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Banking in the USA


Opening a bank account in the U.S. is an important step for managing your finances. Bank accounts simplify paying bills, receiving your salary, and helping you to establish a credit history. There are many banks to choose from, and opening an account is fairly easy, as there’s no need to provide a lot of documents or credentials.

Types of bank accounts

The two most common types of bank accounts in the United States are checking and savings accounts. Checking accounts are used for frequent deposits and withdrawals. Most checking accounts are used for salary deposits and to pay bills. If you open a checking account, you will be given both a chequebook and a debit card. Savings accounts are for long-term deposits and accrued interest. These accounts often have a minimum balance requirement, and interest rates can vary by bank.

 Good to know: It is common for U.S. employers to ask for your checking account number in order to offer direct deposit of your salary instead of giving you a paper cheque.

Considerations and procedures

When choosing a bank, think about your financial habits. You may want to have access to a bank with a lot of ATMs or branches around the city, or a user-friendly website to be able to pay bills online. Be sure to ask about associated fees and required minimum balances. Many banks offer free checking accounts but will charge fees for overdrafts, transfers, or cash withdrawal from ATMs outside of their network. Most importantly, look for a bank that guarantees your deposits through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC). The FDIC insures deposits up to $250,000 USD in case a bank fails.

Once you’ve chosen a bank, visit a branch to open your account. In many cases, this may also be done online. Bankers are usually available to open accounts and appointments aren't necessary. To open an account you will need to prove your name, date of birth, address, and ID number. A U.S. driver’s licence and social security number are common forms of identification. If you don’t have these, ask your bank which types of proof of identification are accepted.

 Good to know: A social security number (SSN) is used to track individuals for tax purposes and is a standard U.S. ID. Another option for expats is the Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). These IDs are issued based on your visa type. Permanent and temporary residents should request an SSN or ITIN as soon as they are granted a visa. However, this document is not required to open a bank account. Most banks will accept a passport number in this case.

Credit Cards

A credit card will be hard to obtain when first arriving in the U.S. until you have established a satisfactory credit history. Your credit history is a record of how well you handle bills for purchases bought on credit, including information about late payments and account overdrafts. In other words, the more you pay your monthly bills on time, the better your credit history. Your SSN or ITIN number links you to your credit history, so it is a requirement to have either an SSN or an ITIN. After a few months of positive payment activity, you will be able to apply for a credit card.

 Good to know: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a U.S. government agency established in 2011 to protect consumers from unfair banking and lending practices. If you have questions about banking, credit cards or your credit score, visit their website listed below.

 Useful links:

SSN/ITIN for non-citizens
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Popular U.S. Banks:
JP Morgan Chase
Bank of America
Wells Fargo

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.
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Would you like to live in the USA?

Find useful information in our expatriate guide.