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Wondering how to get a head start financially in your new country? Open a bank account! A bank account is a service offered by a financial institution that holds your money safely and records any activity made between you and the bank, such as putting in (depositing) or taking out (withdrawing) money. If the bank fails or loses your money during an economic downturn, for example, up to $250,000 of your money is insured by the US government and will be replaced. In the United States, everyone, including immigrants and refugees, can open a bank account. Banks will not ask and should not ask for your immigration status. To help you get started with this important first step, we encourage you to read our guide below on the ins and outs of how to open a bank account in the U.S.!
What Are the Different Types of Bank Accounts?
A checking account and savings account are the two common types of bank accounts offered in the United States. A checking account is a deposit account that allows you to make daily transactions such as deposits and withdrawals. This account can be accessed using checks, automated teller machines, or ATMs, and electronic debit cards issued by the bank. On the other hand, a savings account stores money for use at a later time, such as during an emergency. You can also earn interest through savings accounts. Interest is what a bank pays you in exchange for letting them hold on to your money. Just like your checking account, you can access your savings through ATMs and your debit card. Please note that if you are under the age of 18, banks will require an adult to open the bank account with you.
What to Know Before Opening a Bank Account
Before opening a bank account, make sure you do plenty of research online first. We recommend that you choose a bank local to you. During your search, check that you have picked a bank without any hidden fees or annual fees. There is no reason to pay for a bank account. The bank is already holding your money!
Also, look for an account with good interest rates. Remember, for credit cards, you want the lowest interest rate possible so you don’t pay more than you already owe. But for bank accounts, you want the highest interest rate possible so you can accumulate more money into your account.
What Do Immigrants Need in Order to Open a Bank Account?
Every bank is different, and each one will have different requirements for opening a new account. However, in general, banks are required by law to obtain the following information from you in order to open an account:
- Proof of Identity (Name and Date of Birth)
- Proof of Address
- Identification Number
Proof of Identity and Address
Banks will generally ask you for proof of identity (name and date of birth) and address, for example, through a valid, government-issued photo ID. If you have lawful status, then a green card, driver’s license, or unexpired passport is a simple way to show both your identity and address. If you are undocumented, you can still open up a bank account by providing your birth certificate or passport from your home country to prove your identity. In addition, some U.S. cities, such as Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, provide municipal identification cards to undocumented immigrants or those without a driver’s license or passport in order to prove their identity and address. A utility (water or electricity) bill or lease agreement that lists your address can also serve as proof.
Banks will also request an identification number from you. Your Social Security Number (SSN), which is the most common identification number in the US, will suffice in most cases. An SSN is a unique 9-digit number the US government assigns to U.S. citizens and eligible residents. The number helps the government keep track of your lifetime earnings and the number of years worked, so that when you retire or if you become disabled, you can start receiving Social Security benefits as income. You are eligible for an SSN if you are a(n):
- Lawful permanent resident (“green card holder”)
- Immigrants on certain types of work visas
- Naturalized US citizen
Visit your local Social Security office to request a Social Security Number.
If you are undocumented, do not have an SSN or are not eligible for one, another option is to provide the bank with your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. ITINs are given out by the US government’s tax agency, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS will give ITINs to foreign nationals who are working in the US and paying taxes. You can apply for an ITIN at the same time that you file federal taxes to the IRS.
Once I provide this information, then what?
The final step in opening your bank account is to fund it! You can make your first deposit with cash, a check or money order, transferred funds from another account, or through direct deposit from your employer. Direct deposit allows your employer to transfer your earnings directly into your bank account instead of mailing a check to you.
After funding your account and before you leave the bank, remember to ask the bank associate when you should expect your bank debit card to arrive in the mail and how to order personal checks. Checks are usually an additional fee, but you can compare costs by checking out the prices at your financial institution, online check printers, and at big-box stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club.
Opening a bank account is one of the smartest financial moves you can make when you move to America. If you need assistance taking this big step, such as finding a financial planner, or learning more about life in America, please don’t hesitate to contact us! Golden Beacon USA’s Resource Referrals and e-learning videos on American culture and resources are here to help make your transition as easy as possible. Contact me today at email@example.com or call or text (866) 403-7173. Remember, you are not alone!