A Brief Guide about Banking

 

Banks and credit unions offer safe places to put money during your visit to the United States. They offer services such as checking and savings accounts, investment vehicles such as certificates of deposits (CDs)s, loans, automatic teller cards (ATM), debit cards, credit cards, safe deposit boxes, and security. Whatever your source of income, it is important to have some liquid assets.

Most U.S. Financial Institutions require a social security number in order to open an account.  However, international students and scholars who are not eligible to apply for social security numbers or individual taxpayer identification numbers may open bank accounts.

 

 

                                                                                            Checking Accounts

When you go to the bank, you will want to open a checking account, which is a payment account that stores the money you will use to pay bills or make purchases. With your checking account, you will have easy access to your stored cash via checks, debit card, or online bill pay. When opening a checking account, you need to come in person to the bank with your student identification card, passport, and the funds you wish to deposit.

As many bank accounts charge monthly fees, you should also ask the banker about "Student" checking accounts because they usually have better rates and waive any minimum balance requirements. There are also certain checking accounts that will accrue interest if a minimum amount of money is kept in the account. Such accounts are known as "Checking with Interest." Please see the bank for more details on all types of accounts they offer.

                                                                                                             Debit Cards

Americans use debit cards much more often than cash and it is not unusual to use a debit card for something as small as a $2 purchase. Do not hesitate to use your card when making purchases, many vendors expect that you will use a debit card instead of cash.

You will receive a debit card in the mail several days after you open your bank account. Along with your debit card you will receive a PIN (Personal Identification Number), usually a four-digit number, to access your account with the card.

Always be mindful that the amount of money you have in your account should cover your debit card transactions. Spending more money then you have in your account will result in what are called “overdraft fees” which are usually between $30 - $50 (depending on the bank) so make sure you always know your balance!

                                                                                                                     ATMs

Your debit card allows you to get cash, make deposits, transfer funds, or check your account balances at any time from an ATM (Automated Teller Machines). ATMs are usually located at the bank and at various locations throughout the campus and city. The money withdrawn from an ATM will be taken out of your savings or checking account immediately. Please note that using an ATM that is does not belong to your bank will result in charges from your bank (usually $2-$5) and the bank whose ATM you used so it’s better just to find and use an ATM of your bank if at all possible.

                                                                                                                    Checks

Checks are rarely used in the US anymore EXCEPT when paying rent at your apartment. Typically landlords only accept checks as the form of rent payment; however, some landlords are starting to accept credit cards. Upon opening your checking account, you will receive free starter checks but most likely you will need to place an order for more checks through your bank so you can pay rent for the whole year.

If there are insufficient funds in your account to cover the check, the check will "bounce" and your account will be overdrawn. This means that the bank will refuse to honor the check and will return it to the depositor. In addition, the bank will charge you a bounced check fee of $25- $50. If the payee tries to redeposit the check (sometimes the bank will do this automatically), you will be penalized with a second bounced check fee for the same check. Many international students expect the bank to pay checks even when their account is overdrawn but American banks will not do this and penalty fees can add up quickly if you are not aware of your balance! Take a look to our How to write a check (pdf).

 

Helpful PDF

Glossary of banking terms  

Questions to ask when investigating a bank or credit union before opening an account

How to write a check

 

The following banks are available locally (listed in alphabetical order, with the address of the branch office nearest campus):  the following will open accounts for individuals who do not have social security numbers, with the exception of First National Bank. Take a look to our Transportation Guide to help you going there!

      Denali State Bank                                                     1989 Airport Way (corner of Airport Way and Wilbur)

  • Bank offers “Denali Checking” accounts to those who are 18 years of age or older. $100 minimum balance for both checking and savings accounts.  $5.00 monthly fee if the amount in the account goes below $1,000 for checking and $5.00 monthly fee if the amount in the savings account goes below $200.

 

     First National Bank                                                    1300 Washington Drive (off Airport Way)

  • Minimum account balances are required. If the minimum balance is not maintained, monthly service fees will be assessed on the account. Verify the information with the bank representative before signing documents and opening your account.

 

     Key Bank of Alaska                                                   33 College Road (across from Bentley Mall)

  • Annual fees ranging from $30-40 month with monthly maintenance service charges depending on the account. Verify the information with the bank representative before signing documents.

     McKinley Bank                                             1380 University Avenue (Fred Meyer parking lot)

  • Depending on the checking and/or savings account, low or no minimum account balance. Verify the information with the bank representative before signing documents.

 

     Northrim Bank                                                            360 Merhar Avenue (off Johansen Expressway)

  • Low minimum account balance is required. However, no monthly service charges. Verify the information with the bank representative before signing documents and opening your account.

 

     Wells Fargo Bank                                                      794 University Avenue (University Ave and Geist)

  • Minimum account balances are required. If the minimum balance is not maintained, monthly service fees will be assessed on the account.  Verify the information with the bank representative before signing documents and opening your account.

A credit union offers services similar to a bank, but exists for a specifically defined group of people--the members--and is run as a nonprofit organization. International students, scholars and professors are eligible to join credit unions.

*Under U.S. regulations, credit unions are required to obtain the prospective account holder’s social security number before they can open an account.

 

 

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