Bank Accounts & Credit Cards

How to Choose a Bank?

  • Consider the location of branch offices and automatic teller machines (ATM) locations.
  • Ask about monthly fees, fees for withdrawals & transfers, minimum required balance, etc.
  • Banking hours typically are Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
  • Some banks are open for a few hours on Saturday mornings or one or two evenings a week until 6:00 pm.
  • Most banks offer online services that you can access after you have opened an account so you do not need to go in person.

How to Open a Bank Account?

  • Speak to someone in customer service.
  • Show two forms of identification, a visa document (Forms I-20, DS-2019 or I-797) and a passport.
  • A local address is required.

Checking and Savings Accounts

  • Checking accounts are for writing checks or making online payments to pay bills.
  • Most banks offer online banking services, allowing you to pay bills and monitor your bank account online.
  • Monitor your account so that you know you have sufficient funds for every check/online payment. If not, your account will be considered overdrawn, and you will incur additional charges.
  • Every month your bank will send you a statement that lists all account activities during the previous month and a photocopy of all the checks you wrote in the previous month. You can sign up for paperless statements and view these online rather than receiving them in the mail.
  • You cannot write checks using a savings account.

Debit Cards

  • Most banks issue a debit card with the opening of a bank account.
  • A debit card looks like, and for the most part, functions like a credit card. The main difference is that money is taken directly from your bank account when using a debit card.
  • Most businesses accept debit cards. Your account may be limited to a certain number of daily withdrawals.

Credit Cards

  • Most banks offer credit cards. Please take some time to research and compare your options before deciding on a credit card.
  • In most cases international students and scholars will be required to have a Social Security Number (SSN) in order to apply for a credit card.
  • International graduate students who are not eligible for an SSN will be able to obtain a credit card with limited credit when opening an account at the Harvard Federal Credit Union (Harvard FCU). You will need to present a Harvard ID, a $5.00 minimum opening deposit, and a valid passport. You will be asked to complete IRS Form W-8BEN. More information is available on the Harvard FCU website.
  • For your protection sometimes banks and credit card companies temporarily freeze your account when they notice unusual activities such as withdrawals being made in another country. It is recommended to notify your bank and/or credit card company before you travel outside the United States so you can have uninterrupted access to your account.

If your checks, debit cards, or credit cards are lost or stolen, notify your bank and/or the appropriate credit card company immediately.