A girl holds a banking card

Basic Banking and Credit for New Americans (Part 2): Inclusive Banking Services for New Californians

This article is part 2 in our series, Basic Banking and Credit for New Americans. In part 1, we explored the importance of opening a bank or credit union account. Let’s take a deeper dive into the banking world and discover how you can make informed choices for your financial journey. Finance and financial services can sometimes seem like a daunting maze of numbers and jargon. But don’t worry; we’re here to make navigating easy.

Banking Made Easy

Opening a bank account in California has become more inclusive and accessible than ever. Many mainstream banks now accept various forms of identification, making it easier for immigrants to open accounts. This means you can securely store your hard-earned money, pay bills, and manage your finances without hassle.

  • PRO TIP: Many banks and credit unions allow foreign-issued IDs, alien registration cards, municipal IDs, or International Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs) instead of Social Security Numbers (SSNs) to open accounts or apply for credit cards or loans. Ask your financial institution what other documents they accept, if you do not have what is usually asked for.

Tailored to Your Needs

California is a diverse state, and we celebrate that diversity. Specialized credit unions cater to the unique needs of different communities. For instance, some institutions focus on the needs of Hispanic Americans and undocumented migrants. They offer specialized financial products, such as DACA loans, which aid in covering the costs associated with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals application, and citizenship loans to help cover the expenses of the naturalization process.

Types of Accounts

When it comes to banking, you have choices. Here are two primary types of accounts to consider:

  • Checking Accounts: Think of these as your everyday accounts. They’re perfect for daily transactions and paying bills. With a checking account, you can write checks, use a debit card, and access your money whenever needed. Many financial institutions offer additional free financial services with their checking accounts, such as online access to your money via mobile apps or their website and free check cashing services.
  • Savings Accounts: These accounts can be your safety net. They keep the money you’ve saved safe and help it grow over time through interest. Savings accounts are ideal for saving money for emergencies or reaching financial goals like buying a car or home, saving for college, or taking a dream vacation.

More Financial Services

Modern banking offers a range of convenient services to make your life easier:

  • Auto Bill Pay: Tired of remembering due dates for bills? Auto Bill Pay automates recurring payments, so you never miss a bill again. Make sure you have enough money in the account to cover these payments to avoid expensive overdraft fees.
  • Digital Wallets and Payment Apps: With digital wallets and payment apps, you can leave your wallet at home and make digital point-of-sale purchases with your phone. Be aware that payment apps are not the same as bank accounts and, therefore, do not have the same deposit insurance as mainstream financial institutions. Remember to transfer large balances from your digital accounts to your bank account for longer-term safekeeping.

Choosing the Right Financial Institution

Now that you know the basics, here are some tips for selecting the right financial institution:

  • Consider Account Rules and Costs: Before choosing an account, be sure you understand the rules for different types of accounts and the costs associated with them. For example, free doesn’t always mean free. Some banks may offer “free” checking accounts but then charge extra fees for account security, not meeting minimum balances, or debit/ATM or online transactions.
  • Evaluate Hours and Locations: Find a bank or credit union with convenient hours and locations that work for you. It should be easy to access when you need it.
  • Language Support: Look for institutions that provide language support if you speak a language other than English. Communication should never be a barrier to managing your finances.
  • Youth-Friendly Accounts: Some institutions offer free accounts for young people. If you have children (or you’re a student), consider this option to start the financial journey.

Opening a bank account in a new country can seem tough. The DFPI is committed to making finance accessible and understandable for all Californians. Getting this help is part of your rights.

Reach out to us if you have questions or need assistance. If you’re having trouble or your bank isn’t helping enough, don’t be shy—ask them for what you need. Plus, the DFPI is here for you too. You can contact us for help or support at Ask.DFPI@dfpi.ca.gov or by calling toll-free at (866) 275-2677.

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Last updated: Dec 14, 2023 @ 3:57 pm