How can I bank in the US without a SSN?
July 9, 2007 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Canadian moving to Louisiana, won't have a SSN, can I get a bank account?

I'm a Canadian moving to Louisiana for a in a few weeks and I'm wondering what my banking options are. I'll be living with my new wife who's studying at LSU, since we'll have just gotten married I won't have the marriage certificate so I'll be there as a tourist till the paperwork comes through and I can switch to being there as a dependent on her student visa (she's Canadian too). The long and the short of it is that I'll be unemployed for a year and living off my savings which are currently stowed in my Canadian PC Financial checking account. Can I get a bank account or credit card without a social security number? If not what are my options besides keeping my cash under the mattress?
posted by JPDD to Work & Money (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You will have a hard time getting your own bank account or credit card. However, you can be an authorized user on your spouse's accounts, which is good enough for day-to-day use.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:32 PM on July 9, 2007

Also, keep in mind that you may be denied entry at the border if you are trying to enter the US as a tourist and your purpose for visiting is to see your US-resident spouse. It happened to my husband and he was marooned in Canada for six weeks until we could sort out the paperwork.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:37 PM on July 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

You can get a bank account. Every bank card I've had in the states is a Visa (but you don't have a credit limit, or a separate credit account). I don't know about a proper credit card, I've never tried.

From my US banking experience, larger banks are far better suited to handling exceptions (like not having a SSN).
posted by nazca at 7:06 PM on July 9, 2007

you're getting married? congratulations!
posted by Marquis at 7:06 PM on July 9, 2007

Response by poster: crazycanuck: good call on sharing my spouse's account.

nazca: so your bank card is issued by Visa but drawn on an account held by a major bank? I'm not sure I understand how this helps, have you had success getting an account without a SSN at a major bank?

Marquis: harhar, see you at the wedding :)
posted by JPDD at 7:23 PM on July 9, 2007

Best answer: I -- Canadian who was in the States for a few years -- had a big hassle and almost gave up, but eventually got a bank account.

In my experience, the size of your savings will have a lot to do with how willing a bank is to bend the rules.

Larger banks were not notably useful, and neither -- surprisingly -- were the massive main branches of massive main banks in a major city. A Citibank in the sticks was where I finally got an account.

Be prepared for a lot of:

"Hi. I'm looking to open a basic account. Thing is, I'm not American, so I don't have a SSN. However, I have a (passport, birth certificate, etc etc). Can I still open an account?"
"Certainly! Have a seat..."
"Great -- thanks."
"Okay, now, first, I need your SSN..."

That played out over and over again when I was bank-shopping; "white Anglo -- does not have a SSN" doesn't, apparently, sink in very well.

I ran into people who were convinced Canadians have SSNs, too. This can work to your advantage in some areas; I've known Canucks in the States to just start plugging their SIN in wherever a SSN is called for (obviously, not on tax or other gov't stuff that you'd really want to be accurate, but I wouldn't lose sleep about using it in relatively trivial places).

I'm 99% sure I needed a SSN for a credit card. Your options there are less of a hassle, though: I think you could still get a 'prepaid' CC, and your wife can make you a 2ndary cardholder without a SSN.
posted by kmennie at 7:25 PM on July 9, 2007

Best answer: I don't think they are in Louisiana, but RBC Centura is a subsidiary of the Royal Bank here in Canada, so they deal with Canadians regularly. If you don't need actual branch access, you can sign up with them: I have an account and I'm neither an American citizen, nor located in the USA.
posted by ssg at 7:44 PM on July 9, 2007

No, you can't get a real credit card or a real loan without a SSN. I tried to get my husband's name onto the mortgage but that would not fly. They said I would have to refinance to get him on there once he signed up. I also couldn't get him as an authorized user on the HELOC. For some reason, it's A-OK for him to use my credit card. Weird.

Canadians I worked with had good luck dealing with Bank of America. Try them. I still think it is easier to use your wife's accounts though. For one thing, the interest won't be subject to automatic withholding. (Foreigners without SSNs and non-residents have to file a W8-BEN or some such nonsense).

Also, you need a bank with real branch access, and preferably one that cashes Canadian cheques. You will need to go there to make wire transfers. You will probably want to move your fortune immediately to take advantage of the good exchange rate. It may get even better though, so it may pay to leave some cash at home then write yourself a cheque when you need it.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:38 PM on July 9, 2007

Best answer: Is there some reason you can't apply for a Taxpayer Identification Number? Such a thing is specifically for "U.S. resident alien (based on days present in the United States) filing a U.S. tax return and not eligible for an SSN" and "Dependent or spouse of a U.S. citizen/resident alien". Sounds to me like you.
posted by ilsa at 9:11 PM on July 9, 2007

I got added to my wife's account (Bank of America) without a SSN, and provided first an ITIN and then the SSN when I got them.

(You can't get an ITIN these days unless you file a tax return with your request. The IRS doesn't like it being used as an ID number.)
posted by holgate at 9:36 PM on July 9, 2007

I did something similar to you, and found it impossible to get an account without an SSN. I used my PC Financial account for a few weeks until I could get the paperwork straightened out. Be aware that it was basically impossible to make payments on a canadian credit card or line of credit unless the money is in your canadian bank account already. I had a hard time finding american banks that could do Canadian money orders (or bank drafts) too. Good Luck!
posted by blue_beetle at 9:39 PM on July 9, 2007

When my wife was down there for school she did all her banking thru her US funds account with RBC with no problems. She had a US funds RBC VISA. The only gotcha is US Funds accounts aren't insured by the feds. Places won't want to take your out of country cheques but that should be a problem.
posted by Mitheral at 10:12 PM on July 9, 2007

Credit unions? A bit more local and friendly, perhaps.
posted by mdonley at 10:13 PM on July 9, 2007

When I worked at Bank of America we had no problems opening accounts for foreign nationals. They were also able to easily get a secured credit card that converts to a regular credit card after about 6 months. You can also easily (if expensively) get checks sent out denominated in CAD from your account. This may not be very helpful for you as I think there are no Bank of America locations in Louisiana (they had to bring mobile branches in to help post-Katrina, IIRC). If you want the phone number of a branch (in Massachusetts) that dealt with this all the time let me know.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:31 PM on July 9, 2007

I had a hard time finding american banks that could do Canadian money orders...

blue_beetle speaks the truth!

Certainly don't go to the post office like you would at home. I did, and saw "money orders" under "international services," and thought "great -- I can get a CDN$ money order and fire off my rent to Ottawa."

Ten minutes later I was trying to explain why the US$ MO (given without question in response to the request for a CDN$ one) was no good, and getting stuff like "Well, you could ask your landlord to send you change?" from somebody who didn't understand CDN$ =! US$, let alone "exchange rate."

In short: hold on to the PC account unless there's some compelling reason to close it.

Re. the TIN:

"(The) IRS issues ITINs to individuals who are required to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but who do not have, and are not eligible to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN)..."

If memory serves, that means: not you. Legal claim to residency makes you eligible for a SSN, and thus not for a TIN. I think.
posted by kmennie at 10:40 PM on July 9, 2007

a) You can get an ITIN, as ilsa says above, and use that wherever an SSN is asked for.
b) You can and should keep your Canadian accounts open. Just use your Canadian ATM card, withdraw money directly from your Canadian account. What's the problem? The bank will do the conversion transparently. Inquire about how to make deposits by mail.
c) Similarly, keep your Canadian credit card. Use it. Pay the bill via your bank's website.
d) If you really insist on getting a U.S. bank account, the ITIN should work.
e) If you really insist on getting a U.S. credit card, you can always get a secured one: deposit $1000 into an account, get a card with a hard $1000 limit. If you withdraw the money, the card is cancelled. If you don't pay on the card, the bank pays itself by withdrawing money from the account.

There's really no reason for you to have a U.S. account. By your description, you're a tourist. Would you open an account in France if you visited there for a few weeks?
posted by jellicle at 6:16 AM on July 10, 2007

you may be denied entry at the border if you are trying to enter the US as a tourist and your purpose for visiting is to see your US-resident spouse

This is especially true if you don't keep some ties to Canada. If you're coming as a tourist, the border guards will want some assurance that you're going to go back to Canada before they let you in.
posted by oaf at 6:42 AM on July 10, 2007

You can get an ITIN, but you need to file a 1040 with it. It's not really practical to file for one until next February or March. You can get added to your wife's accounts without an ITIN. Do that.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:18 AM on July 10, 2007

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