Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union with the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs at the Citizenship Workshop in October answering questions and helping new citizens get a good start. • Courtesy Photo

As an immigrant and a minority, I understand the challenges immigrants and refugees face in opening a bank account. With nearly 30 years in the banking industry, one of my missions is to make sure Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union (SMCU) improves the lives of all Seattleites. We are a financial cooperative owned by its members, and everything we do is for their benefit.

Those who are unbanked or underbanked must use alternative financial companies, such as check-cashing companies. In most cases, they are paying higher than necessary fees.

Other challenges include distrust of financial institutions, residency status, prior negative experiences with financial institutions, or the lack of a social security number. While these are important considerations, there are options available to you at a credit union, such as SMCU.

• Trust—SMCU has been in Seattle since 1933, serving Seattleites just like you. At SMCU, your deposits are insured and secure. You have access to your funds via our local branches, ATMs, debit cards, and through CO-OP Shared Branching, which gives you access to over 5,000 branches worldwide.

• Residency Status—SMCU is not required to nor does it check on residency status. We follow identification policies that are immigrant friendly.

• Prior Negative Experiences—You may have had issues with other financial institutions that may have required you to close your account. While this could be a concern, we encourage you to visit one of our branches to go over your situation, we are here to help.

• Social Security Numbers—While we do require a social security number in most cases, SMCU accepts ITIN numbers for members who may not have permanent residency status. SMCU can also help in obtaining an ITIN number.

Some of these barriers may seem too difficult to overcome, that is understandable. Navigating these issues alone can be difficult. Having a banking relationship with a trusted financial institution, like SMCU, can make things easier. Consider these ways SMCU can help you.

• By reducing your auto-loan interest rate—Some dealers charge as much as 29% interest on used cars. SMCU recently refinanced a member’s auto loan and brought the interest down to 9.99%. (Disclosure: A 9.99% annual percentage rate (APR), assuming no down payment, a 60-month loan term and $15,000 loan amount, the estimated monthly payment is $319. For more details, see” Federally insured by NCUA. Equally Housing Opportunity Lender.)

• By eliminating debit card maintenance fees—Fees on pre-paid debit cards can be as much as $489 a year. SMCU debit cards do not have maintenance fees.

• By removing check-cashing fees—Check cashing fees can be up to 10% of the check amount. SMCU never charges fees for cashing a check or for a deposit.

• By providing an alternative to payday lenders—The fees on payday loans can range from $10 to $30 dollars per $100 dollars borrowed. SMCU offers all types of loans—from Citizenship loans to auto loans, and real estate loans to small business loans, at significantly lower rates than non-financial providers such as payday lenders, used car dealers, and check cashers.

To learn more, please visit one of our branches or our website:

Richard Romero is Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union’s Chief Executive Officer.

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