at home in puerto rico - banking in puerto rico - picture of first tech fcu in aguadilla

banking in puerto rico

The less time I have to spend in line, the happier I am.  That’s why I consider the 9 months spent working on getting mail service to our condo one of the best investments I’ve made.  I’ve only been to the post office once since, just to get stamps.

We receive checks from time to time, so driving to the bank and waiting in line was the next logical pain point I wanted to eliminate.  The ability to deposit checks via a mobile app is pretty standard with stateside banks. However, as an Act 22 recipient, it’s important that I use a local financial institution to conduct my “routine personal banking activities” to help establish myself as a bona fide resident of Puerto Rico. I spoke to representatives at FirstBank and CoopRincón, where I had my accounts, and they both confirmed that they do not offer the mobile check deposit service. (I believe Popular Bank does, but was not interested in opening an account with them for other reasons which I will go into shortly…)

the pain of banking in puerto rico

Feeling I reached a dead-end, I resigned myself that this is just part of the price of living in paradise. Then last summer, to add insult to injury, I started seeing monthly service fees in my account statements: $3 a month at FirstBank and $1 a month at CoopRincón. That may not seem like much, but I HATE monthly fees. Especially, when I don’t feel like I’m receiving any value in return. I called FirstBank to question the fee and the representative told me he believed it was a standard charge they were instituting for ATM cards. I told him I didn’t have an ATM card, but after going around in circles with him for about 10 minutes I could see that there was nothing I could do to get rid of the fee.

At CoopRincón, I was able to eliminate the fee by going to the branch and turning in my ATM card. Unfortunately, this meant I now had to go inside to withdrawal cash. In other words, MORE time in line which is exactly what I was trying to get away from.

banking in puerto rico vs the states

In the states, I genuinely felt valued at all the credit unions I’ve used. One time I purchased something online using PayPal and didn’t catch that it was set to pull from an account I was no longer funding. The next day I received a call from a representative of the credit union. I sheepishly told her it was a mistake and she told me that’s what she figured. She then proceeded to cancel the transaction with no fees charged. Had the money been available in another account, it would have been transferred automatically with complementary overdraft protection.

Unfortunately, here on the island it’s the opposite. Frankly, I’ve felt like the banks here are out to get you. (My experience is primarily with FirstBank though I can’t imagine Popular is much better). Free checking is hard to come by. External transfers are very limited, if available at all. Overdraft protection? Forget about it. One month last fall, I scheduled the mortgage payment to come from my checking account, but forgot to transfer the money over from my savings account. The bank hit me with a $15 late fee plus a nearly $50 service fee. This even though all the money was there in another account.

Something similar happened after Hurricane Maria. The bank charged a fee to an account that had no money in it, making the account balance negative. Then, they charged me an additional $4.50 a day for having a negative balance. This went on for weeks. By the time I finally I had internet service and could login to my account, I was greeted by a sea of red ink.

That’s why when I was told I had to open a business account for my Puerto Rican LLC as a prerequisite for applying for an Act 20 decree last year, I cringed a bit. Doing a little comparison shopping I found FirstBank charges a $15 a month service fee for a business account and the fee at CoopRincón was a more reasonable $5 a month.  I imagine most individuals and small businesses using local banks effectively have a negative interest rate, when fees are taken into account. It’s sad that the average Puerto Rican, who has enough challenges as it is, has no idea how substandard the local options are compared to what’s available to the average Joe in the states.

the joy of banking in puerto rico?

About this time, I heard about a federal credit union with branches in nearby Aguadilla. I checked their website and literally started salivating. Not only are there NO service fees for a business account, but they offer overdraft protection, a free debit MasterCard, external transfers to accounts you have at other financial institutions and a top notch mobile app that supports e-deposits! I cleared my schedule and spent a good chunk of the next couple of days opening a personal and then business account.

I can’t tell you how much of a joy banking with First Tech Federal Credit Union has been. Transferring money and even opening additional accounts is a breeze. Waiting in line at the bank is pretty much a thing of the past for us now.

The only challenge we’ve had is finding ATMs nearby that don’t charge a fee. For those of us in the Aguada / Rincón area we basically have one option, besides the branches in Aguadilla. (Let me know if you know of any others!) There is a drive-up BCU ATM on the west side of Highway 2 just before PR-402. Since it is on the way to Sam’s Club, which we frequent regularly, this location works out just fine for us.

Drive-up BCU ATM off of Highway 2

That’s not to say we don’t use any services from local banks. Our mortgage is with FirstBank and last year, I started funding a dividend reinvestment plan with Popular Bank. I’ve also kept my CoopRincón account since they pay a decent annual dividend (1%) with no service fee if, as I said earlier, you turn in your ATM card.

That said, I can’t recommend First Tech FCU enough. Furthermore, if you apply for an account and tell them you were referred by me, we BOTH might receive $50! (if they are still offering that promotion…) Either way, good luck!

2 comments

  • When we sold our car for $9500 the bank didn’t have hundreds. They would only give us the money in twenties! They keep a supply of brown paper bags to put your money in!!!

    • I had the same experience! I wonder if it’s even possible to get hundred dollar bills here in Puerto Rico…

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