Banking and Money Matters
Having an American bank account is essential for everyday life in the United States. The two principal types of accounts are checking accounts and savings accounts. To open a bank account generally requires:
• American driver’s license
• Social Security number or valid credit card
• Phone number of your employer
• Personal address and telephone number
Opening a checking account is essential for your day-to-day financial transactions. A checking account is a deposit account that will give you both security and quick access to your funds. One way of accessing your funds is with a debit card, which will be provided by your bank when you establish your account. The debit card will permit you to take money from ATMs (automatic teller machines). You may also use the card to pay for items directly, and the money will be deducted from your account.
Banks generally recommend opening a saving account in addition to your checking account, which allows you to fill in deficits and prevent overdraft fees from your checking account. In addition, savings accounts generally offer higher interest rates, so they are a good place to keep money that will not be spent in the near future.
Banks generally are open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. On Fridays, many banks stay open a few hours later. Many banks, but not all, are also open on Saturdays, often from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon.
Most people in the United States use credit cards, rather than cash or checks, for their everyday purchases. Credit cards are small and compact, and safer than carrying around large quantities of cash. However, it is not always easy for an expatriate to obtain a credit card. Banks evaluate credit card applicants based on their “credit report” – which contains a summary of all of previous credit accounts, debts, and late payments. All of this information is called a “credit history,” and is important not only in obtaining a credit card, but also for housing and receiving loans. A new arrival will not have such a credit history in America, so you will have to bring proof of creditworthiness from your home country or proof of your salary and work contract. You can also begin creating a credit history with a debit card from a bank, and then move on to an American Express. The credit on this first card will probably be limited; it is a good idea to spend money on the card since this will improve your credit line, but be sure to not go over the authorized limit. Most importantly, be sure to pay on time; late payments will tarnish your credit history and you will have to pay additional fees. With time, you will have a greater choice of credit cards and a greater credit line.
Another alternative to a credit card is a “secure card.” With this card, a maximum quantity is blocked in a savings account, which determines your line of credit and allows you to “borrow” your own money by using a credit card. This temporary system allows you to create a credit history, and to have access, in some terms, to a “classic” credit card. Additionally, department stores may also allow you to have access to a credit cart.
Checks are much less accepted in the United States than in France. Their usage is often limited to payments by mail and rent payments. Retailers/merchants who accept them usually require two forms of identification. In filling out checks, it is important to remember that the date is always written in the following order: Month/Day/Year , and that commas must be replaced by periods: $1.00 corresponds to a dollar, whereas $1,000 corresponds to a thousand dollars.