You need to be able to prove your identity to open a checking or savings account with a debit card, and a Social Security number is the usual proof. But it's not the only identification a U.S. citizen can provide. Some banks will accept a number called an individual taxpayer identification number, or ITIN, instead, which you can obtain from the Internal Revenue Service if you're not eligible to get a Social Security number.
The majority of US banks will only issue debit cards to individuals who have a Social Security number. However, in the absence of an SSN, you can also apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, which, in come situations, may make you eligible for a bank account and credit card.
Social Security Number Requirements
Many U.S. banks will only issue accounts to people with valid Social Security numbers. This can even be true of prepaid debit cards, as well as traditional checking, savings and credit card accounts.
Since the USA Patriot Act was passed in 2001, banks and other financial institutions have been subject to stringent anti-money-laundering rules, which require them to collect information and verify that they can identify their customers. Requiring a Social Security number is the most common way for them to do so, even though it can exclude some potential customers and make some concerned about their privacy.
Getting a Social Security Number
If you don't have a U.S. Social Security number, you may still be eligible for one even if you are not a U.S. citizen. Generally, if you are authorized to work in the United States, you are eligible for a Social Security number. You can get the number and a Social Security card free of charge.
Otherwise, you must prove that you need such a number for another valid reason, such as collecting federal or state benefits to which you are entitled. Credit checks, driver's licenses and other programs that can identify you by another number generally don't entitle you to a Social Security number.
Getting an ITIN
In many cases, you may be able to get an alternative number called an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. These are generally available to people required to pay tax in the United States or be named on various tax forms, such as people with U.S. mortgage interest payments or who are dependents of U.S. income tax filers, who aren't eligible to receive Social Security numbers.
To apply for one, you generally must apply to the IRS with a tax return that requires an identification number to file or certify you're eligible for an exception to that rule, such as being someone's dependent who doesn't need to file a separate return. If you're deemed eligible, the IRS will provide you with an ITIN free of charge, generally within four to six weeks.
Using the ITIN
Some, but not all, banks will allow you to open a bank account or even receive a credit card using an ITIN without a Social Security number. You may be required to provide photo identification, such as your passport, including from another country, or a state or local ID.
Since not all banks will open accounts for people with ITINs and not Social Security numbers, it's worth calling around or researching online before stopping by a branch.
- Washington State Department of Financial Institutions; Debit Card Frequently Asked Questions
- Get Debit; Why Do I Need to Provide a SSN to Get a Prepaid Debit Card?
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Can I Get a Checking Account Without a Social Security Number?
- IRS: General ITIN Information
- ID NYC: Banks and Credit Unions
- NerdWallet: How Undocumented Immigrants Can Get Bank Accounts
- WalletHub: Best Credit Cards Without SSN Requirements
- Social Security: Social Security Information for Noncitizens
- Immihelp: Understanding Your IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification (ITIN)
- E-Verify.gov. "What is E-Verify." Accessed March 11, 2020.
- Social Security Administration. "Social Security Numbers: Social Security Number Chronology." Accessed March 11, 2020.
- FAFSA.edu.gov. "Information on the Privacy Act, use and disclosure of Social Security Numbers." Accessed March 11, 2020.
- Social Security Administration. "Social Security Numbers for Noncitizens," Page 1. Accessed March 11, 2020.
- Social Security Administration. "The Story of the Social Security Number." Accessed March 11, 2020.
Steven Melendez is an independent journalist with a background in technology and business. He has written for a variety of business publications including Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Innovation Leader and Ad Age. He was awarded the Knight Foundation scholarship to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.