Adjusting to a new country’s financial system takes time

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Wei Jiang, the author, as a young adult in China.

I had a worry-free life before I came to the United States. I lived with my parents and grandparents. I had a job and was paid in cash. I divided my pay into three equal portions. One-third went to Grandma as my contribution to household expenses. One-third went to my mother, who saved the money for me. The last one-third? I spent every penny of it.

When I came to the United States, I went directly to a university for a master’s program. The university provided boarding and a scholarship. I had a sheltered life during the two years in the program. My finances were simple and the university had guidance counselors who were willing to help. All I had to do was to open a checking account at the bank branch on campus and all my financial needs were met.

Two years passed quickly, and I was very fortunate to land a job after graduation. That’s when my finances became complicated, and I started to realize how little I knew about the U.S. financial services system and products. Renting an apartment, paying bills, managing savings, and sending money abroad were all new to me. I made a lot of bad choices, which resulted in a lot of small and unnecessary financial losses. I asked my friends for help, but many times, their advice turned out to be wrong and misleading.

Meanwhile, my financial needs seemed to evolve every day. My purchases became bigger and I needed to use credit cards, my savings got bigger and I wanted to invest, and eventually I decided to buy an apartment and needed a mortgage. In most cases, I walked into the bank where I opened the checking account when I arrived in the United States and took the first product they recommended. Looking back, I wish I had had more unbiased sources of information so I could have made smarter choices.

Are you an immigrant like me? If so, check out the Newcomer’s Guides to Managing Money, and learn how to pay bills , receive money , open a bank account , and compare financial products . The information is extremely useful to new immigrants. I have been living in the United States for more than 25 years, and I still find some of the information helpful.

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