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The minimum to know about handling your finances as a Guest Researcher. This page is only meant as an rough introduction; as usual GRA is not responsible for any loss that may result from using the information provided here.

For more in-depth information, visit specialized websites.


Means of payment

  • Cash
  • Traveller's checks. Taken like cash nearly everywhere.
  • ATM Card. This bank card allows you to withdraw cash from ATMs (Automated Teller Machine) all over the country. You can also use your ATM card at more and more retailers. Star is the ATM network in the DC area.
  • Check Card. This bank card operates on a credit card network (VISA or Mastercard). Purchases are debited directly from your checking account. A check card is usually combined with an ATM card (on the same physical medium); the retailer's terminal then asks whether you want to charge your purchase as an ATM or Credit (i.e. check card) transaction.
  • Credit Card. Purchases made with this type of card are billed to you once a month. You then have the choice of paying it off or not -- interest will then accrue. Major networks: American Express, Discover, Mastercard, VISA.

Bank Account (checking)

If you are going to be paid in US dollars, you need a checking account. There are many banks out there but most guest researchers opt for one of the following:

  • Gaithersburg NIST campus
  1. Nymeo Federal Credit Union. This (non-profit) credit union has a branch conveniently located on the Gaithersburg NIST campus and ATMs on the main campus. They offer low-cost checking accounts and they are used to doing business with guest researchers. For example, they may allow new guest researchers to open a bank account before they have a social security number. For more information, visit their website (
  2. Capital One. Capital One has locations throughout the region and owns the ATMs in many grocery stores in the DC area (see ATM fees below).
  • Boulder NIST campus

There is no bank facility and no ATM cash machine on the site. Bank's here usually charge for issuing cheque books (!), for using other banks ATM's and for not maintaining a certain minimum balance.

  1. Federal Credit Union. It has a branch office at 2935 Baseline Rd. The main office is located at 2955 Diagonal and is open on saturdays. The minimum balance is $25.00 for a saving account called "Share Account". Most services are free of charge, and the number of free ATM transactions is limited to eight: even the Debit Card (similar to electronic cash in Europe) is free of charge and very useful since you will have to show a picture ID when writing a cheque. In order to open an account, you have to bring a letter from NIST (your group leader, i.e.) that states your affiliation with the federal government (... is a guest researcher in the NIST ... Division for the time from ... to ...). You need this statement only to open the account; once you are a FCU member (customer) you can maintain an account even if you leave Boulder. In any case, you have to provide a SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER to the bank when you open an account or within a given period of time.

In general:

  • Other brick-and-mortar banks. See the yellow pages for a complete list of banks in the area.
  • Online banks. Read this review of online banking and be extra careful.

Before selecting a bank, you should consider the following factors:

Check Fees Fees charged for each check written.
ATM Fees Fees charged by your bank each time you use your ATM card.
Office Locations Consider how far you will have to go to deposit a check or get cash.
ATM Locations When you withdraw cash from an ATM, the owner of the ATM often charges a fee ($1.50 and up) unless you have an account with them.
International money transfers Not all banks offer international money transfers.
Locality Checks drawn to a bank that is nonlocal to yours (not within the same check-processing region) can take up to 5 business days to be credited in full to your account.
Online Access This service allows you to check your balance and pay bills on the internet or with a special software. Some banks charge for this service.

Note: for tax reasons, most banks require a social security number to open an account. See our separate section about Social Security.


Don't let your extra cash sit in your checking account. Put it in a savings account with a better yield. This type of account typically yields around 2.5% and it is very easy to transfer money back and forth from your checking account.

For even better results, consider a money market account (around 5%) if you can afford the minimum balance. For current rates, go to your favorite website. As usual, make sure the business is legitimate before doing anything or stick to a name you know and trust and that your account is FDIC insured.


The concept of "credit" is generally defined as "the reputation for paying your bills on time that makes it possible for you to obtain money or goods with the understanding that you will pay for them later."

In practice, in the US your credit is tracked by credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) to whom your creditors report your credit standing with them. Other credit grantors, as well as retailers, prospective landlords and many others, routinely request a credit report from these companies before doing business with you.

Paradoxically, having no debt is not a good thing for you (especially for guest researchers) because credit reporting agencies then have no record of you on file. Because you have no credit history, businesses such as the phone company will typically require a security deposit and it is rather difficult to obtain credit.

If you plan to stay more than a few months, you should start working on establishing your credit. Start small by applying for a credit card (not a check card) from the bank or credit union where you deposit your paycheck, or a local department store. If this doesn't work, you can also apply for a secured card, which is guaranteed by a deposit you make with the card issuer. Note that it may take several months before your new account appears on your credit report.

Inaccurate information often appears in consumers' credit reports. In July 2000, Consumer Reports magazine reported that half of the credit reports they surveyed had serious errors in them. These errors could result in your being denied a credit card, an insurance policy, a job or a mortgage. If you aren't aware of the errors until you apply for the new credit, loan or job, you may not be able to get the report corrected in time. That's why consumers should check their credit reports from time to time, and especially before applying for a major loan or a mortgage. By law, Maryland residents are entitled to one free copy of their credit reports from each reporting agency each year.


Be it mutual funds or stocks, you are on your own. Profits are taxable and somewhat complex to calculate so be prepared to deal with that.

Many guests researchers who are under a tax treaty and do not pay taxes on their income from NIST can take advantage of their status. For example if you are thinking about long-term investment (for your retirement), consider a Roth IRA (distributions are tax-exempt in the US if you are 59.5 yrs or older -- although you may still have to pay taxes in your home country).


See the separate Tax section.

Transferring money between countries

  • UK

The cheapest and fastest way (from the UK to the US at least) is to get the bank in the home country to write a check (drawn on its US office in New York) in US$ and to post it. This costs approx $10 and takes about a week, as opposed to a bank transfer which cost $35 and takes 12 days. It is possible to put a check in US$ into a normal bank account in Europe for a bank charge of approx $14.

  • Germany

Almost the same experience (as in the UK) can be reported about German banks. Especially the 'Deutsche Bank' caused major headaches. The 'Sparkassen' seems to work more reliably and charge significantly lower fees! Wire transfers through them usually arrived within a week.

  • General

The fastest and cheapest way is a mutual fund from one of the internationally operating investment companies. Select a mutual fund valuated in US$ that invests in bonds (lower risk of fluctuation of the notation), does not charge any fees (neither annually nor for trading shares) and maintains a bank account in your home country. Then, you will be able to exchange smaller amounts into US$ without any costs by buying shares and to transfer the money to an account in the U.S. by selling shares. And you still get a reasonable interest rate.

Articles in category "Money"

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