La banca (bank) is actually an Italian invention – the world’s first check was issued in Tuscany where the Medici family was already running an international banking operation in the 14th century. Indeed, Italian banks have been charging customers for their services ever since. Forget about beating the system, you pay the bank to keep your money, sometimes more than they pay you in interest.
There’s a charge for almost everything, including the postage to send statements. Ask about the fees for online banking, automatic bill pay, checks, credit and debit cards. If someone you know is a customer in good standing at a particular bank (keep in mind it is the specific branch that counts), you might consider using the personal connection as leverage for negotiating. To open a bank account, you will first need a codice fiscale, see the section Residence & Paperwork in Plugging In.
Banks are open Monday-Friday 8:20-13:20 and 14:35-16:05; closed weekends and holidays.
There are also some branchless banks, which charge lower fees by offering services via internet.
A lot will depend on your needs – if you’re a student, you’ll be looking for a different type of service than someone looking to buy property and get a mortgage (mutuo). So, do your research and compare conditions in different banks to make sure they best suit your individual needs.
It is easy to mix up commas and decimal points. Here 5,900 is written 5.900 and the percentage 5.9 % is written 5,9 %. You can change the international setting in your computer’s office package to Italian and the comma-decimal function should adjust. Some numbers are handwritten slightly differently as well. The number one is written like a droopy seven and the seven has its stem crossed. Don’t write your two with a loop because it could be mistaken for the crossed seven.
Debit cards (carte di debito) are convenient and worth the fee. There is no charge to use your debit card issued by an Italian bank to buy goods in Italy but ask your bank about fees for using it to buy goods in other countries. Ask your non-Italian home bank about additional charges to use your card in Italy and outside of your home country. In both cases, you may be charged a fee if you withdraw cash from a machine that does not belong to your bank.
Italy used to be largely a cash-based consumer economy, but that has been changing. Most shops and restaurants accept carte di credito (credit cards). It is still a good idea to ask before arriving at the register. Credit cards are arranged through the bank and there is usually an annual fee. Italian credit cards are tied to your bank account, meaning that at the end of the month, your card is paid in full. You can therefore think of your Italian credit card as a short-term loan that comes due in 30 days.
If you are employed, you can ask for a prestito (loan) paid back in fixed monthly installments. You may canalizzare lo stipendio, that is, have loan payments deducted from your bank account after payday. If you are self-employed, you can ask for a fido or a facoltà di scoperto, a fixed amount at a fixed rate decided by the bank. You will be asked for your income tax records and other proof of assets. As with getting a loan anywhere, having good personal connections can affect whether or not you get a loan and for how much. Ask to speak with the branch director about the interest rate offered. With some negotiation, you may be able to lower the rate a couple of points.