes, that does stink and no, we don’t do that.)
  • When you open your account, we’ll give you some free starter checks and a free debit card.
  • You can open a checking account without a parent as a joint owner, but if you’re 17 and under, we have to give your parents a heads up.

Debit cards

  • A debit card looks like a credit card but works like a check.
  • When you use it, the money comes out of your checking account.
  • It can be used at an ATM, stores, gas pumps and to make online purchases.
  • You’ll receive a Personal Identification Number (PIN) in the mail along with instructions on how to change it to whatever you want. Make sure not to keep your PIN with your card – memorize it or keep it someplace safe.
  • Information about your card will arrive shortly after you set up the account and your brand-spankin’-new card will arrive several days after that. We also offer instant-issue debit cards in our branches, so it’s possible for you to walk out with a debit card the same day you open your account.
  • You can use your debit card for purchases as many times as you want with no fees. You can also withdraw cash from an ATM up to six times each month for free. If you’re not using a MoneyPass network ATM, you need to watch for surcharge fees. If you’re not sure whether a machine will charge you a fee or not, the screen will tell you that you will be charged to proceed with the withdrawal and will give you the option of canceling the transaction. If you do get charged, be sure to include this fee in your checkbook register.
  • If you ever lose your debit card, call us or stop by nearest branch ASAP. We will cancel your current card and issue a new one. Each replacement card costs $10, and it will be sent to your home in 7 to 10 business days. Your PIN will stay the same unless you request otherwise. To report a lost or stolen ATM/debit card when we’re not open, call the after-hours number.


When you sign up for a checking account, we offer you free starter checks. You’ll also be able to order a box of duplicate checks, the cost for which will be deducted from your checking account. What are duplicate checks? When you write out a check, you are left with a carbon copy of it for your records. People don’t write checks like they used to, but they are still needed on occasion. We encourage you to keep them on hand (and store them in a safe place). If you’ve never written a check and don’t know how, please call us or Google it.

Managing your account

The checkbook register

This is the grid-like book thingy that comes with your box of checks (and you can always stop by a Linn Area branch to get more). You need to write down every penny that goes in and out of your checking account, whether it’s through debit card, checks, ATMs, Bill Payer, online purchases, or at a Linn Area branch… and don’t forget to include any fees or interest! The whole point of the register is to always know exactly how much money you have available in your checking account. You can’t just go by the balance shown on ATM receipts or online banking because they only show your current balance – it doesn’t reflect purchases you’ve made that haven’t gone through yet.

Balancing your checkbook

This means going through all of your account’s activity and determining exactly how much money you have in there. It’s not an old-fashioned task – electronic methods of banking are no substitute. It’s the only way to truly know where your account stands.

The first few times you balance your checkbook, it might be confusing. You’ll get the hang of it, though. If you have any trouble, ask your parents for help or bring your stuff in to one of our walk-in branches and we’ll help you out. We can’t stress how important it is to stay on top of your spending and how quickly those overdraft charges add up!

Electronic services

We offer many awesome ways to keep tabs on your checking account. There’s online banking with Bill Payer, the mobile banking app, and some others that might trip your trigger. You can even set up mobile alerts through online banking to receive an email or text if your balance falls below a certain dollar amount or something happens in your account that you want to know about.

Important words. Lingo. Credit union slang.


If you spend more than you have in your checking account, you’ll become overdrawn (this means you have a negative balance). When this happens, your debit card will be denied wherever you’re trying to use it unless you opt in to overdraft services. If you choose to opt-in, it’s a $30 fee for each transaction that makes your account go negative, but you will not have your debit card denied – which can be pretty embarrassing. If you have money in savings that will cover the overdrawn amount, we’ll automatically transfer it to your checking, and the charge for that is only $2.14. Since you’re a math genius, you realize that’s less… so try to keep some money in savings, too, just in case you mess up in your checking account.

An item that makes your account overdrawn is called an overdraft. Each overdraft will cost you $30 smackers. Even if you only buy something that costs $4, if it overdraws your account, you have to pay the $30 fee for allowing your account to go negative. It’s super-important to learn how all this works, so be sure to get the full scoop on our overdraft services.

Getting in over your head with your checking account may lead to the credit union closing your account and it will make getting another checking account VERY difficult.

Bounced Checks

If you don’t have enough money in your checking account to pay the checks you wrote, your checks could bounce. This means we’ll “bounce” it back to the person or store you wrote the check to and the money will “bounce” back out of their account. Many retailers try to prevent bounced checks (sometimes called NSF checks meaning “Non Sufficient Funds”) so they will charge a fee as high as $35 per check to the person who wrote it. Don’t let this happen to you! You don’t want to have a $30 overdraft fee plus a $35 fee from the store! So keep track of the balance in your account in your checkbook register.

There’s a lot to learn and a lot of responsibility with a checking account. We’re always here to answer any questions if you have them. If you feel ready to take the plunge, take a minute to look over our checking accounts and find one that’s right for you. You may apply online or stop by any of our walk-in branches.

Apply for a Checking Account Now