There are basic things you should have as an American citizen.  Although they may seem trivial, your life will be easier if you have them before you actually need them.  Due to application requirements and processing time, some of these documents are harder to acquire than others.

Please take the time to find or obtain a copy of the following:

Professional email address

The world is now online and having an email address is just as essential as having a home address.  This is also one of the first things potential employers learn about you and it could affect their judgement.  Take the time and create an appropriate email address using this template

Since google is a trusted company and provides many free services, once you have an email address, we recommend setting up an gmail account.

Fee: Free

Library card

The public library was created to help educate the general public, encourage literacy, and strengthen communities. Having a library card is the easiest way to gain access to a world class education. You can learn what you want at your own pace and take advantage of the free resources and events that the library offers.  You can also rent movies and music for free which works great for your budget.

Fee: Free – $2

Voter’s registration

If you are 18 or older, you have the right and the obligation to vote.  Many people underestimate the importance of local elections. However, every year there is an election that directly affects you and your community.  If you want better judges, better policing, and more funding for your neighborhood, then you need to vote.  Elected officials work for the public, but only cater to those that let their voices be heard.  We could go on and on about this, but we’ll just leave it here.  Register and vote!

To register to vote please follow the instructions on this site:

Fee: Free

Birth certificate

Most likely we all have one somewhere in the house; however, this is definitely one of the documents you need to keep ready.  You need a birth certificate in order to help establish age, identity, get married, enroll in school, apply for benefits, etc. It is also used as a prerequisite to obtain other important documents like a driver’s license or passport.  If you were born in the US, you can obtain it from your state’s office of vital records.  In many cities, if you go to the office, you can get your birth certificate on the same day. Depending on the state you live in, you may even be able to go online and order a copy of your birth certificate.

If you were adopted or born overseas there are other requirements to fulfill. Check out this website for help:

Fee: $15 – $30

Social security card

This document is so important that there is a whole industry devoted to trying to steal the number printed on it (identity theft).  Your social security number gives you access to government benefits, necessary for your taxes, and is use to protect your credit information.  It’s a unique number given to only you and no one else in the world.  You will have difficulty obtaining anything involving loans, health, education, or gainful employment without a social security number. Since you need it for so many things, it is also beneficial to memorize your social security number.

To obtain an official Social Security card, visit this site for requirements that differ based on your situation:

Fee: Free

Non Driver’s ID (Walker’s ID) / Driver’s License 

This is probably the most important document you need. Your license is needed to verify your identity, to accept packages, fly throughout the US, and to vote.

To get a walker’s ID, you just need to fill out an application at your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and provide the appropriate documentation that satisfies their “points” requirement.

To get a driver’s license, you must satisfy the “points” requirement and pass a driver’s exam and road test.

Take a look at your local DMV’s website to view what is considered acceptable documentation and how many points each are worth in order to hit the total number of points needed to get either license.

Fee: Varies depending on the state check your local dmv website.

Rent receipts

Always get a receipt or a record showing what you paid for rent and when you paid it.   If your landlord only wants to accept cash, be very cautious.  If you ever have a disagreement with your landlord and they take you to court for eviction, it would be hard for you to prove that you paid rent.  A landlord that is trustworthy, but prefers cash, should have no issue with you paying your rent with a money order. A money order will give you a record and is considered the same as cash at financial institutions. In addition, having a record of receipts will make moving to a new place easier and help when applying for a home loan.

Fee: Free – $1.00 for money order

Checking Accounts

If you have a job and get paid on a regular basis, consider getting a checking account and have your job directly deposit your check into your account.  If direct deposit is not an option, having a bank account is still useful.  With a bank account, you can deposit your checks and have them available very quickly. Additionally, unlike check cashing businesses, the bank doesn’t charge a transaction fee to turn your check into cash. Even if your job does not offer direct deposit, there are apps you can use to deposit your check into your account with just your phone. You don’t even have to go to the bank, just take a picture with your phone and submit it.

In addition, with a bank account you will receive a debit card.  A debit card can be used like a credit card, but without putting you into debt.  The only money available on your debit card is the money you have in your bank account. Just be aware of the minimum balance needed in your account so that the bank won’t charge you a fee.

Fee: Free – various fees depending on bank and type of account


It’s not only for traveling, a passport is the strongest proof of your identification.  A passport is accepted as identification anywhere in the world.  It provides proof of citizenship and is valid for 10 years.  If you do not have a license you can use it as a way to validate your identity. If you are a US citizen, in order to get your passport you will need to fill out an application and provide the relevant documentation.

Fee: $105 – $135 (more if you need to get it fast)

Are there anymore documents and items you feel are too important not to have?  What were your experience when getting these and what would you do differently the next time around? Leave us a comment.