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How Undocumented Immigrants Can Get Bank Accounts

Some banks let you open an account with an ITIN or passport instead of a Social Security number.
April 23, 2018
Banking, Banking Basics, Checking Accounts, Savings Accounts
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If you don’t have a Social Security number or are undocumented, you can still get a bank account. Here’s how to get one and why it’s important — even for your own safety.

What you need to open a bank account

At a minimum, a bank is required by law to obtain the following information from you when you apply for an account:

NAME AND DATE OF BIRTH

To confirm an immigrant’s name and birthday, banks typically require one of the following documents:

  • Unexpired passport
  • Government-issued driver’s license (including foreign licenses)
  • Consular ID
  • Birth certificate

Those in New York City, San Francisco or other cities that issue municipal IDs can often use them as proof of identity.

ADDRESS

Banks and credit unions often require proof of a street address to open an account. A utility bill, lease or current driver’s license or municipal ID can satisfy this requirement.

IDENTIFICATION NUMBER

An identification number means one of the following:

  • Social Security number (SSN)
  • ITIN (individual taxpayer identification number)
  • Alien identification card number
  • Any other government-issued document that proves your nationality or residence, such as a passport or foreign driver’s license

To confirm an immigrant’s name and birthday, banks typically require one of the following documents:

  • Unexpired passport
  • Government-issued driver’s license (including foreign licenses)
  • Consular ID
  • Birth certificate

Those in New York City, San Francisco or other cities that issue municipal IDs can often use those IDs as proof of identity.

Banks and credit unions often require proof of a street address to open an account. A utility bill, lease or current driver’s license or municipal ID can satisfy this requirement.
An identification number means one of the following:

  • Social Security number (SSN)
  • ITIN (individual taxpayer identification number)
  • Alien identification card number
  • Any other government-issued document that proves your nationality or residence, such as a passport or foreign driver’s license

Banks and credit unions may have requirements in addition to the ones listed above.

ITIN: What it is and how to get one

Don’t have a Social Security number? You can still get a bank account with an ITIN, individual taxpayer identification number.

It’s used by the Internal Revenue Service to process taxes. It’s available only to noncitizens who are working in the U.S. but are not eligible for a Social Security number; their spouses and dependents can also obtain an ITIN. Here’s how to get one:

  1. Fill out the required W-7 form, available in English and Spanish
  2. Submit proof of identity, such as a passport or driver’s license, along with a completed federal tax return. See a complete list of documents that you can use.
  3. Mail in your application, take it to an IRS walk-in office or have it processed by an “acceptance agent.” These agents typically include colleges, accounting firms and financial institutions, such as banks or credit unions. Locate one near you on the IRS website.

Why should I open a bank account if I’m undocumented?

Personal safety

A bank account is a safe place to store your money. Even in the unlikely event that your bank is robbed, the money is insured and would be replaced. And carrying less cash means you’re not as vulnerable to thieves on the street.

If you keep your money in a shoebox at home or on your person, you could lose weeks’ or months’ worth of savings to theft. News stories in recent years have chronicled a pattern of robberies targeting day laborers and other immigrants across the country; with ample cash in their pocket, these workers are viewed as “walking ATMs.”

Establish history

A bank account helps undocumented immigrants build a financial footprint. In most cases, a bank account is required to open a credit card, buy a home or borrow funds to start a business, all actions that help establish a credit history. In some states, you can also open a college savings plan with tax benefits, known as a 529 plan, provided you have an ITIN.

» Need help establishing credit as an immigrant? Here’s how you can establish credit without going into debt

Save money

With a bank account, you can cash checks or pay bills for free. A bank account also provides financial history, without which phone companies, apartments and other services can require larger deposits.

Banks to consider

Large, mainstream banks such as Bank of America or TD Bank generally require two pieces of ID — one of which can be an ITIN — and proof of a valid U.S. street address. Be prepared to open your bank account in person.

Some institutions, including some Latino credit unions, go out of their way to make the process smoother for immigrants.

» See NerdWallet’s list of Latino credit unions

Self-Help Federal Credit Union for example, which has branches in California, the Greater Chicago area, Milwaukee and Florida, accepts the following forms of identification:

  • Valid driver’s license
  • Passport
  • Matrícula consular (identification card from a Mexican consulate)
  • Residency card

Another financial institution known for helping undocumented immigrants, Latino Credit Union in North Carolina, accepts:

  • Government-issued ID from any country
  • Valid ITIN or Social Security number
  • Proof of current address

Latino Credit Union and Self-Help FCU also offer products designed with the undocumented community in mind. DACA and citizenship loans, for example, are available to help members cover the cost of a deferred action or naturalization application.

» Bank account not for you? Learn about lending circles

Identification requirements vary from bank to bank, and credit union to credit union, so call ahead or stop by a branch location to find out what documents you need to open an account. If language is a barrier, ask if the bank has a representative who can help you in your native tongue.

 

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