What kinds of coins and bills do I use in the United States?

Coins include: the penny (one cent), nickel (five cents), dime (ten cents), and quarter (twenty-five cents). Half-dollar (fifty cents) and one-dollar (100 cents) coins (known as silver dollars) are also available, but rarely used. Paper slips, called bills, come in denominations (values) of $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. Most people generally use $20 bills or less, and many places will not accept bills larger than $20.

Where can I exchange money?

Most large banks can exchange your country's money to U.S. currency.

Where should I keep my money?

Banks and savings and loans offer a variety of services that allow you to do many things with your money. Checking accounts are the most widely-used service offered by banks (most savings and loans do not offer checking services). With a checking account you pay for items with a check (issued to you by the bank) rather than with cash, and you are better able to keep track of how much money you have and where it goes.

Savings accounts allow you to earn interest on your money. If you have a large sum of money which you do not plan to use for several months and on which you want to earn interest, you might consider opening a savings account at either a bank or savings and loan. For information on other services, contact a local bank or savings and loan.

Which bank or savings and loan should I go to?

Not all banks and savings and loans are the same. They all charge different fees for different services and offer different interest rates. Ask an American friend or the foreign student adviser at your school to help you find the best bank to meet your needs.

How do checking accounts work?

First, you must deposit (put in) money in the account at the bank. Both you and the bank keep track of how much money you put in the account. When you need to pay someone for any reason, you write out a check by filling in all the information on the check-writing the check, the amount you are paying, the reason you wrote the check (in the "memo" area), and your signature (signed as your name appears at the top of the check if your checks are pre-printed).

When writing the amount on the check, the amount must be stated both in numbers and written out. For example, if you are buying something that costs $19.90, write "$19.90" on the line next to the name of the person or organization, and "Nineteen and 90/100" on the next line. If spelling out the amount does not fill up the whole line, put a line between the amount and the word "dollars" at the end of the line.

After you write the check, record the check number, the date, to whom you wrote the check, and the amount of the check in the check record log in your checkbook. In this log, you will also record any money you put into your account. To deposit money, you must fill out a deposit slip which is included with your checks or available at the bank. Give the deposit slip and money to the bank cashier, who will give you back a receipt showing how much money you put in the account.

Whenever you write a check, subtract the amount of the check from the balance (the amount of money you currently have in your checking account), which is recorded in the right-hand column of the check record log. Whenever you deposit money, add that amount to the balance. This way you can always know how much money you have in your account.

The bank also keeps track of how much money you have in your account. Each month, the bank sends you its record of the checks you wrote and the deposits you made in the past month. This record is called a "bank statement." When you get the bank statement, check to make sure that the bank has recorded the same amounts for checks and deposits that you have recorded.

Do not be alarmed if the balance on the bank statement does not match the current balance you have recorded in your checkbook. Checks take some time to reach the bank to be recorded (checks that you have written but the bank has not yet received are called "outstanding checks.") These outstanding checks are not recorded on the bank statement. It is recommended that you keep your monthly bank statements for at least three years.

Some banks offer special services for students. Be sure to ask if your bank does.

What is a "minimum balance"?

In order for you to avoid certain fees or charges, some banks require you to have a "minimum balance" in your checking account. If your balance drops below the minimum balance, the bank will charge you a fee.

What happens if I write a check for more money than I have in my account?

Writing a check with insufficient funds (for more money than you have in your checking account) can be considered a crime. The bank will either return such a check, often called a "bad check," to the person to whom you wrote the check or temporarily pay for the check. If the bank temporarily pays the check, the bank will charge you an "overdraft fee." If the bank returns the check to a business, that business will probably require you to pay the amount of the check plus an additional charge called a "service charge." In addition you may face other charges or fines for breaking the law.

What are "automatic teller" or "cash" machines, and how do I use one?

Automatic teller machines (ATM) or "cash" machines allow you to perform a variety of banking functions-get cash, make deposits, transfer money between accounts, and sometimes even pay bills-without having to go to a bank. These machines, which are often found in bank lobbies or parking lots, in grocery and convenience stores, and in shopping malls, usually operate 24 hours a day.

To use these machines, you must get a special card and a personal code number (or password) from your bank, which will probably charge you a small fee to use the card (check with your bank about fees and rules for using the card). Once you have the card, simply insert it into the machine as instructed, type in your personal pass code, and then follow the instructions on the machine. The machine will give you a receipt of all the transactions you perform.

For safety reasons, avoid using an ATM machine by yourself at night. Never put your card and code number in the same place, such as your wallet or purse. Memorize your code number, and notify the bank immediately if your card is lost or stolen.

How safe is my money in a bank or savings and loan?

Almost all banks and savings and loans are federally insured by either the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or the Federal Savings & Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC). If you have deposits of under $100,000 in insured banks and savings and loans, you are guaranteed by the federal government to get that money back if the bank or savings and loan should go out of business.

If your bank or savings or loan is not federally insured, you may want to consider changing to another bank or savings and loan that is.

What are credit cards?

Credit cards are similar to checks in that they allow you to purchase items without cash. They are more convenient than checks because you can use them almost anywhere you travel (many businesses will not accept out-of-town or out-of-state checks) and because you do not need to keep a record of a balance-you receive a monthly bill for your credit card purchases.

They are also more expensive to use than checks. Most credit card companies charge an annual fee to use their credit cards. Also, you are charged a high annual interest rate on your charge balance. (Every month you receive a bill for all the charges you made the previous month. If you do not pay the full amount, you are charged interest on the remaining amount.) In addition, many gasoline service stations charge you more per gallon to use a credit card to purchase gasoline.

Several types of credit cards exist. Major credit cards, such as Visa, MasterCard, and American Express, allow you to purchase almost any item you want at any type of business. Retail credit cards from large stores, such as JC Penney, Sears, and so forth, allow you to purchase items only at those particular stores. Gasoline credit cards from oil companies, such as Amoco, Texaco, and so forth, allow you to purchase gasoline, other items, and services only from their service stations.

How do I get a credit card?

Not everyone can get a credit card. To obtain one, you must fill out an application showing how much income you receive and how many bills you have. If the credit card company decides that you do not make enough money or have too many bills to pay, you will not be approved for a credit card.

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