A PROJECT OF THE County of San Diego Health & Human Services Agency


People put money in banks because it is safer than at home and it earns interest (i.e., it makes you some money). Money kept at home can be lost, stolen or spent on unnecessary things. There are primarily two different types of accounts at most banks, Checking and Savings.

Savings Accounts

Savings accounts pay you interest on the money you have in your account. It’s basically a loan to the bank. Just as you pay interest when you borrow money from a bank or credit card company, the bank pays you money for the money you have deposited and thus loaned to the bank. The more money in your account the more interest you earn.

To open an account you will need your social security number and a minimum initial deposit (a small amount of cash or a check). The minimum initial deposit may vary from bank to bank and may also be waived by the bank manager if you ask. After you open the account you will receive an ATM card that you can use to deposit and withdraw money from your account. You will receive a monthly statement via email or in the mail that shows your savings and all the deposits and withdrawals you made that month.

Savings accounts are, as the name implies, designed for saving money. They are not designed to be used to pay your monthly expenses. Many savings accounts only allow a small number of withdrawals per month. If you exceed the allowed number of withdrawals, the bank will probably charge you a fee. Savings accounts are for putting money in as often as possible and taking money out as infrequently as possible, so you can save as much as possible. Some savings accounts require a minimum balance to be maintained. If your savings falls below this level the bank may charge you a fee. If you are charged any “extra” fees such as the minimum balance fee, talk to the bank manager. If you ask for the fee back, and it is a one time occurrence, bank managers will often refund you the fees. It never hurts to ask, especially when you are getting your money back.

Checking Accounts

Checking accounts are set up to allow you to put your monthly income in (i.e., deposit your pay check) and pay monthly expenses with checks, ATM cards or online. Often you will have just one ATM card for both your Savings and Checking accounts. When using the ATM make sure you select the correct account. You will also be supplied with a book of checks and check register. The check register is used to track all your deposits and withdrawals from your checking account so you can always keep you account “balanced”. It may take a few days to a few months for the money you have used by writing a check to show up in your monthly account statement. Thus it is possible for your Checking account to appear to have more money then you actually have. Thus the check register provides you with a way of knowing how much money you actually have (i.e., the money in your account minus the checks you have written but have not “cleared”).

It’s important to keep very good records of all your checking account transactions (e.g., deposits, checks, online payments and ATM withdrawals). If you write checks for more money than you actually have, the check will “bounce” and you will be charged a large fee, plus the person who tried to cash the check you wrote will not get their money that they are expecting and they may also charge you a large fee. Writing checks for more money then you have is called “bouncing a check”. This will affect your credit rating (that is, your ability to get a credit card, car loan, student loan, apartment, etc.). DO NOT BOUNCE CHECKS!!!

Lets balance your checkbook.  Click below for a checkbook calculator.


How to Write a Check

A check is like a contract that states you agree to pay an individual or business the amount indicated on the check. You sign the check as proof of authorization or acknowledgement of the contract.

Checks issued to you from your bank will have your name, address and sometimes phone number printed on the checks. Each check will have a unique number located in the upper right-hand corner and also at the end of the long number along the bottom of the check. The first set of numbers along the bottom is your account number. The second set of numbers is the banks routing number which is used by other banks to transfer money between financial institutions (i.e. banks).

Write the person or business name who will cash the check on the line next to Pay To The Order Of. Enter the date you wrote the check on the line next to the Date field. Do not “post date” checks (i.e. write a check with a later date because you don’t have enough money to cover the check now but will by the date you wrote). “Post dating” checks is illegal and can lead to bouncing of checks. Enter the amount of the check using numbers in the gray box. Write out the amount of the check on the line below the Pay To The Order Of line. Sign the check along the line at the bottom right corner. Add a note that will remind you of the purpose of the check on the line next to Memo.

How to Keep Track of Your Checks

A check register is used to keep track of each check you write along with all other transactions from your checking account (online bill pay, direct deposit, ATM withdrawals, etc.). Because the processing of a check (i.e. the removal of money from your account) is delayed, it is possible to write checks for more money then you actually have in your account. That is why it is absolutely necessary to keep track of all checking account transactions in your check register. The check register will show how much money you actually have, as opposed to how much your current balance is, which will not reflect newly written checks.


ATMs are very convenient and make your money easily accessible but they also have some potential pitfalls and safety concerns. Don’t forget to write down your ATM withdrawals in your check register so you don’t “bounce” a check. Always try to use your bank’s ATMs. It is possible to use another bank’s ATM, but the other bank will charge you a fee ($1.50 - $3.00). Your own bank will often charge you a fee as well. So it pays to use your bank’s ATMs.

Also, because ATMs are often in public spaces, it is important to be aware of your safety while using an ATM.

Here are a few tips to increase your safety:

  • If possible, use an ATM during the day or make sure to use a well lit ATM.
  • When depositing money, fill out the deposit envelop before approaching the ATM.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings. If someone seems to be hanging around the ATM area and they seem shady or sketchy, go another time or find another ATM.

Check Cards

Check cards are a new feature that banks offer their checking account customers. Check cards often substitute for an ATM card. They work just like an ATM card, but they also have a VISA or MasterCard logo on them that allows them to be used anywhere a VISA or MasterCard credit card is allowed. A regular credit card allows you to borrow money for each purchase that you pay back at the end of each month or pay very high interest on the balance that you did not pay off. Check cards take the money directly out of your checking account. They replace the need to write checks for most purchases. No more waiting for “Check Writers” at the supermarket.

Money Orders

If you do not have a checking account but need to pay for something with a check, you can go to the post office, bank or some supermarkets and get a money order. This is the same as a check, except you provide them with the cash and pay a small fee. Always keep the receipt stub from a money order so you have proof of your payment.