Newcomer's Handbook Portland

Money Matters

Once you find a home for yourself and your stuff, you’ll want to find a home for your money (assuming you have any left at that point). Most financial institutions offer a variety of account options; fees (or their absence) often depend on the size of your balance. For major deposits, shop around for interest rates and perks, but for routine banking you’ll be more interested in ATM fees and locations, online or mobile banking options, and direct deposit services (an increasingly common alternative to getting a paper paycheck). Small local banks or credit unions may have lower fees than their colossal national competitors, while offering you a more navigable bureaucracy if you need help. If you do most of your banking at lunchtime or on the way to work, make sure the bank you’re interested in has convenient branches or ATMs. While virtually all banks and credit unions now offer some online banking services, some offerings are more robust than others; for example, some (but not all) banks now offer remote check depositing. If you currently have an account at a national bank with a Portland presence, check with a local branch; you may be able to keep your old account.

Once you decide on your new bank, it’s usually a simple process to open a checking or savings account; generally you’ll need photo identification, proof of address (if you haven’t yet obtained an Oregon or Washington driver’s license), your social security number, and money. Check with your prospective bank to find out what documents (and how much money) you’ll need to bring with you.

Before you close your old bank accounts, keep in mind that many landlords and rental agencies will not accept a tenant who does not have a checking account, and some merchants will not accept the temporary checks most banks issue when you open an account, so it’s probably wise to keep your old account current for at least a short time after you move.

Bank Accounts and Services

National, regional, and local banks all offer online and telephone banking, mortgages, and ATM, debit, and credit cards you can use practically anywhere in the world. Locally based banks, however, often specialize in (or at least advertise) personal service or special perks for customers; national banks generally offer the most comprehensive ATM networks and the widest array of services. In addition to the banks and credit unions listed below, many other banks (some with only one or two branches in the area) can be found online or in the Yellow Pages.

National Banks

These five large national banks have an extensive presence in the Portland area:

  • Bank of America, 800-432-1000, bankofamerica.com, has dozens of branches and ATMs throughout the city and the surrounding suburbs.
  • Chase, 877-68CHASE, chase.com, a newcomer to the region, became instantly pervasive following its 2008 acquisition of Washington Mutual; some banking centers are located inside Fred Meyer supermarkets.
  • Key Bank, 800-539-2968, key.com, has more than two dozen branches in the Portland area.
  • US Bank, 800-872-2657, usbank.com; once based in Portland, this bank’s corporate headquarters have moved to Minneapolis, but it still has one of the most extensive ATM and branch networks in Oregon.
  • Wells Fargo, 800-869-3557, wellsfargo.com; although it generated considerable ill will by closing branches across the region in the late 1990s, Wells Fargo has since re-established an extensive network of branches and ATMs in the Portland area.

Local and Regional Banks

  • Albina Community Bank, 503-287-7537, 800-814-6088, albinabank.com, is a full-service community development bank with five branches; it invests its assets in lower- and middle-income communities in North and Northeast Portland.
  • Bank of Oswego, 503-635-1699, bankofoswego.com, concentrates on offering personal service banking to the Lake Oswego area, with a branch in Sherwood.
  • Bank of the West, 800-488-2265, bankofthewest.com, which operates in 20 Western and Midwestern states (plus Guam and Saipan), has branches throughout the metropolitan area; it is part of the French financial conglomerate BNP Paribas.
  • Banner Bank, 800-272-9933, bannerbank.com, based in Walla Walla, Washington, has eight full-service branches in the Portland area.
  • Clackamas County Bank, 503-668-5501, clackamascountybank.com, opened in 1911, serves Gresham, Boring, Sandy, and the communities of the Mount Hood foothills.
  • Columbia Bank, 877-272-3678, columbiabank.com, based in Tacoma, has more than two dozen branches in the Portland area, and also has a strong presence on the Oregon Coast and in the inland Northwest.
  • Pacific Continental Bank, 877-231-2265, therightbank.com, operates branches in western Oregon and Washington, including Portland, Beaverton, Tualatin, and Vancouver.
  • Umpqua Bank, 866-486-7782, umpquabank.com, headquartered in southern Oregon, has dozens of branches in Portland and each of the major suburbs.
  • Washington Federal, 800-324-9375, washingtonfederal.com, based in Seattle, has locations throughout Oregon and Washington, with eight branches in the Portland area.
  • West Coast Bank, 800-895-3345, wcb.com, has more than two dozen branches in the area, primarily in the suburbs.

Credit Unions

Credit unions are an alternative to consumer banking. These nonprofit, cooperative institutions offer most of the same basic services banks do, but often with lower fees, higher interest rates, and more personalized service. Membership is generally limited to employees of certain companies or government agencies or to residents of a certain area. To find a credit union in Oregon or Washington that you are eligible to join, visit asmarterchoice.org. Virtually any resident of the Portland metropolitan area is eligible to join at least one of the following four credit unions:

  • Columbia Credit Union, 360-891-4000, 503-285-4521, 800-699-4009, columbiacu.org, has 12 branches in Clark County; anyone who lives or works in Washington State, or in Jantzen Beach/Hayden Island, Oregon (the northern fringe of North Portland), is eligible to join.
  • OnPoint Community Credit Union, 503-228-7077, 800-527-3932, onpointcu.com, has 19 branches in the Portland area; membership is open to anyone who lives or works in Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Crook, Deschutes, Jefferson, Lane, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Washington, or Yamhill counties in Oregon or Clark or Skamania counties in Washington.
  • Rivermark Community Credit Union, 503-626-6600, 800-452-8502, rivermarkcu.org, with four branches in the metro area, is open to residents (or family members of residents) of most counties in north-central Oregon, including Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, and Yamhill.
  • Unitus Community Credit Union, 503-227-5571, 800-452-0900, unitusccu.com, has eight branches; you are eligible for membership if you live or work in any of 15 Oregon counties (including Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Marion, Polk, and Yamhill counties), or anywhere in Washington.

Credit Cards

Despite its potential fiscal hazards, plastic is an increasingly common way to pay for goods and services—so much so that many Portland merchants will accept credit cards, but not personal checks. If you don’t already have a credit card, you can compare credit card offerings—including interest rates, fees, special offers, and affinity features—at sites such as CardHub.com (cardhub.com) or Bankrate.com (bankrate.com/credit-cards.aspx).

VISA (usa.visa.com) and MasterCard (mastercard.us) cards are accepted by almost all merchants who take credit cards. American Express (americanexpress.com) and Discover (discovercard.com) cards are also widely accepted, though not universal.

Most department stores and other major retail chains issue charge cards, sometimes with lines of credit. Usually these accounts are issued automatically and instantly if you already have a VISA or MasterCard account, often in combination with a discount on purchases made on the day you apply. Store accounts may have lower fees (or no fees) and lower interest rates than major credit cards, and perks may include advance notice of sales, access to special services, and cardholder discounts. However, the instant discount may not be worth the hit to your credit rating that new accounts trigger, or the nuisance of keeping track of new cards.

You can also buy prepaid charge cards. These work like debit cards, so you can give them to a teenager or use them for Internet shopping and know that you can’t lose any more money than the amount already encoded on the card.

If you prefer to use a credit card that allows you to earn frequent flier miles, be aware that many airlines have only limited service from Portland—usually to their hub cities—and that as a result it can be very hard to redeem miles for a seat. The airlines that have the most flights from Portland are Alaska Airlines, followed by Southwest Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines. For maximum flexibility, use a card that allows you to earn and redeem miles on one of those airlines or on a selection of carriers.

Consumer Protection, Identity Theft, and Credit Reports

Following a steady stream of disclosures of security breaches affecting major banks, retailers, websites, credit card companies, government agencies, and businesses that collect and sell personal data, it seems nearly impossible to do anything to protect yourself from either credit card fraud or identity theft—and yet, if you’re a victim, a fraud such as identity theft can nearly ruin your life. Victims spend an average of 600 hours trying to repair their credit; it’s a daunting task. For more information, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center at 888-400-5530 or idtheftcenter.org, or check out the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft website (consumer.ftc.gov/topics/privacy-identity).

That said, there is some good news: federal law generally limits your liability for unauthorized credit card charges to $50. Industry standards are even tougher and, in practice, consumers are often not held responsible for any unauthorized charges on their credit cards. The trick is to check your monthly statements carefully and notify your credit card company immediately when the charges are incorrect. So what else can you do to protect yourself? Security experts recommend several things. Don’t print your full name and Social Security number on your checks, and don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Consider installing a locking mailbox if you don’t have one already, and in any case don’t let your mail sit in your mailbox any longer than absolutely necessary. Shred personal documents before recycling them. Finally, think twice before you make a financial transaction over the Internet. Convenient though it may be, security failures have been identified even on websites you might reasonably expect to be secure. Never send personal financial details through unencrypted email or submit them to an unsecured website. Finally, check your credit report periodically. You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting companies, so if you request a report every four months from a different credit reporting company, you’ll be able to keep tabs on your credit status for free. You can visit annualcreditreport.com for online access to all three.

The national credit bureaus are:

Taxes

The Portland metropolitan area includes two states with very different tax systems. Oregon has no sales tax, but collects a relatively high income tax; Washington has no state income tax, but collects a relatively high sales tax and has a wide range of other taxes and fees; and homeowners in both states pay property taxes. If you live, work, and shop in the same state, the tax situation is fairly straightforward. However, Washington residents who work or shop in Oregon face special rules.

Federal Income Tax

Federal tax forms and publications are available online at irs.gov; they can also be ordered from the IRS by telephone by calling 800-829-3676. Preprinted paper forms are available during filing season (January–April 15) at some public libraries. Although you’ll have to go through a metal detector to get them, paper forms are also available at the downtown Portland IRS office, 1220 SW 3rd Avenue, 503-265-3501. You can get answers to your tax questions at this office, but some recent studies have found that the answer you get from an IRS representative often depends more upon the person giving it than on any clearly defined rule or regulation. (The same caution goes for advice provided on the IRS Tax Help Line, 800-829-1040.) The Service says it’s working on standardizing responses.

Filing your tax return electronically can save you time and aggravation and can speed up your refund (if you’re expecting one). Visit the IRS e-file site (irs.gov/Filing) for details, including a list of companies that offer tax software or online returns.

State Income Tax

Oregon’s state income tax rate ranges from 5 to 9.9% of taxable income. Most taxpayers fall into the 9% marginal bracket, which kicks in at an extremely low level (taxable income of $8,150 for single filers and $16,300 for married filing jointly for the 2014 tax year). Taxable income above $125,000 for individuals and $250,000 for joint filers is taxed at 9.9%.

Tax forms and additional information are available from the Oregon Department of Revenue, 503-378-4988, 800-356-4222, oregon.gov/DOR.

Most (but not all) tax preparers and tax software publishers offer electronic filing for Oregon returns for a fee. Be aware that you will probably have to file an Oregon part-year resident tax return (Form 40P) for the year in which you move to Oregon; not all software publishers allow electronic filing for part-year returns, so check before committing to a program if electronic filing is important to you.

One unique aspect of the Oregon tax system is the “kicker.” Whenever the state’s two-year budget boasts a surplus of more than 2%, the entire surplus is refunded to taxpayers in odd-numbered years. The “kicker” kicks in more often than not, and many Oregonians look forward to receiving these tax refunds occasionally, typically every four to six years. (The checks are conveniently timed to arrive just before the December holidays.) While understandably popular, the kicker system is controversial, and has been criticized for preventing the state from maintaining a reserve fund for years in which revenues fall below estimates.

Oregon currently has no local personal income taxes for employees. A temporary Multnomah County income tax expired at the end of 2005.

Washington has no personal income tax for employees. However, cross-border commuters cannot evade Oregon income tax: Washington residents who work in Oregon must pay Oregon income tax on their earnings from Oregon employment, and Oregon residents who have jobs in Washington must pay Oregon income taxes.

Sales Tax

Oregon does not have a sales tax.

Washington charges both a state sales tax (currently 6.5%) and an array of local sales taxes (which the consumer sees as a single, combined number at the cash register). In Clark County, the total sales tax ranges from 7.7% in unincorporated areas to 8.2% in Vancouver and other incorporated municipalities.

Washington also collects—or attempts to collect—use taxes from its residents who purchase items from other states for use in Washington. For most Clark County residents, the use tax will affect them if they purchase goods via mail-order or over the Internet from retailers who do not collect Washington sales tax, or if they shop in Oregon. A complete description of Washington’s use tax can be found on the Washington Department of Revenue website (dor.wa.gov/NH-Content/findtaxesandrates/usetax). Although Washington has stepped up enforcement of the use tax, the large number of big box retailers that lurk conveniently on the Oregon side of both Columbia River bridges in Portland suggests that not all Washingtonians are diligent about reporting their purchases.

If you are an Oregon resident, you may not have to pay sales tax on items you buy at a store in Washington. Washington law allows (but doesn’t require) retailers to exempt taxes on certain sales to Oregonians. (The exemption does not apply to meals, services, or lodging, or to items that will be used within Washington.) If the merchant agrees not to charge you sales tax, you’ll be asked to show photo identification, and you may have to fill out a tax exemption certificate. Most retailers in Clark County welcome customers from Oregon, and many are able to handle tax-free transactions. Merchants elsewhere in Washington, particularly small retailers, may not be set up to jump through the necessary tax exemption hoops, but it never hurts to ask.

Property Taxes

Oregon

In Oregon, county governments collect property taxes and distribute the funds to cities, school districts, and various special districts. The annual property tax is payable in thirds, with payments due on November 15, February 15, and May 15. A discount is available if you pay all or two-thirds of your annual tax by November 15. If you have a mortgage with an escrow account for taxes, your lender will pay the county directly.

Property taxes in Oregon generally increase at relatively low, predictable rates. Ballot Measure 5, passed in 1990, limited the overall property tax rate for education and general government purposes to $15 per $1,000 of assessed value. Voter-approved levies (for schools, libraries, or open space, for example) can (and do) raise property tax rates in some jurisdictions well above the Measure 5 limit, and the passage and expiration of various levies can cause your property tax bill to fluctuate significantly from year to year. Your property tax statement should have an itemized list of taxes, fees, and assessments from all the local taxing districts that provide services to your property. Some of these charges may not be based on assessed value.

In 1997, Ballot Measure 50 separated the taxable assessed value of a property from its real market value. Assessed value was initially set at 90% of a property’s 1995 real market value, and subsequent increases in assessed value were limited to 3% per year. An exception to this rule is made for any improvements that raise the value of property by more than $10,000; if you buy a newly remodeled house, your property tax bill may be substantially higher than you expect. However, unlike in states such as California, a property’s assessed value does not skyrocket to fair market value when the property is sold. If a taxpayer feels that the assessor incorrectly estimated the value of the property, he or she can file an appeal with their county’s Board of Property Tax Assessment.

While these measures restrain increases in property taxes when real estate prices rise more than 3% per year, they can also result in assessed values so far below real market values that assessed values, and thus property taxes, can continue to increase even in a market downturn.

Washington

In Washington, counties collect property tax. Property tax bills go out in February, and half of the total tax is due April 30; perhaps to increase Halloween’s scare factor, the other half is due October 31. As in Oregon, there is a statewide limit on the property tax rate—1% of market value, exclusive of voter-approved levies. Unlike in Oregon, however, a property’s assessed value is the same as its current fair market value, and there is no limit on how quickly a property’s assessed value can rise. (In Clark County, property values are reassessed annually.) Washington law generally limits the rate of increase in local levy amounts to 1% per year unless voters approve a higher increase, so in practice property taxes do not increase at the same rate as real estate values (and did not necessarily decrease during the last downturn in real estate values). As an added wrinkle, the 1% increase limit does not apply to individual homes, but only to the taxing district as a whole. Senior citizens and disabled persons may qualify for property tax exemptions or deferrals. Also note that homeowners generally qualify for a three-year exemption on the value of major remodels to single-family houses.

County Offices

For questions about assessments or property taxes for a specific property, check with your county’s assessor:

Other Taxes and Fees

If you are self-employed and you live within the TriMet transit district (which includes most of the Oregon portion of the metropolitan area), you will have to pay TriMet self-employment tax. This tax is collected by the Oregon Department of Revenue. Both Multnomah County and the City of Portland levy business taxes (described as a “license fee” in Portland) on net income. You may be subject to this tax if you’re self-employed; businesses with less than $50,000 in gross revenue are exempt.

Although Washington has no income tax, the state levies a business and occupation (B & O) tax on gross (not net) business receipts. If you are self-employed, you will be subject to this tax. The B & O tax rate depends on the type of business activity you engage in. Full details are available at dor.wa.gov/NH-Content/findtaxesandrates/bandotax/. Washington also levies a hefty state and local excise tax on the sale of real estate. This tax is generally paid by the seller, so it won’t initially affect you if you are moving to Washington from another state.

Several municipalities in the Portland area, including Oregon City, West Linn, and Lake Oswego, collect street maintenance fees from residents. At press time, Portland is also considering implementing a street fee.

Starting a Business

Oregon’s state government has created a streamlined multi-agency business startup toolkit, available at oregon.gov/business/Pages/toolkit.aspx, which is an excellent resource for prospective Oregon businesses. In addition, the Oregon Secretary of State’s Corporation Division publishes “How to Start a Business in Oregon,” a helpful guide to opening a business in the state. The booklet is available online at sos.oregon.gov/business/pages/staring-business.aspx, or by calling the Corporation Division at 503-986-2200. The Portland Development Commission (503-823-3200) operates a web portal (pdc.us/for-businesses.aspx) that is useful for existing or planned Portland businesses.

If you want to start a business in Washington, you must file an application for a Master Business License with the state. The Washington Department of Revenue website (bls.dor.wa.gov/startbusiness.aspx) contains useful information about the business startup and licensing process. You may also need a local business license. The Clark County website (co.clark.wa.us/aboutcc/new_clarkcounty/startingbusiness.html) lists several resources for people thinking of starting a business in the area.

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