Investing & Finance

Basic banking

Concerned about not being able to afford to open and maintain a bank account? You are not alone. Many consumers have trouble getting financial services because they cannot meet a financial institution’s requirements. This can cause big problems — for example, if seniors cannot cash their Social Security checks because they cannot open a bank account. They may not even have the minimum amount required to open an account.

Fortunately, New York enacted a law statewide in 1994 that requires banks to offer lower-cost banking services. All banking institutions in the state, including commercial banks, savings banks and credit unions, are required to offer basic banking accounts, commonly known as "lifeline accounts," to all customers.

As the cost to maintain a checking account continues to rise and banks continue to consolidate, lifeline banking becomes more important than ever.

Read on for a brief description of what a lifeline account should provide. If you are having difficulty finding a bank that will let you open a lifeline account, we encourage you to call our consumer help line at 1-800-771-7755.

About a lifeline account

  • Opening an account: You can open your lifeline account with a deposit of only $25.
  • Minimum balance: To keep the account open, you will need only one penny on deposit as a minimum balance.
  • Maintaining your account: Your financial institution cannot charge you more than $3 per month to maintain your lifeline account.
  • Free withdrawals: You can make withdrawals from your lifeline account at least eight times per month at no charge.
  • No monthly minimum deposit: Your lifeline account will have no restrictions or penalties about the minimum number of deposits you make per month.

Although these bank accounts offer significant savings to consumers, your financial institution may require you to make direct deposits of your Social Security, wages, or pension payments. You also may be required to close any other transaction accounts.

Find out more about lifeline bank accounts