Once you have arrived in the U.S., you should open a bank account as soon as possible as this will help you with managing your finances and making a budget. You can deposit your paychecks (or receive direct deposits from your employer) and can pay all of your bills by check, auto draft, or online. In addition, most banks now issue debit cards with a MasterCard or Visa emblem which means you can use the card to make purchases against your account anywhere that accepts credit cards, including online and in stores. Carrying cash is dangerous and paying in cash doesn’t leave much evidence behind to prove your payment in case of a dispute.
Plan to open your account in person at a local bank branch. Make sure you bring your passport and other identification such as credit cards and your Social Security card (if you have received it or the receipt showing you have applied). Every bank has slightly different requirements, so check with them on what forms of ID you will need.
Banks offer many different financial services. You may wish to compare the services and fees of several banks before choosing one to open an account. Ask the bank for a student account. Find out about all the bank fees you will have to pay. Some banks charge a service fee every month. Others may charge you each time you write a check or use an Automated Teller Machine (ATM). Some banks allow you to make deposits via your Smartphone for a small fee.
Some banks require a minimum balance of money, or they will charge a fee. Find out what the minimum balance is and if you can afford it. If you write a check or submit an ACH/electronic payment and don’t have the funds to cover the amount, you will incur insufficient funds charges. Ask how long it will take to “clear” a check – that is, how long from the time a check is deposited in your account until the time you are allowed to withdraw the funds.
Bank hours vary. Be aware of your bank’s business hours. U.S. banking tends to be regional, not national. Any checks that you need to cash should be done at a bank in the town or city where you received them. If you use an ATM that belongs to a bank or network not affiliated with bank, you will be charged a fee. These fees vary but are typically $1 to $5 per withdrawal.
Be sure to close out your checking account before you leave the U.S. at the conclusion of your program. If you will have deposits (such as final paychecks and housing deposits) that will be deposited into your bank account after you leave the U.S., you will need to find out if there are special instructions for you to follow in order to withdraw your funds and close your account from abroad.
In order to help with managing your money and setting a realistic budget, please use the GEC Student Assistance Budget Worksheet to help you know where your money is going every week.
Please remember, as discussed in your GEC Interview, the J-1 Summer Work Travel program is a cultural exchange program. The purpose of the program is not for you to come to the U.S. to earn large sums of money.