How to handle problems with US Address Verification

#1

I’ve been a Traveling Mailbox member for about a year. My last year’s tax return, all financial institutions, vehicle registration, and driver’s license all reflect this address.

It looks like an apartment address: 75 N Woodward Ave #####, Tallahassee FL.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been having problems.

  1. I requested a voter registration renewal in Florida and it was denied on the grounds that I am using a business address
  2. My bank (Ally) contacted me, saying that my address was a “maildrop” location, and needed to be a physical domicile.

My theory is that this Traveling Mailbox location has been flagged as a maildrop in whatever database these agencies use and will continue to be a problem, so I’m looking for a new strategy.

Questions:

  • What am I supposed to do? I don’t have or want a permanent home.
  • If these agencies object to my address, will the IRS or the California tax board? (audits? residency challenges?)

Some ideas:

  • Use a “next of kin” address for legal reasons, and traveling mailbox as a mailing address. My bank allowed this. I think this means I need to declare residency in the state of my next-of-kin, which is not preferred.
  • Find a smaller mail services provider that is less likely to be flagged as a business/maildrop location (They may be flagged later and I’ll have to change addresses. I’ll miss the digital scanned mail feature. Also, is any mail service legal to use as a residence now?)

@nickdanforth, you had this same problem in Apr 2015, any solutions work well for you?

@nomadicme, sounds like you’ve had the same problem, too.

What can we do about this, folks? Seems like as full-time travellers we should be able to pick any state in the US to be our residence, but banning certain types of addresses is really making it difficult.

3 Likes
#2

I have the same service.

If this happened to me, I would call the bank and tell them that the company is an official commercial mail receiving agency (CMRA) and that I had to fill out the form for Traveling Mailbox to accept it. I would even go as far as to show them my signed USPS form 1583.

#3

Honestly, I haven’t done anything about it yet. Probably should soon…

From what I understand, the best thing to do would probably be to change services to a smaller provider that actually uses a residential address.

#4

I have run into similar problems but it isn’t widespread. Some banks have caught on to my cmra and have required a physical address. Others haven’t. What I suggest doing is finding a friend (anyone will do) who will place you on one of their utility bills. That can be used as proof of address. You can pick whatever State you want - but know that this will be considered your primary State for tax purposes. So choose wisely. You can’t mess around with that as States are aggressive when trying to collect taxes. So, if Florida is truly your State of residence (which means that you have some connection to it, e.g., formerly lived there, drivers license is from there, cmra is from there, storage unit is there with stuff, etc. - then it’s legit. However, I notice you mention CA in the original message. So if CA is where you spend most of your time but you use a cmra in FL to avoid CA taxes this is not suggested. CA can request you to provide your bills (credit cards, checks, etc.) to see where you spend most of your time (even if you travel around). If they see you in CA at all, you could be on the hook for taxes. My point is don’t play games here. Just find a friend in the State you claim as your actual State for tax purposes.

For banks that don’t catch the mail receiving address - just leave the cmra as is. @jakeberger - your idea will not work as banks require a physical address and if their system flags the cmra as such, they will not accept it. It’s not them, it’s the Patriot Act and Fed requirements to stop money laundering. Ridiculous, but it is what it is.

#5

We have the same situation in Canada. Provinces where you formerly resided (especially if they’re higher-tax ones) may actually ask you to prove you’re really living somewhere else – and that means not only a residential address but proof of health insurance, car registration, utilities, etc (I know our health system is quaint and foreign to most Americans, but basically it means you have to physically stay somewhere, with a residential address, at least 6 months before you can qualify for health insurance and before you are able to pay taxes at your new province’s rate). Which implies “leaving” a higher-tax province is not exactly as simple as switching your mailing address. Whether this is strictly enforced is another matter.

More to the point of this thread (US mailing services), I heard that American Express started requiring residential addresses for their records too. You can still use whatever you want as your mailing address, but they also want to know where you “really” live and won’t accept Earth Class Mail, for example. I heard a claim that this is due to some new “know you customer”–type regulations.

Which kind of suggests that, from their point of view, you’re not allowed to not be living anywhere fixed, at least not if you want a bank account. I find it absurd.

p.s. A somewhat unorthodox strategy of last resort: would using a temporary address abroad work? How would they know whether it’s residential or not? After all, you can be a Florida resident who’s studying abroad for a year, can’t you?

#6

“p.s. A somewhat unorthodox strategy of last resort: would using a temporary address abroad work? How would they know whether it’s residential or not? After all, you can be a Florida resident who’s studying abroad for a year, can’t you?”

@bisonravi - no you cannot. If you live abroad for the year the State still considers you a resident for tax purposes but the Banks do not as they require a US Physical address. That said, banks don’t update these requirements/requests daily. Some don’t even do it annually. I for one have never heard from American Express in years and my cmra is listed as my physical address. So you must be prepared to show a physical utility bill here in the US if asked. The only safe way for a true nomad is to have kin or friends get you on a utility bill (or own property and keep your name on it while traveling).

#7

I’ll be honest: I have no idea what the rules are. But I find it very difficult to believe that if a bank asked where you live and you said “I am studying abroad this year and live in XYZ” the next thing they’d say would be “oh, no, you can’t do that - we’ll have to close you account immediately.”

Thousands (millions?) of Americans study and live abroad without losing access to their US bank accounts or credit cards. I myself have a friend in Montreal who has been receiving his US statements directly at his Canadian address for years without being asked any questions. Canada may be a special case, but I think other countries also work.

#8

I hear your point @bisonravi . And it is absolutely ludicrous! But if you cannot show/prove that you maintain a physical address via an approved document (utility bill for example) then the bank has no choice but to close your account. It is not their choice but rather part of the US Government laws that are in place post 9/11.

Now, many banks do not enforce these regulations often. That is, they run checks, but some do it annually and others do it less frequently (I have one bank where I haven’t updated my address in over 7 years. And they have never asked). Plus some do not have programs in place to ‘catch’ the cmra (mail forwarding) street addresses. But if they do check and you cannot prove you have a physical presence in the US via one of the approved documents, they must close your account.

So if you leave (as a student or worker or what have you) and do not have proof of a physical US address your account can be closed if checked and/or the bank will not allow you to open one if you didn’t previously have one.

#9

What kind of bank account do you have? I have a business bank account for my sole proprietorship, and use a commercial mailbox address for that, never had any problems. I think I even mentioned to the bank manager that it was a commercial mailbox. I imagine you probably need a personal account too, but could you switch that to an online one (like CaptialOne 360)? I’m not sure if this would solve all your problems, but it’s an option.

I personally use my parents’ address as my home address for other things like health insurance and credit cards (and my personal bank account), and am not sure if my commercial mailbox would work for all of that. And there is a personal section of the tax return and then my business (sole proprietor) bit, so I guess I need a residential address for taxes, not sure – but I do pay taxes out of my business account.

#10

Sorry, I just read this more closely – you mentioned a traveling mailbox. I use a commercial mailbox service with a physical address, which might work for all your needs (even personal bank account)… you would need to get your mail forwarded from there I guess, and they do offer forwarding services but I’m not sure of the details.

#11

This same thing happened to me when I tried to get the coveted Charles Schwab ATM card to use abroad (the one where they reverse the fees). I’m originally from CA and spend 2-3 weeks/year there visiting family but I traveled to FL last year to set up domicile and get my license with my address at St Brendan’s Isle mailing service. The people at Charles Schwab asked me to call and then said that they knew it was a mailing service, I said I was ‘studying abroad at the moment’ and would otherwise be staying with my sister when in the country - they told me to get on her utility bill and send it in. Well, that was not possible so I just dropped the whole thing. When I signed up at the DMV in FL they asked if I wanted to register to vote and I said no at the time (didn’t want to deal with mail about jury duty etc) but now I realize I should have!! I could vote in a swing state! :smile: