Understanding the banking system in the U.S. is likely to help you in the long run. You will be able to quickly learn how things work here and how to cultivate banking habits. If you have recently migrated to the U.S. on the H1 visa, this post is a useful read.

You can have two kinds of Bank Accounts:

  • Savings Account (with interest)
  • Checking Account (with no interest)

You are likely to use the checking account more often especially for all check payments, at ATM withdrawal, or as against your checking or debit card.
Saving account is for the funds you save. Your propensity to save and spend is likely to determine the balance in both these accounts.

You can get a debit card as soon as you arrive in USA with the help of your passport. However, it will only allow you to withdraw money and/or make payments. For the long run, it is better to get a credit card that helps build credit history.

Your personal checking account can support both a debit and a credit card. You can also use it to transfer funds from abroad (for students).  Checking account is also important to receive salary, if you are working part-time or full time

Opening a Bank Account

Go to the nearest Bank. To open a new bank account you will need

  • your social security number
  • your photo-Id (either a passport or driver's license)

You will be directed to fill an application form.
Once you have completed the form and your identity has been duly verified you will receive the following:

  • You will get a separate account number for your checking and saving account, if you are opening both the accounts with the same bank.
  • A check (or ATM) card to be used at ATM centers for withdrawing cash. Usually, there is a limit to the cash you can withdraw in a day, from any ATM machine. These details can be obtained from your bank. Check card can be used at many ATM centers, throughout USA.
  • For initial use few blank check books will be provided to you. You may need to order if you require more blank check books. Some banks may provide extra check books free of cost, or may charge you for it. You can also get it printed from some private printing agency, with your choice of colors and design to be printed on the checks. Generally charges are $5-$15 for 250 checks. You can search for such agencies and their rates on the internet.

Tips

  • Look for the nearest Bank to your home or workplace. The closer you are to the bank, the easier it is to deposit checks and withdraw money.
  • Ask for their ATM locations, and terms of use for any transactions.
  • Most banks offer online banking which is really very useful. Ask for this facility and consider this fact while choosing a bank for your account.
  • If you don't receive your bank statements, ask for these and check them carefully. Report if you observe any discrepancies in the records.
  • Protect your identity. Shred any bank related documents that are no longer useful. These documents contain information about your address and other sensitive information that can be wrongfully used. Do not throw these without shredding or tearing.

People who move to the U.S. on work, dependent and student visas are discovering the value of banking intelligently. Now is the time to make the right choices to manage your finances.

Student Discounts from Banks

If you are a student check out your local banks to see what banking options they offer for students and/or individuals under 23 years (may differ from bank to bank). Most banks like Bank of America, Chase and Capitol one etc offer no-charge checking account versus other options that require fee. It would be a good idea to understand these offers and the terms and conditions to make an informed decision.

What is Credit History? Why is it Important?

Credit history refers to your reputation for repaying debt and/or your ability to repay debt in future. This allows banks and financial institutions to determine your creditworthiness. If you are new to USA, you will have 0 records. But if you plan to stay long term, you need to build a good credit score. To learn more about credit history, refer to Understanding Credit History.