Access to banking is important for establishing good financial habits and avoiding the high fees often associated with alternative financial services. While opening a bank account is seemingly simple, it can present a challenge for immigrants, including those who are new to the U.S. and have limited English proficiency as well as individuals who enter the country without documentation. Collectively, there are 44.9 million immigrants in the U.S, 10.3 million of whom are undocumented. Understanding banking rights can ensure that immigrants are able to access the banking products and services they need.

Key Takeaways

  • There are an estimated 44.9 million immigrants in the U.S., including 10.3 million undocumented immigrants.
  • Many immigrants may not understand their banking rights or how to open a bank account, particularly if they lack the necessary documentation to do so.
  • Language barriers can also inhibit immigrants from seeking out the banking products and services they need to better manage their money.
  • Being unaware of their banking rights can potentially costs immigrants hundreds or even thousands of dollars in unnecessary fees.

Bank Accounts and Immigration Status

One of the most commonly asked questions immigrants may have is whether it’s possible to open a bank account without a Social Security number. The short answer is yes, it’s possible to get a bank account without a Social Security number if you’re able to provide other forms of supporting documentation or identification. The typical information banks need to open a new account include your:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Address
  • Identification

In place of a Social Security number, it’s possible for immigrants to open a bank account using an ITIN or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. This number, issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), is designed for people who do not have and are not eligible for a Social Security number. ITINs are issued, regardless of immigration status and can be used to open a bank account.

An ITIN does not authorize you to work in the U.S. nor does it provide eligibility for Social Security benefits or qualify a dependent for Earned Income Tax Credit purposes.

You can apply for an ITIN if you are:

  • A nonresident alien who’s required to file a U.S. tax return
  • A U.S. resident alien filing a tax return
  • The dependent or spouse of a U.S. citizen/resident alien/nonresident alien visa holder
  • A nonresident alien claiming a tax treaty benefit
  • A nonresident alien student, professor or researcher filing a U.S. tax return or claiming an exception

The IRS allows you to apply for an ITIN online.

Credit Cards and Loans for Immigrants

Getting a credit card or loan can help to meet financial needs and it can also be a way to establish and build a U.S. credit history. Immigrants have the right to apply for loans and credit cards and there are a number of banks and lenders that offer them. There are, however, some limitations and exceptions.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, for instance, are ineligible for federal student loan programs. But they may be able to obtain private student loans from banks or other lenders, as well as personal loans or auto loans. Meanwhile, other non-citizens may be able to successfully apply for federal student loans if they can provide sufficient documentation.

Certain Native American students born in Canada with a status under the Jay Treaty of 1789 may also be eligible for federal student aid.

Qualification for private student loans, personal loans, auto loans or mortgage loans can vary from lender to lender. For example, no verification of citizenship or immigration status may be required if the application can provide an ITIN and proof of income. A passport or other identification may also be requested to complete the loan application.

As far as credit cards go, there are a number of fintech companies that have developed credit products specifically for people who don’t have a Social Security number. Applicants may use an ITIN instead to get approved. If they’re able to open an account, they can then use that to establish and build a credit history, which could make it easier to qualify for loans.

MAJORITY is a mobile banking app designed just for immigrants that includes personalized access to banking with no overdraft fees or foreign transaction fees.

Mortgages for Immigrants

Buying a home typically means getting a mortgage and immigrants have the right to apply for a home loan in the U.S. The biggest challenge with getting approved is being able to meet the lender’s qualification requirements with regard to employment history, credit history and proof of income. If you don’t have a credit history in the U.S., for instance, that can make it more difficult for lenders to assess your creditworthiness.

Opening a bank account with an international bank that has U.S. branches or with a U.S. bank can help you to establish a financial history. Again, you can open a bank account with an ITIN and your lender may allow you to apply for a mortgage using your ITIN as well. Doing your research to compare mortgage options can help you find a bank that’s willing to work with you.

Offering a larger down payment could make it easier to qualify for a mortgage in the U.S. when you have immigrant status.

Can I Open a Bank Account Without a Social Security Number?

Yes, you can legally open a bank account whether or not you have a Social Security Number and regardless of your immigration status. There are a number of banks and credit unions that accept a wide range of identification documents in order to open a bank account, including an ITIN.

What Is an ITIN?

The IRS issues Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) to people who are required to file tax returns and are not eligible to get a Social Security Number. This number can be used in place of a Social Security number when opening a new bank account or applying for certain loans and credit cards.

Do I Have to Show Immigration Papers to Open a Bank Account?

No. Banks and credit unions should not ask you to prove your immigration status to open a bank account. If you believe that a bank or another financial institution is discriminating against you based on your immigration status you can file a complaint through the Federal Reserve’s Consumer Complaint form online.

Can Illegal Immigrants Have a Bank Account?

Yes, undocumented immigrants to the U.S. have the right to open a bank account. Again, banks should not need you to prove your immigration status to open an account.

The Bottom Line

Immigrating to the U.S. can be an opportunity to expand your horizons and it’s important to understand what banking rights you have. Opening a bank account can be the first step toward building a solid financial foundation and it can make it easier to apply for loans and credit cards later on.

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