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Banks and Credit Unions

Local Financial Institutions in Pasadena

Bank of America • 880 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena
Bank of the West • 587 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena
Caltech Employees Federal Credit Union (CEFCU) • 515 S. Wilson Avenue, Pasadena
Chase Bank • 860 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena
Citibank • 285 S. Lake Avenue, Pasadena
City National Bank • 89 S. Lake Avenue, Pasadena
Union Bank of California • 70 S. Lake Avenue, Pasadena
Wells Fargo • 82 S. Lake Avenue, Pasadena

U.S. Banking Basics

In the United States, banks and credit unions offer a variety of financial services including checking and savings accounts, debit cards, electronic bill pay, and wire transfers.  You can use a debit card to withdraw cash or deposit money at an ATM (Automatic Teller Machine).  

Consult with your bank in your home country to learn if there are affiliated banks in the United States.  It is typically easier to do money wires (money transfers) when there is an affiliation.  To open a U.S. bank account, you must provide identification, such as a passport. Some institutions will require an address verification such as a rental agreement or utility bill.  You do not need to provide a Social Security number (SSN).

Caltech has its own credit union on campus and near JPL.  To open an account in the Caltech Employees Federal Credit Union (CEFCU), you just need to deposit $10 into your new account. If you apply to a credit card, you must provide a Social Security Number (SSN).

Credit History.  Credit history refers to a record of how a person manages financial responsibilities.  A good credit rating is given to people who pay their bills on time.  In the United States, companies use the credit score to evaluate risk.  For example, a bank will give a car loan to someone who has a good credit score and reject a loan application from someone whose credit score is low.

Credit Cards.  The best way to establish credit (and start a credit history) is by having a credit card account.  If you have just arrived in the United States, the best place to apply for a credit card (once you have your social security number) is the CEFCU, because there are specific credit card programs available to Caltech and JPL students and scholars only.  Your affiliation gives you a credit advantage and the CEFCU offers lower interest rates than most other banks.

Credit card balances should always be paid in full on or before the due date.  The credit card companies pay for your expenses in advance, and you are billed for the charges once a month.  If your payment is late, you will be charged a late fee and a high interest rate and it might disrupt your credit history.

Some credit cards allow you to earn points on purchases.  After a certain number of points, you can redeem them.  Always read the “fine print” (terms and conditions) before you open a credit card account.

If you apply to another bank than the CEFCU for a credit card, you are not requested to provide a SSN. Hoewever, be aware of the interest rates that may be higher than the CEFCU. 

Checking Accounts.  A personal checking account is a popular way to manage your money.  You will have easy access to the funds in your account via checks, debit card, or online bill pay.  Banks may charge fees for checking accounts, but fees can vary or may be waived, depending on the particular type of checking account

Debit Cards.  Purchases made with a debit card are withdrawn from your checking account the same day.  Be aware of possible fees you could incur for using your debit card for ATM withdrawals at a bank other than your own.

Checks.  Purchases made with paper checks are withdrawn from your checking account within a day or two, as soon as they are posted by the store.  There are various online resources to help you understand how to write checks.

Identification.  When writing a paper check or using your debit card, you should be asked to show a photo I.D. (identification).  A passport, California driver's license or a California identification card is sufficient.

Savings Accounts.  Money in a savings account earns interest from the bank or credit union.  You may have limited access, such as a certain number of withdrawals per month, to the funds in your savings account.  There may be a minimum balance required for a savings account.

Direct Deposit.  Caltech and JPL students and scholars are encouraged to participate in automatic payroll direct deposit to allow electronic deposit of your paycheck in your personal checking or savings account.  Instead of a physical paper check, you will receive an earnings statement which reflects the same information that would have been shown on your paycheck.  Employees who have a savings or checking account with almost any bank or financial institution in the United States are eligible to participate.  For more information about the process, download the Direct Deposit Authorization Agreement.

Sending Money Abroad. Banks charge fees when sending money from abroad to US and from US to abroad. Transferwise is a website that has been recommended by many scholars.

Financial Subsidies

The Child Care Assistance Program at Caltech (CCAP at Caltech)
Caltech recognizes that children costs impose a financial burden on many parents in the community and provides a Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) that awards eligible applicants up to $5,000 per year to help defray childcare costs. Awards are available to eligible faculty, postdoctoral scholars, students, and campus staff with dependent children ages 10 years and under, when both parents work. Applications for this program are accepted annually, usually September, for the school year that begins in the fall. New hires must apply for CCAP within 30 days of their Caltech start date.  For questions about the program, contact CCAP.

The Child Care Assistance Program at JPL (CCAP at JPL)
As the Jet Propulsion Laboratory uses NASA funding, the CCAP program is open to JPL employees only. 

The awards are paid directly to the individual childcare providers on a monthly basis, and awards are on a sliding scale based on the age of the child and total household income ($115k on January 2016). For updates and more information, please speak directly with JPL Human Resources.

Spending Accounts
A Spending Account is a benefit that lets you set aside pre-tax dollars through automatic payroll deductions throughout the year. Then, you can use the tax-free money in your account to pay for eligible expenses.

  • The Health Care Spending Account is for a wide range of eligible health care expenses for yourself and your dependents (even if they are not covered by a Caltech plan).
  • The Dependent Day Care Spending Account is for eligible dependent care expenses to allow you to work or for your spouse to work or be a full-time student.

If you need more information about Spending Accounts, please refer to Benefits
If you need information about Social Security Number and Taxes, please refer to Taxes
If you need more information about setting a budget, please refer to Budget


DISCLAIMER:  The information provided on this website is for general information only.  Caltech does not endorse or recommend any of the organizations listed.