One of the first things you should do after arriving in Ithaca is open an account in a local bank. To open an account, you must present proof of identification (passport, driver's license or Cornell ID) and/or proof of affiliation with Cornell (CFCU Community Credit Union only). While it is not necessary to have a social security card to open an account, some banks may ask for it. Please click here to read about whether you will be eligible for a social security number and what to do if you are not eligible.
In essence the services provided by banks in the US are similar to those in other countries, however the terms used may differ from what you may be familiar with in your country. One of the most common points of confusion is the distinction between a Savings account and a Checking account.
A savings account enables you to save money and accumulate interest on your savings account balance. Different banks pay different rates of interest and require different terms and conditions in order to receive interest. While it is easy to transfer money from a savings account to a checking account or vice versa, you cannot write checks of payment from a savings account.
A checking account allows the convenience of paying for goods and services without having to carry cash with you. Checks are most often used to pay monthly bills (telephone, rent, utilities, university bursar bills, etc..). Most area stores and establishments, including grocery stores, accept checks for all purchases. However, most establishments require your name, address and telephone number printed on the check, in order for them to accept your check for any transactions.
The cost and terms of opening and maintaining a checking account differ from bank to bank. Some banks charge for transactions, some have a basic monthly fee, some offer services free while others pay interest subject to a minimum balance. A monthly statement of all transactions made during the preceding month, and/or your canceled checks (checks written by you and cashed and cleared by the bank from your account) will be sent to you every month. You must keep an accurate record of your account to make sure you have enough money for each check you write. Writing a check without enough money in your account to cover it (bouncing a check), will lead to serious financial and legal consequences. Once you open an account you will be given numbered checks printed with your name, address, and account number.
Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) or Money Access Centers (MACs) are computerized banking machines, available 24 hours a day. These machines are operated with a special card and a secret access number, and can be used for all basic banking such as, depositing, transferring and withdrawing money. All the banks have a number of such machines located on campus as well as at different locations around the city. In most cases these machines are exclusive to the particular bank, but some banks have special arrangements for using machines not belonging to them for a charge.
There are two banks on campus: