Personal Finances

OPENING AN U.S. BANK ACCOUNT

We strongly advise against carrying a lot of cash around or hiding it in your bedroom. If your cash is stolen you have little chance of recovering it. Alternatively, if your check book or account information is lost or stolen, you can cancel your account or checks, thus protecting your savings.

You should ask friends or co-workers which banks or credit unions they use and what the fees and penalties are for differing accounts they offer. Generally, most banks offer free checking and savings accounts. If you plan to send money overseas or receive money from overseas, be sure to ask what fees and methods apply. Consider the distance to the nearest branch location and their opening hours. For example, if you are only free at weekends, you may opt for a bank that has a branch office not so conveniently located but that is open on Saturday mornings.

Opening a personal bank account allows you:

  • to cash checks that you receive
  • secure method of organizing and saving your money
  • to write checks against the funds you have in the bank
  • to receive a debit card with a MasterCard or Visa emblem on it allowing you to make purchases against your account anywhere that accepts these cards, including the Internet
  • to more securely send and receive funds from overseas

Another thing to consider is how long it will take to clear a local or an out of state check or foreign funds. This means how long it will take from the time the money is put into your account until the time you are able to withdraw it. In some states, like NY, banks routinely hold on to your money, often for days or weeks, whereas in California, most banks give most people their money right away, or within one day.

When you decide which bank or credit union you'd like to go with, bring your Social Security Card, passport or other government-issued ID, as well as some official correspondence with your current, local address on it (e.g. phone bill, utility bill, etc). You'll also need to either bring cash, a money order, a check or, if transferring electronically, the name, location and routing number from your foreign or other domestic account. You usually need to make a deposit to open your account. Before you go to the bank in person to open your account, find out if they require a minimum deposit amount (this could save you an extra trip). When you arrive at the bank, tell someone at the counter that you'd like to open a new account.

HOW TO WRITE A CHECK

Many students sends us checks which we are not able to process. This situation delays many important procedures. Below you can see how to write a flawless check.

Checks in the USA are very common. Make sure to order a check book from your bank or from many on-line check printing services. Be sure, however, that you have sufficient funds prior to writing your check and wait for it to clear. If your check bounces you will incur many costly fees and much inconvenience. Intentionally writing a bad check is a criminal act.

HOW TO USE A MONEY ORDER

Money Orders are a safe, convenient, and economical alternative to sending cash through the mail.

You can use them just like your personal checks. You may have to buy each money order separately. Since the money order is pre-paid, the person receiving it can be sure they will get the money when cashing it. Money orders are more secure from the receiver's standpoint. You can mail them to pay for services, your insurance payments etc.

You can buy a money order in a bank, in most supermarkets and at a post office. They cost about $1, but the cost depends on the value of the check.