A checking account, unlike a savings account, allows you to write checks to make a purchase, pay bills, make a loan, or transfer money into another account. You can also make deposits (putting money into a bank), or withdrawals (taking money out) whenever you wish. First you need to determine how you see yourself using the checking account. Will you be writing lots of checks each month, or just a few? Why? Because some banks charge a fee for every check written or give you a certain allowance (a certain number free) each month.
Some banks charge for maintaining a bank account, if it is below a certain dollar amount. Also, you will receive monthly statements showing how much money you have deposited, withdrawn (checks, ATM, transfers) and any fees the banks take out. Finally, it will show you the balance you have at the end of the month (see Checking Account Basics).
When do you really need a checking account? If you need to send money, pay bills (be it at school, store account, rent or supplies), it might be a good idea to open one. Maybe you do not want to carry around a lot of cash, which can be lost or stolen. But before you open an account, make sure you are willing to take on the responsibilities that come along with opening an account. These include balancing a check book and making sure you never write a check for more than you have in your account (see Selecting A Bank).
Also most checking accounts offer online banking and ATM cards (see ATM & Debit Cards).