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Financial Inclusion for Newcomers Roadmap

Newcomers face unique financial challenges, particularly when you have recently arrived to the United States.  Establishing a secure financial foundation is critical to providing for your family and accomplishing your life goals in a new country. The San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE) and Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs (OCEIA) created this roadmap to guide newcomers on initial steps you can take toward greater financial inclusion. 

1. Open a Savings Account

WHY? Opening a savings account with a bank gives you a safe place to store your money for expenses and emergencies. You can cash your checks with the bank instead of using check cashing services to avoid their high fees. You may be able to work with your employer to set up direct deposit of your paychecks into your bank account, so that the funds are available to you more quickly and reliably. While a savings account will not provide you with a debit card or checks, you may be able to link it with apps to receive payments. 

HOW? Visit the Self-Help Federal Credit Union branch located at 2430 Mission Street in San Francisco to ask about opening a savings account without providing an SSN or ITIN. In this case, the account would be non-interest bearing and you must go to the branch in person to open it. If you are not a resident of San Francisco, there may be a $5 membership fee to open the account. 

2. Apply for an ITIN & File Your Taxes 

WHY? An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is a tax processing number issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for those not eligible for a Social Security Number. With an ITIN, you can report your earnings to the Internal Revenue Service, open interest-bearing bank accounts with certain banks, and conduct business in the United States. 

Using your ITIN to file taxes may qualify you and your family to receive a tax refund. Having tax returns from filing taxes is an important record to be able to show in the future if you are trying to get a loan or apply for college financial aid. 

HOW? You can apply for an ITIN through the IRS, which provides basic guidance on their website. There is no application fee. You will need to provide identifying documentation, such as a passport. You typically need to send original copies of your documents to the IRS.

Alternatively, to avoid sending original documents, you can submit an application through the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center or with a Certifying Acceptance Agent, who is authorized to send copies instead of originals. You will also need to show proof of income in the United States (note: if your income is all cash, you can self-report the best estimate of your income). For free assistance applying for an ITIN and filing your taxes, you may contact community-based organizations who are Certifying Acceptance Agents in SF, including the Mission Economic Development Agency (, or (415) 282-3334) or the Chinese Newcomers Service Center  ( or (415) 421-2111).  Additional Certifying Acceptance Agents located at free tax sites are listed here.

3. Open a San Francisco Bank On Certified Account

WHY?  Bank On San Francisco helps you find a safe, affordable bank account, with no overdraft or hidden fees. A bank account is important because it is the door to the financial mainstream and greater economic stability. It doesn't matter how much money you have, if you don't have a social security number or California ID, or if you've had trouble banking in the past. With Bank On San Francisco, everyone is welcome! Bank On San Francisco accounts feature no overdraft or other hidden fees, minimum opening deposits of $25 or less, no required minimum balance, online and mobile banking, and low monthly fees of $10 or less. 

HOW? Once you have an ITIN, you can open most of San Francisco’s certified accounts. Check out the Bank On SF website to 1. Compare bank accounts, 2. Gather the required documents, and 3. Open an account online or at a bank branch near you.

4. Build Your Credit

WHY?  Your credit score is an important piece of your financial profile.  Establishing credit and building a strong credit score will give you access to qualify and receive lower interest rates on loans and credit cards.  In some instances, credit score is an important factor that landlords and employers review when you apply for housing and jobs.  Note, there are steps you can take to transfer the credit history that you have built from your ITIN to a Social Security Number, if you receive one in the future.

HOW? Once you have an ITIN, you can begin to build your credit in a number of ways.  You can use a credit building product specifically designed to establish and improve your credit score, such as Self Help Federal Credit Union’s Credit Builder Loans.  There are resources available through community organizations, such as Mission Asset Fund’s Lending Circles.  In some cases, you may even be able to transfer your credit history from your country of origin to the United States using Nova Credit.  For support and guidance on building credit for your specific situation, you can set up a free appointment with a financial counselor through the Office of Financial Empowerment.

Help and Support

Smart Money Coaching provides free, confidential, one-on-one financial guidance to anyone who lives, works, or receives services in San Francisco, regardless of immigration status. Specially trained and certified financial counselors can support you to open safe and affordable bank accounts, to build savings or an emergency fund, to reduce or manage debt, and to establish or build credit. Schedule an in-person or virtual appointment online at  Smart Money Coaches can provide sessions in English, Spanish, and Mandarin as well as access interpretation services for any other languages. 

Find free or low-cost immigration legal services in your own language from an organization near you.  Find out more here: 

If you currently live in San Francisco, you can get a free SF City ID Card, which is a valid form of ID and is recognized by local government agencies.  Anyone living in San Francisco can apply regardless of immigration status.  For more information, visit: Get a free SF City ID Card | San Francisco.

Watch Out!

  • Alternative financial services that are not provided through a bank, such as check cashers and pay day lenders, can charge extremely high fees and interest rates.  If you can, avoid using check cashers and use a local bank or credit union instead.  If you do need a quick, relatively small loan to get you through to your next paycheck, view this guidance as you look through your options. 

  • Be careful, there are financial scams that specifically target immigrants.  In San Francisco, we have seen fraudulent immigrant consultants, financial investments, tax services and online travel companies.  The U.S. Federal Trade Commission offers trusted consumer advice about scams.  If you believe you are the victim of a scam, we encourage to contact the SF City Attorney's Office via an online portal at and the FTC at