As federal actions threaten immigrants’ rights and economic security, immigrant New Yorkers are rightly concerned about how to protect themselves and their families. Here, you’ll find answers to frequently asked questions about immigrants’ financial rights, based on current laws and information. It’s important to know your rights, so that you can distinguish between rumors and facts and make informed decisions.
“I want to keep my money safe but I don’t trust banks. What can I do?”
New Economy Project strongly recommends community development credit unions (CDCUs) — not-for-profit banking institutions rooted in local communities. When you open an account at a CDCU, you become a member/owner and have a voice in how the credit union operates. Because CDCUs’ mission is to serve and invest in low income and immigrant communities, they offer low-cost financial services and usually have flexible requirements to open accounts and apply for loans.
Many CDCUs in NYC also provide international money transfers, free financial counseling and tax preparation, ITIN assistance and other helpful services. Like bank accounts, credit union accounts are fully-insured by the U.S. government, up to $250,000, so your money is protected.
“Why not keep cash at home?”
By choice or necessity, many people keep large amounts of cash at home. Doing so carries the risk that your money could be lost or stolen. If you are detained or deported, you may not be able to recover money left at home. Joining a CDCU can also save you hundreds of dollars each year, compared with using check cashers or pawn shops.
“Can I open an account if I’m undocumented?”
Yes. Credit unions and banks are legally required to verify your identity — not your immigration status. Most CDCUs accept both U.S. and foreign government-issued ID, such as passports and consular IDs (matrícula consular), as well as IRS-issued Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers. Here in NYC, CDCUs also accept IDNYC, the city’s municipal identification cards, to open accounts.
“What would happen to my account if I am detained or deported?”
If you are detained or deported, your money in a CDCU account would still belong to you. You could ask the CDCU to close your account and mail you a check, withdraw the funds from an ATM, or potentially continue to use the account from abroad. Anyone who is listed as a co-signer on your account would continue to have full access to the account.
“What else should I know?”
Whenever immigration laws and executive orders are in the news, scam artists emerge offering expensive and often fraudulent services. Stay away from notarios, tax preparers, and other “advisers” who charge hundreds or thousands of dollars for bogus services, or services that you can get for free. As a rule, you should never give your financial information to anyone you do not know well or fully trust.
Although we recommend CDCUs for many reasons, it’s important to know that you also have rights with respect to banks and other financial institutions. It’s illegal for banks to discriminate against you because of your national origin, race, color, religion, sex, marital status, age or history of public assistance, for example.
Please feel free to contact the NYC Financial Justice Hotline at 212-925-4929 for one-on-one legal advice or referrals. New Economy Project will continue to monitor these issues and provide updated information, as needed.
This information is neither presented as nor constitutes legal advice, and is not to be acted on as such, and may change with new developments.
For free legal advice, if you are a low-income NYC resident:
NYC Financial Justice Hotline: 212-925-4929
For a list of CDCUs in New York City:
To find a CDCU anywhere in the U.S.:
To learn more about the NYS “Basic Banking” Account: