Debit Cards for Workers Without Social Security Numbers

by
Adam Rust

People working in the United States without a Social Security number may be turned away by some banks when they apply for a checking account.

Other applicants might visit the branch of a bank that does accept alternative forms of identification but may encounter a teller who has not been trained to know about the bank’s ability to meet the needs of these workers. Bottom-line, without training, the result for the consumer is the same: he or she leaves the branch without an account.

However, other institutions design their business models to meet this audience. They do everything it takes to attract these workers.

The process – identification

It starts with how an applicant qualifies for an account. If the worker does not have a Social Security number, then these companies have acquired the infrastructure to incorporate other sources. Most likely, the next best document is an Individual Tax ID number (“ITIN”). 

The Internal Revenue Services issues the ITIN. They have the ITIN system in place to make sure that all workers, and not just those with Social Security numbers, file and pay taxes. Without the ITIN program, the Treasury Department would miss out on billions of dollars in tax receipts. Some people believe that illegal immigrants work without paying taxes. It is simply not true – and the ITIN enables collection.

All ITINs begin with the number 9.

Some banks will accept other forms, as well.

1.       The Matricula Consular card: Since 1971, Mexico has issued the Matricula Consumer de Alta Seguridad (“MCAS”) through its consulate offices. The MCAS card provides a form of identification for Mexican nationals living abroad.

2.       A passport issued by a foreign country.

3.       A driver’s license from your home country.

Be prepared for the possibility that you will need more than one i.d. Some banks may accept one of these forms but still require additional documentation to verify your identity. Do not feel ashamed if it happens. The bank only wants to make sure that the applicant is indeed whom he or she is claiming to be. If, for example, you can provide evidence to show that you have a permanent address in the United States, the bank may consent to give you an account. The critical point to understand is that you can still get an account with having a Social Security number.

Government regulators (the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) expect banks to verify the identities of their customers. The government requires all financial institutions to meet their “Know Your Customer” standards. Moreover, important rules in the Anti-Money Laundering Act (“AML) are designed to make sure that rogue individuals do not use the United States’ banking system to transfer money from illegal operations.

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The Added Value of a Spanish-first Account

A Spanish-speaking worker can choose from three types of financial services.

He or she could avoid using a bank account and instead resort to making transactions with check cashers, money orders, and cash.

The same person could find a traditional bank. Invariably, the bank will have put together Spanish-language materials for some of its services. However, it is unlikely that it will have a Spanish-language app or is it probable that the branch will have tellers who are fully fluent in Spanish. There will be exceptions to that rule, of course. In my experience, larger banks tend to have more staff in their branches, and as a result, it is more common to be able to find a teller with fluency.

Alternatively, he or she could seek out an account that is designed first and foremost for Spanish-first account holders. These accounts will deliver all of their services in Spanish. The account will use Spanish for its website, for its customer service, for its fine-print disclosures, for its app, and for its statements.

The Spanish-first accounts will have other features as well. I know of two prepaid debit card accounts that offer a remittance service to consumers. Not only that, but their fees are far below those charged by the national money transmitting chains. With both, an account holder can send a remittance inside the smartphone app.

Getting back to the earlier point, but these accounts will make it easy to submit your alternative forms of ID. How easy? Well, so easy that you can do it inside the comfort of your home. Through some advanced technologies, they will let you take a photo of your alternative ID and then upload it to the app during the application process.

¡Muy facíl!

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