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EAC / Preparing for Departure / Facts About U.S. / Banking

In the U.S., there are credit unions, savings and loans associations, and full-service banks. You can open an account in any of them. You may want to open a checking account, savings account, or both.

Checking Account

If you open a checking account, you will be allowed to deposit money into it and withdraw money from it, at the bank or at a banking machine. You will also be able to write checks for specific amounts of money that will then be taken out of your account. The bank will give you a checkbook containing many checks. To make a purchase, you fill out the check for the exact amount of the sale and indicate whom you are paying. Checks are used in the U.S. the same way cash is used. Before you begin shopping, make sure that personal checks are accepted there. Always have 2 forms of identification with you when you write a check.
Ask at the bank how to fill out checks correctly.

When opening a checking account, some points to consider are:
• Monthly Service Charge - Is there a basic monthly fee or a fee for each check written?
• Minimum Balance - Often, if you have the minimum amount in your account, you do not need to pay a service charge. Is the balance checked daily (you need to have the minimum amount in your account at the end of each day), or is the average balance checked at the end of the month? Make sure you understand the bank's policy for calculating the minimum balance.
• Interest Checking (the money in your checking account is earning interest) Consider the above 2 points and the minimum balance to earn interest. If you do not have this minimum amount in your account, you will not gain the interest. Understand how the minimum balance is calculated.
• Budget Checking - For people who do not have a lot of money in the account at any one time. The monthly service charge is usually less and often there is no minimum balance. There might be a fee for each check written over a specified number. For example, the first 10 checks written in a month are free, and any after 10 are $.50 each.

Savings Account

If you open a savings account, you will be allowed to deposit money into it and withdraw money from it, at the bank or at a banking machine. This money usually earns interest.

Some points to consider when opening a savings account are:
• Monthly Service Charge - How much is it?
• Minimum Balance - What is the minimum needed in your account to avoid monthly service charges and to earn interest? Make sure you understand how the minimum balance is calculated.

Realistically assess your financial situation and pick the bank with the most economical plan for you.

Transactions

When you deposit or withdraw money, you are making a transaction. When you open an account, you will receive a checkbook (checking) and/or passbook (savings) with your account numbers listed on them. You need to know these numbers in order to make a transaction. When you deposit a check into an account, you must endorse (sign) the back of it. Ask at the bank how to endorse a check correctly. This is very important if you want to receive your money. Remember -- when making a deposit, the money is not immediately available for use. Carefully read the bank literature to understand the length of time to complete transactions.

The bank will periodically send you a bank statement. This is a list of all transactions for that period. Always check the statement against your own records and contact the bank if you find any discrepancies. Be aware of how much money is in your checking account at all times so that you do not bounce a check, or write a check for money that you do not have in your account. If your check bounces, you will be fined by the bank and probably by the organization to whom you paid the check.

If you are making a transaction at the bank, you want to bring 2 forms of identification with you. If you are making a withdrawal, the teller may ask, "how would you like it?" This means in what denominations do you want to receive your money.

You can also conduct transactions at an ATM (Automated Teller Machine), if the bank has provided you with a bank card. Sometimes there is a fee for this bank card. Be sure to find out about transaction fees at ATM's. Sometimes if the ATM is from a different bank, you have to pay an extra fee. Your card will have a pin, a numeric code to access the account. Do not share this pin with anyone else and do not store it with your ATM card.

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