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I'm trying to open an account at a local US credit union as a Canadian international student with no US income. Their terms of service (which appear to be copy-pasted from a template) say

we require you to provide us with your TIN and to certify that it is correct.

However, later the agreement says

There are special rules if you do not have a TIN but have applied for one, if you are a foreign person, or if you are exempt from the reporting requirements

The tellers at the branch refused to open an account without a TIN/ITIN/SSN. I called the manager and she talked all the way up to the CEO. Apparently any idiot can open a credit union without knowing what they're doing, because nobody knows what this means.

Some internet searching reveals that the MIT Federal Credit Union allows international students to open an account using form W8-BEN. I tried presenting this to my local credit union and they claimed they had never seen one before.

My question is: what are the regulations regarding foreign persons and can this bank legally deny me an account because I do not have (and cannot legally get) an ITIN or SSN?

Follow-up: I can legally get an ITIN under Exception 1c, but to do it I need a letter from the bank stating that I have opened an account with them

  • So did you managed to open a bank account?? I am on the same boat. No TIN number the IRS want the bank to produce a letter in order to get the iTIN but the bank won't do a letter unless I have an account and the requirement for the account is to have a TIN/SSN.. arrghh.. it is a chicken and egg situation!! Please let me know what you did to open an account or which bank did you managed to do this?? I have tried Bank of America, US Bank and HSBC and a few others.. no luck :( – user21964 Oct 16 '14 at 16:25
  • Did you find a financial institution that would give you the letter required for exception 1c? Having the same trouble. – Diana Feb 3 '15 at 12:05
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My question is: what are the regulations regarding foreign persons and can this bank legally deny me an account because I do not have (and cannot legally get) an ITIN or SSN?

You can always get either ITIN or SSN. In fact, ITIN is given by the IRS specifically for people who are not eligible for SSN.

Filling form W8BEN doesn't mean you don't need ITIN. See instructions for line 6 of the form.

Opening account with a credit union is an investment, and they will pay you dividend/interest. They're not allowed, legally, to do that without having your tax ID number (either SSN or ITIN). So it stands to reason that a credit union can refuse opening an account without one.

You can try a bank, instead.

  • I've never heard that a credit union is "an investment", and this credit union offers accounts that do NOT pay dividends or interest, so I don't think that part is true. Also W8BEN Line 6 says "ITIN, if required" – Eric Aug 16 '13 at 19:52
  • I did a little more reading on the ITIN, the IRS says that "ITINs are issued regardless of immigration status because both resident and nonresident aliens may have a U.S. filing or reporting requirement under the Internal Revenue Code. Individuals must have a filing requirement and file a valid federal income tax return to receive an ITIN", but I missed the part that said unless they meet an exception. I looked them up and apparently this situation falls under "Exception 1. Passive income—third party withholding or tax treaty benefits" – Eric Aug 16 '13 at 19:55
  • Ha! Although even that is tricky. This is the exception "1(c) Individuals who are “resident aliens” for tax purposes and have opened an interest-bearing bank deposit account that generates income subject to IRS information reporting and/or federal tax withholding" and this is the documentation required "1(c) A signed letter from the bank on its official letterhead, displaying your name and stating that you have opened an individual deposit account that is subject to IRS information reporting and/or federal tax withholding on the interest generated during the current tax year" – Eric Aug 16 '13 at 20:09
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    @Eric get a TA job for a semester and get an SSN. It will be much easier than dealing with ITIN. IRS is really making the life miserable for foreigners in the US, and there's nothing much you can do about it. – littleadv Aug 16 '13 at 20:24

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