Can an American Bank Ask Where You Got Money From?


Have you ever left a bank thinking, “that teller sure was nosey!”

You might be wondering, “can a bank ask where you got money from?” It seems like a personal question right. Because as long as you’re depositing that money into their accounts, they should be content right? 

Well, yes and no. The truth is, American banks are allowed to ask you where you got your money from before you hand it over to them. Why is this the case? It’s a part of the anti-money laundering laws that are actually present in many countries around the world.

So don’t worry, the teller isn’t being nosey. In fact, it’s likely that it is a company rule, especially if it is for a large deposit of money.

To be honest, they don’t really care where you got your money from, and quite frankly – if you received it in a legitimate way you shouldn’t be put off by the question either!

Can a Bank Ask Where You Got Your Money?

You bet! Banks want to know that the money you are depositing to them is legitimate and not being made from illegal crimes. If you know you’ve got a large amount that you want to deposit into your account, you can definitely expect some questions when you speak to a teller at the bank. 

Why are they so concerned? Anti-money laundering laws help keep the money that is held by banks legitimate. The last thing a major bank wants to be known as is a place for criminals to hold their illicit funds. But don’t worry, most deposits won’t even elicit a reaction out of the teller unless it is a large amount. 

If you are trying to deposit a large sum of money, you can be expect to be questioned. Especially if your account history doesn’t have previous large deposits of that nature.

Banks have every right to be suspicious if the deposit represents an irregularity in your banking behaviour. But don’t take it personally, whoever is asking you is just following the rules!

Can a Bank Look Into Your Account?

Of course! Technically if you are holding money with that bank your funds are the property of the bank once you deposit them. You do have the right to have access and take that money back at any time – but once it is out of your possession it is no longer your property, so to speak. 

A bank teller or employee can theoretically look into your account at any time. Should they be? Probably not.

But most banks have rules in place to prevent this to ensure that the bank computer system is only used for work purposes. While the rules are in place, it is an honour system. Employees can technically look up your account in the system even if you aren’t standing with them at the counter. 

The thing is though, a bank employee really doesn’t have much incentive to do this even if they can.

Why would they risk their job security by looking at some random person’s bank account history?

So you shouldn’t keep yourself up at night if this is what you’re worrying about it. The chances are very unlikely that someone at the bank is looking at your account if everything you do is legitimate. 

Can a Bank Access My Account Without Permission?

This is a bit of a grey area and I’ll explain why.

What is the definition of access? If you just mean can the bank view my account, then yes they can. I’ve already explained how an employee at the bank can bring up your account to look at whenever they want. They do not need your permission to view your account. 

But if you are talking about actually accessing your account and depositing or withdrawing money, then no they cannot do that. That would certainly call for discipline and even termination of the employee. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that employee was charged with a crime if they accessed your account and made some transactions without your permission. 

The only other time a bank can access your account is if there is a legal reason to do so. If you owe outstanding debts, then it is possible that a federal agency or state agency can ask the bank for your banking records. The same goes for if you are being suspected of tax evasion. But by that time, the bank accessing your account might be the least of your worries!

How do I Know if my Bank Account is Being Monitored?

It depends who you are being monitored by. If it is by authorities because they suspect you of doing something illicit, then you probably won’t know until it is too late. I

If you are being monitored by hackers or identity thieves then the answer is probably the same. These people are pretty skilled at being undetected, if you are being monitored, I doubt you’d know so let’s just hope this is never the case for any of our bank accounts!

In reality, unless you see some suspicious transactions in your account, you’ll never know if it’s being monitored. A simple rule to follow is that if you don’t want your bank account to be monitored, don’t do anything that would make someone monitor it. Easy enough right? 

Conclusion: Can an American Bank Ask Where You Got Money?

In this article we learned a valuable lesson: banks can do as they please because once you deposit the money, it’s no longer your property. Banks can look at your account but they cannot take action in it.

So next time you’re about to make a large deposit to your bank, you’ll know what you’re about to be asked. It’s nothing personal, it’s just the teller doing their job! 

Thanks for reading folks!

Geek, out.

Noel Moffatt

Noel Moffatt is the founder and main contributor for his blog - The Financial Geek. Based in Canada, Noel's passion for personal finance has helped him amass over 300k readers to his Financial Geek blog.

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