Immigration and Financial Matters


Adapting to a new life and culture can be challenging, and financial matters can be confusing for those who are new to the country and the American banking system.  The more you know about your financial options, the sooner you will prosper in your new home.

You should consider talking to a financial advisor to get advice and map out a plan to help you reach your financial goals.

Opening a bank account

Opening a bank account is often a good way to building your financial future in the United States. There are many benefits to opening an account with a bank rather than keeping it at home and depending on check-cashing services.  A checking or savings account offers a number of benefits:

  • Offers a safe place to keep your money Carrying cash or keeping it at home means it can be lost or stolen. Using checks or a debit card connected to your bank account is safer—and your cancelled checks or bank statements can provide proof of payment.
  • Saves money Paying bills and making purchases using checks from your account or banking online is less expensive than using money orders, payday lenders and check cashing stores.
  • Helps you build credit Having a checking and savings account helps show that you can manage money and helps you build a relationship with your bank. A good credit history can help you get loans and other credit at lower interest rates and as a customer of the bank, they can see it is safe to lend you money.

* It’s also important to know that American banks are safe. There are laws protecting you and your money.  Money in FDIC insured banks and credit unions are guaranteed by the U.S. government, so even if a particular bank is in trouble, individual accounts are guaranteed up to $250,000.

Tax identification numbers required to open an account

While a Social Security Number and a drivers license are generally the standard forms of identification banks ask for when opening an account, there are other types of documents that many banks accept to help immigrants open a bank account, including:

  • Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)—An ITIN number is issued to individuals without a Social Security Number to record their wages and income to the government for tax purposes.
  • Matricula Consular—If you are a citizen of Mexico, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Peru, or Argentina you can apply for a consular registration card.

Building credit

Building a good credit history is important.  It makes it easier to get the most competitive interest rates on loans, credit cards, and other financing. While many people who have already established good credit in their homelands, they can still find it difficult to get credit when they come to the U.S. lenders generally don’t—and because of privacy laws, often can’t—consider credit histories from other countries.  To begin building credit, consider:

  • A secured credit card—A Secured Card works like any other credit card, and can be used wherever Visa credit cards are accepted, but requires a deposit.  For example, you deposit $500 into an account and your credit line will equal the amount of your deposit.
  • A co-signer—You can have someone with a good credit history co-sign for a credit or loan. The lender will consider the co-signer’s credit as they consider giving you the credit.  However, the co-signer is responsible for the debt if you don’t pay the money back as agreed.

Sending money home

For many people who have come to America from another country, sending money home to help support family members and communities is an important financial priority. There are a number of options available if you want to send money from one country to another:

  • Cash-to-cash transfers—The basic product used by most money transfer operators and some bank.
  • Debit or dual ATM cards—These are cards that can be used in both the United States and in other countries. The cards are linked to a bank account and withdrawals are made through ATMs. The recipient doesn’t need to have a bank account, but draws money from the account based in the U.S.
  • Account-to-account transfers—With this, both you and the recipient must have a bank account. As a U.S. account holder, you transfer money to the recipient’s account in a bank abroad. The receiving party can access the funds directly through their bank or through ATMs.
  • Store-value cards—You can purchase a card, load a dollar value onto it and send it to the recipient. The card can be used for withdrawals at ATMs or to make purchases at the point of sale. The cards don’t require the sender or the receiver to have a bank account.

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This site is for education purposes. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.