Protect Yourself and Your Money
Learn more in this section about bank accounts, using an ATM Safely and many other ways to protect you and your money. For instance, did you know that over the long term, a bank account can be less costly than using non-bank financial services, and can help you start to build a relationship with a bank and a financial history that will help you in the future?
New York State law requires that all banks offer consumers a low-fee bank account that meets specific basic criteria. Anyone in New York State can have a basic banking account if they meet certain conditions. learn more below...
Credit Card Terms and Fees
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is the federal agency charged with protecting consumers in the U.S. market for financial products and services.
The CFPB takes a survey twice a year of the terms of credit card plans offered by some of the largest credit card issuers in the country. In addition, the CFPB's database of credit card complaints and complaint responses informs the public about complaints. Its database of credit card agreements, from more than 300 card issuers, features general credit card terms and conditions, pricing, and fee information.
Although the credit terms and agreements provided by the CFPB are subject to change and you should contact issuers for current rates, fee, and other types of plans, the CFPB complaint database, credit card plan survey and agreement database are good places to start if you are shopping for a credit card.
- Visit the CFPB website to learn more at www.consumerfinance.gov/credit-cards
If you have questions about the information on this website contact the Department of Financial Services. If you have questions or concerns about the information offered on the CFPB website, please contact the CFPB directly.
Opening a Bank Account
Why Open a bank account?
- Your money will be kept safe from theft, damage or loss.
- As long as the bank is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), your accounts will be insured for up to $250,000. If your credit union is insured by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), your accounts will also be insured for up to $250,000.
- Over the long term, a bank account can be less costly than using a check casher or other non-bank service.
- You can start to build a relationship with a bank and a financial history that will help you in the future.
- A bank account can help you save money.
Choosing a financial institution
Shop around to find a bank that fits your needs. Call or visit at least three different banks before making a decision. Factors to take into consideration include:
- What type of accounts does this bank offer?
- What sort of fees does it charge and for what?
- Is the bank conveniently located close to home or work?
- Does this bank have convenient operating hours?
- Does the bank have convenient Automated Teller Machine (ATM) locations?
- Do any of the employees speak my language?
- What type of identification will I need to open an account?
- Can I do my banking over the phone or online?
- Do I belong to a group that has formed a credit union and am I eligible to join?
- Is the bank FDIC insured, or if it is a credit union is it NCUA insured?
Types of Banks:
- Savings Banks are for-profit businesses that take deposits of money, invest that money and pay interest to the depositor out of the money generated from investments. They also may make credit available to those depositors.
- Credit Unions are nonprofit, cooperative financial institutions owned and controlled by the people who use them. Members share something in common, such as where they work, live, or worship.
- Commercial Banks used to deal only with businesses but now also offer individuals most of the same services and benefits as savings, savings and loans and credit unions.
- Savings & Loans accept deposits in savings accounts, for which they pay interest. The banks then use that money to make loans, usually to residential home buyers in their community.
- Investment banks are companies that give investment advice. They buy and sell stocks and bonds. Investment banks may not accept deposits or make loans and they are not FDIC insured.
Choosing an Account
There are different accounts from which to choose depending on your needs and your financial limitations.
- Basic Banking: All New York State banks are required by law to offer low-cost or "lifeline" accounts called Basic Banking Accounts. Basic Banking accounts can be opened with $25 or less, can be maintained with a balance of one cent and must permit a minimum of eight free withdrawals per billing cycle and a maximum charge per cycle of $3 per month. If you want a Basic Banking Account the bank may require that you be a New York State Resident and that you not maintain any other transaction account at the bank. Learn More about Basic Bank Accounts.
- Savings: A savings account is a deposit account that earns interest. That interest is known as an Annual Percentage Yield or APY. The APY is the amount your money will earn if left in the bank for one year.
- Checking: A checking account allows you to deposit money, withdraw money and write checks to pay for purchases and bills. Most banks will also provide a debit or ATM card and a checkbook to allow you to withdraw cash and make deposits at your bank's ATM machines.
- Certificate of Deposit (CD): This account is deposit only and offers a guaranteed interest rate for a specified term usually ranging from 6 months to 5 years if you promise not to touch the money for the agreed upon term. Most banks charge a penalty for early withdrawal.
- Money Market or Negotiable Order of Withdrawal (NOW) Accounts: These are deposit accounts that pay interest. These accounts provide a higher interest rate than traditional savings accounts and usually come with high minimum balance requirements of $10,000 or more.
Decide what account or combination of accounts is right for you:
- How much money do I need to have to open an account?
- Is there a minimum amount of money that I need to keep in the account at all times to avoid fees?
- How much interest will I earn?
- Does this account include a debit or check card?
- What are the charges for using my debit card at my bank? At another bank?
- Can I bank online or by phone?
- What fees are charged for bounced checks?
- How many checks can I write each month without being charged a fee?
- Are there any other fees that I should be aware of?
Protect your bank account:
- Be careful about the type of information you provide on your personal checks. Never print your driver's license number or your Social Security number on your checks.
- Balance your checkbook and read your statement every month to check for errors and avoid overdraft or "bounced checks." Immediately report any errors you find.
- An ATM card can sometimes be used to make purchases as a debit card linked to your checking or savings account. Remember that it is not a credit card and money spent will be deducted almost immediately from the bank account to which it is attached.
- Exercise caution when making ATM withdrawals, particularly from a machine that is located in a non-bank environment, such as a grocery store, deli or shopping mall. These locations are not regulated by the Department of Financial Services.
- Choose a PIN that is unique. Don't use your birthday, social security or another obvious number. Don't use your mother's actual maiden name. When asked, substitute a different password.
- Never store your PIN with your ATM card and never give out your PIN number to anyone.
- Before proceeding with a transaction, look around to see if you see anyone who may arouse your slightest suspicion. Use your free hand to cover the ATM keyboard while you type your PIN number.
- Never leave your transaction receipts behind at the ATM.
- If your card is lost or stolen or if you suspect it is being used fraudulently contact your bank and then contact the three credit reporting agencies to put a fraud alert on the card.
Basic Bank Accounts
New York State law requires that all banks (including commercial banks, savings banks and credit unions) must offer consumers a low-fee bank account that meets specific basic criteria. Banks are permitted to impose certain conditions on opening and maintaining a basic banking account.
No matter what name the bank gives to the type of account, anyone in New York State can have a basic banking account if the following conditions are met:
- The initial deposit amount required to open the account cannot be more than $25.
- The minimum balance required to maintain the account is not more than $.01 (one cent).
- The monthly charge for the maintenance of the account cannot be more than $3.00.
- Account holders under sixty-five years of age are allowed at least eight withdrawals per month at no additional charge, and account holders sixty-five years of age or older are allowed at least twelve withdrawal transactions. Withdrawals can include checks, ATM withdrawals and purchases using a debit card attached to the account.
- There is no limit to the number of deposits that can be made to the account per month.
- The law also allows a bank the flexibility to offer an account that is at least as advantageous to consumers as the basic banking account. For example they can offer 12 withdrawal transactions for $4 instead of eight withdrawal transactions for $3.
- The bank may require that you be a resident of New York State.
- The bank can ask you to provide the same information and identification that anyone else is asked to provide when opening an account at that bank. This will vary from bank to bank.
- You may be required to close all other transaction accounts at that or any other bank. You will be given a reasonable period of time (at least 60 days from the date the basic banking account is opened) to do so.
- The bank may require that you use direct deposit, if it is available to you, for any recurring payments like Social Security, pay check, pension payments, etc.
- Fees and charges for services that are not included in your agreement may be charged to your account in the same way that the bank charges its regular account holders (for example, charges for printing checks, bounced checks, certified checks, debit purchases, using another bank's ATM Machine, etc.)
Shop around for the basic low-cost checking account that is right for you since the services offered vary from bank to bank. Find out what the monthly maintenance fee is and how many transactions are allowed per month and compare them to your own monthly banking needs.
Pay careful attention to any monthly fees and/or per-transaction fees that the bank may charge if you go over your transaction limits.
Read and understand your agreement before you sign it. If you have any questions, sit down with someone at the banking institution and be sure that your questions answered to your satisfaction.
Using an ATM Safely
Common sense is your best guide to using an ATM safely.& If you suspect something isn’t quite right, trust your instincts. Use an ATM or a bank branch where you feel more comfortable.
- If at all possible, use a machine that is located in a bank location. It may be easier for criminals to tamper with a machine that is in a non-bank location, such as a grocery store, deli or shopping mall. To find a bank-owned or -operated ATM near you, visit our Open Data site for Bank-Owned ATM Locations in New York State Map.
- Choose an ATM that is well-lighted and monitored by a surveillance camera or a security guard.
- If you are using an indoor ATM that requires your card to open the door, avoid letting anyone that you do not know come in with you. Once inside the vestibule, make sure the door is completely closed behind you.
- Before proceeding with your transaction, look around to guard against surveillance by anyone who may arouse your slightest suspicion.
- Minimize your time at the ATM. Have your card ready. If you're making a deposit using an envelope, seal the envelope before you head to the ATM.
- Use your free hand to cover the ATM keyboard while you type in your Personal Identification Number (PIN).
- Do not re-enter your PIN if the ATM swallows your card - contact the bank immediately.
- If you see anything suspicious, immediately cancel your transaction and leave. Confirm with your financial institution as soon as possible that the transaction was indeed canceled.
- Make sure to place your money, card and receipt securely in your wallet or on your person before leaving the ATM.
- At a drive-up ATM, keep your engine running, lock all your doors, and close all windows except your own. When using an indoor ATM, be sure to lock your car and take your keys with you; don't ever leave your car running.
- Always request a receipt for your transaction. Compare your receipts to your monthly statements.
- Keep your PIN and your account information secret. Never give information about your ATM card or PIN to strangers or to anyone over the telephone.
- If your ATM card is lost or stolen report it to your bank immediately. Report the unauthorized use of an ATM machine or ATM card to your bank and to your local police precinct immediately.
History of Banks Operating in NY
An Institutional History of Banks Operating in New York State
This History contains a listing of institutions that are, or were, state chartered, as well as most federally chartered institutions that have operated in the state of New York.
- Listing (text format)
- View this listing on the Open Data NY: Banking Institution History: Beginning 1784
The historical information contained in the Institutional History of Banks is derived from certain source materials, the accuracy of portions of which cannot be verified. While the History is intended to be helpful to those interested in its contents, it should not be considered a definitive document on the subject.
Sources of information include, but are not limited to:
- Historical Directory of the Banks of the State of New York - Dillistin 1946
- Historical Directory of the Banks of the State of New York - Dillistin 1984
- Licensing Schedules of the Annual Report of the Superintendent of Banks of the State of New York - 1900-1996
- New York State Banking Board Annual Reports - 1940-1996
- New York State Banking Department Institution Files
- Information Gathered From Current & Former Banking Department Personnel
Money Transmitter Services
How to Send Money Safely, Save on Rates and Fees, and Avoid Fraud
Always Use a Licensed Money Transmitter
In order to do business in New York, money transmitters must be licensed by the Department of Financial Services (DFS). Money transmitters may operate through a network of agents. Agents of money transmitters are not required to be registered or licensed by the DFS, but must have a written contract with a licensed money transmitter to act as its agent.
How do I know that I am using a licensed money transmitter or authorized agent of a licensed money transmitter?
All licensed money transmitters and their agents must affix a notice on the front window or entrance of its door, at least 20 inches wide x 12 inches high, indicating the name of the licensee and the statement that the licensee is “Licensed as a Money Transmitter by the Department of Financial Services.”
If you don’t see the sign, don’t use the money transmitter or agent!
What is a licensed money transmitter required to provide as evidence of a money transmission?
Get a receipt for your transaction. Save your receipt in case there is a problem. A receipt will make it easier to trace the transaction and to resolve any dispute surrounding the transaction. Your receipt would typically contain the following basic information:
- The sender’s name
- The receiver’s name
- A notification of the option to pay the wired money in dollars
- Any and all fees associated with the transfer
The receipt, at a minimum, is required by regulation to disclose the following:
- the name and principal address of the licensee,
- the type of transmission activity the licensee is authorized to engage in,
- a telephone number established by the licensee to answer questions and register complaints,
- that the licensee is licensed and regulated by the DFS,
- that unresolved consumer complaints may be mailed to the DFS,
- a statement of the liability of the licensee for non-delivery or delayed delivery,
- a statement of the refund policy of the licensee,
- the dollar amount of transmission, and
- the fee charged.
What other types of information should I ask about?
Some money transmitters may charge additional or hidden fees. Ask about any other fees that may be charged to you and/or to the person to whom you are sending the money.
If you are sending money to a foreign country and not asking for the transaction to be delivered in dollars, ask about the licensee’s foreign exchange policy. Determine if the foreign exchange policy or exchange rate is disclosed. If an exchange rate is not disclosed, is the amount the beneficiary is to receive indicated?
Find out before you make your transaction if there is a time limit for filing a refund claim in the event of delayed payment or failed delivery.
Shop Around for the Best Currency Exchange Rate and the Lowest Fees
Be aware that money transmitters charge different fees and may offer different exchange rates as the DFS does not regulate fees charged or exchange rates used within the money transmitter industry. Shop around. Ask the money transmitter or its agent about the fees to be charged and its foreign exchange policy.
Using a Licensed Check Casher
A check casher is a business that charges consumers a fee for cashing a check, draft or money order. Check Cashers operate through a network of branches, storefronts or businesses that advertise check cashing services. Any advertisement by a check casher licensed by the DFS must always include the phrase: "Licensed by the Superintendent of Financial Services pursuant to article 9-A of the Banking Law."
The fee charged for cashing a check can vary from one licensed check casher to the next; however, the maximum fee permissible by law is set annually, based upon year-to-year changes in the consumer price index for the New York - Northern New Jersey - Long Island, NY-NJ-CT-PA area for all urban consumers.
Get a Receipt
Check cashers are required, by regulation, to provide receipts to customers for every check cashed. Be sure to retain receipts since they are records of the transactions performed and may help resolve disputes that may arise.
The Superintendent’s Regulations require that receipts include all of the following:
- the face amount of each check;
- the fee charged for cashing each check;
- the face amount of each money order sold;
- the cost of each money order;
- the amount given, by the customer, for utility bill payments;
- the fee charged for utility bill payments;
- deductions for other services provided;
- the balance to be paid to the customer;
- the date of transactions; and
- the name and address of the check casher.
Consider the Alternatives
Shop around for lower fees. Some banks and credit unions will cash government and payroll checks for less than what check cashers charge, even if you don’t have an account with them. Also, you may be able to cash a check at the bank from which it was drawn, for little or no fee.
Basic Bank Accounts
Another option to consider is opening a basic banking account, which all banks chartered by New York State are required to offer, by law. The minimum amount required to open a basic bank account is only $25.00 and the maximum monthly maintenance fee permitted is $3.00. The balance required to keep the account open is one penny!
With a basic banking account you must be allowed at least eight withdrawals (by check, ATM or debit card purchase) per month at no additional charge. Different banks may offer slightly different features on accounts comparable to the basic banking account (like 12 withdrawals for $4 instead of eight withdrawals for $3 a month). The bank may require you be a resident of New York State. The bank can ask you to provide the same information and identification that anyone else is asked to provide when opening an account at that bank and may have to close transaction accounts you might have at that or any other bank.