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Do I Need Proof of Citizenship to Open a Bank Account?

Last month, Bank of America reportedly froze access to a Kansas couple after they failed to provide proof of U.S. citizenship. Josh Collins and wife Jessica Salazar Collins disregarded a form the bank mailed them in June asking whether Collins (who was born in Wichita) was a citizen, assuming it was a scam.

The couple's access was restored after Collins provided a driver's license, but the incident left many people wondering why the bank was asking for proof of citizenship in the first place, and others wondering if you need to be a U.S. citizen to open a bank account.

Citizen, Customer Information

Bank of America spokesperson Diane Wagner told The Kansas City Star the request was part of routine updates to customers' information. "If we don't hear from a customer in response to our outreach," she said, "as a last resort, we may restrict the account until we can confirm it is in compliance with regulatory requirements." In a statement last month, the bank asserted it is "required by law to maintain complete and accurate records for all of our customers and may periodically request information, such as country of citizenship and proof of U.S. residency."

However, federal law doesn't prohibit banks from opening accounts for non-U.S. citizens, and must only request and confirm their name, date of birth, residential address, and Social Security number. Some banks may request citizenship information as part of efforts to curb international money laundering. But there is no statute prohibiting banks from opening or giving access to accounts without proof of citizenship.

SSN, ITIN, ID

Many banks will ask for a valid photo ID and Social Security number when opening a checking or savings account. However, tourists, permanent residents, and even undocumented immigrants may still be able to open a bank account if they can provide a passport, individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), alien identification card number, or any other government-issued document that proves your nationality or residence.

An ITIN is issued by the IRS to individuals who are required to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but who don't have, and aren't eligible to obtain a Social Security number. ITINs are issued regardless of immigration status, and you can fill out a form W-7 to request one.

You may also have to provide proof of address, for which a utility bill, lease, current driver's license, municipal ID should suffice.

If you've been denied access to your account based on your citizenship, or are having trouble opening a bank account due to citizenship issues, contact and experienced banking attorney for help.

By Christopher Coble, Esq