Bank Accounts and Finances

Pre-Arrival Session for ISO 2023

Opening a U.S. Bank Account

When selecting a bank account, choose a U.S.-based bank account with a debit card and easy access to a bank automatic teller machine (ATM) to avoid fees. Here are some banks to consider in Middletown:

Research Your Options

Banks usually offer two kinds of accounts: Checking and Savings

Checking accounts are the accounts that people usually use for daily transactions. In the past, many people would write paper checks to pay for things, which is how this type of account got its name. These days, people use checking accounts to make purchases using a debit card, online payments, with a paper checks, or a number of other ways.

Savings accounts are accounts where people put money that they do not plan to use soon, with the hopes of saving money and accumulating more. Savings accounts pay interest, which is a small amount paid to you based on the amount of funds that you have in your account. When you put money into a savings account, your bank is technically borrowing your money and paying you interest in return.

Go online and take a look at their terms and conditions for opening the type of account you are interested in. Most banks offer special student checking accounts, which often have less fees and lower minimum account balances than other accounts do.

What is Needed to Open an Account

It is important to find out what is required to open an account at the bank that you are considering, as these can very greatly from bank to bank. When meeting with a banker, let them know that you are an international student at Wesleyan University. Some banks will give you a different set of identification requirements, as you may not have a social security number.

Please be prepared to present the following:

  • Personal Information: full name, home address, home telephone number, your campus telephone number, and your Wesleyan mailing address including Wes Box (best if you have a letter/bill/university correspondence that was sent to you)
  • Passport
  • F-1 visa (if it is in a different passport)
  • Wes Card (your second identification card)
  • Form I-20
  • Proof of university enrollment (print out of your class schedule)/Student exchange agreement letter, if you have one
  • Social Security card, if you have one
  • Money to deposit

Managing Your Money and Bank Account


It is important to be familiar with the fees associated with your selected bank account. Depending on the bank, you may be charged a fee if your balance is too low. Be sure to ask the bank about a minimum balance fee. You will also be charged a fee if you post a debit charge or write a check for more than the balance in your account. 

Debit Card

Debit cards are generally given to you when you open a U.S. bank account. You can use a debit card in two ways: to withdraw money from your account or to charge money directly from your account.

Unlike a credit card which is billed to you once a month, debit card charges will be withdrawn from your account almost immediately. Debit cards are generally given to you when you open a U.S. bank account. 

Withdrawing Cash from Your Account

  • To withdraw money from your bank account, you can either visit a teller (person working at the counter) at your bank or use an automated teller machine (ATM).

  • Be careful using ATMs that are not associated with your bank. They usually charge fees of up to $3.00 per withdrawal. Your bank may, in turn, also charge you a fee for this withdrawal.

  • Cash Back: If you cannot find a bank and you need cash, many stores will offer you “cash back” when making a purchase. This means that you can pay for your purchase and also choose to have an additional amount charged to your debit card ($5 to $40, usually). The cashier would hand you that amount with your receipt.
  • Charging Over the Amount: Stores may also let you buy something small, charge for a larger amount, and keep the change. For example, you can buy a candy bar ($1.50) and charge $40.00 on your debit card. The cashier will give you $38.50 in change. Some places may have limits on the amount you can take or do not offer it.

Payments Forms Accepted

Some restaurants and shops are “cash only,” or have a minimum amount that you need to spend in order to use a debit or credit card. Some of these establishments offer an ATM inside or nearby, but these machines often have very high fees. Your bank may also charge you a fee for using an ATM out of your network, which can make your purchase very expensive in the end. Even in big cities like New York, many places only accept cash, so plan accordingly.

There are some restaurants and shops, on the other hand, that do not accept cash. In these establishments, you must pay for your purchase with a credit or debit card.

Online Banking

It will be easier if you can find online options for managing your bank account. You can usually check your balance, pay bills, and transfer/receive money.

If you have a job, most employers will arrange direct deposit for you. That means when you are paid, you will not receive a paycheck but the money will be directly deposited into your account.

See if you can deposit checks using your mobile phone. Most banks will have an app that allows you to use your camera to deposit checks.  

Direct Debit

Many companies (such as cell phone companies) will ask/require you to use direct debit (automatic withdrawals). This means that a certain amount of money will be taken from your account every month until you cancel the service or the bill is completely paid.

It is important to always monitor your bank balance, especially if you have more than one bill being paid by direct debit. Failure to do so may cause the payment to overdraw your account. If multiple bills overdraw your account at the same time, you will need to pay multiple costly fees.

Personal Checks

Personal checks are useful if you need to mail a bill or provide payments in certain situations. Some companies will or will not accept personal checks, while other companies will only accept checks. Make sure you ask in advance what form of payment you can use. You can request checks from your bank, if you need them.

If you write a check for more money than you have in your bank account, you will be charged a fee, which can be as much as $1000. Always be aware of how much you have in your account, especially when making large purchases or payments.

Credit Cards

To receive a credit card, you must apply and prove that you are not a credit risk.

Credit cards have a limit which is the most you can charge before paying it back. If you are unable to pay the entire bill each month, the charges will remain on the card and accumulate interest. You’ll have to make a minimum payment, which usually only covers the interest.

When you get a card, you should ask what the interest rate is. Many people find themselves in a lot of debt from credit cards, so use them carefully.

Money Orders

Many students will choose to make large payments using money orders. This includes those applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT) and OPT STEM Extension when paying for their Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization filing fee as well as their OISA OPT Processing Fee or STEM OPT Processing Fee. For more information about money orders and paying the Form I-765 processing fee, visit the Money Order page.