Some banks let you open an account with an ITIN or passport instead of a Social Security number.
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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.
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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.
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:
- Fill out the required W-7 form, available in English and Spanish
- 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.
- 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?
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.”
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.
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 and Chase generally require two pieces of identification — one of which can be an ITIN — and proof of a valid U.S. street address. Here are three accounts to compare — Chase SavingsSM, Marcus Online Savings and Bank of America Rewards Savings — that can be opened with these credentials.
Some institutions, including some Latino credit unions, go out of their way to make the process smoother for immigrants.
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
- 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.
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.