The most frequently asked question we get from those that aren't full-time RVers is "How do you get your mail?"
The question arises because we live in an RV and it appears that we have no address. However, we all must have some legitimate address to accomplish all kinds of every day transactions. We need an address for banking, credit cards, insurance, vehicle registrations, driver's licenses, voter registration, and dealing with state and federal government.
We also have to have a "legal residence" or "domicile". Though our mailing address doesn't necessarily have to be in our "domicile" state, it is best if it is for a variety of reasons. The good news for us full-timers is we can choose our state of domicile to take advantage of favorable tax laws, insurance plans and rates, and other state-specific laws and regulations that may be more favorable to us depending on our various situations.
It's nearly impossible to talk about mailing addresses for full-timers without talking about domicile, so I'll discuss domicile briefly. Most full-timers choose Texas, Florida, or South Dakota as their state of domicile. These three states don't have state income tax; they don't have personal property taxes on vehicles; and they have RVer-friendly mail-forwarding services that make it easy to acquire an address and set up mail forwarding. Also, most of the mail-forwarding services provide advice and assistance in doing the administrative tasks required to establish domicile or legal residency.
Of course there are a number of full-timers, including us, that simply use the address of a family member or friend that is willing to handle mail. That address may be in our current state of domicile (so we only have to go through a change of address) or it may be in a different state where everything is more favorable and we have to do more work to fully establish a new domicile.
In a nutshell, you establish a domicile by having "intent" for a state to be your domicile AND by having or establishing "significant contacts" with that state to prove that intent. So what are some significant contacts that help prove intent?
- Permanent residence (actual presence in a stationary abode with no intent to be mobile)
- Job location
- Real estate ownership
- Vehicle registration
- Driver's licenses
- Voter registration
- Mailing address
- Banking relationships
- Legal documents such as wills, trusts, etc.
Of course, permanent residence doesn't apply to most full-timers as we become full-timers to have the freedom to "live" in multiple locations. And many of us are either retired, have a mobile job, or take temporary jobs that don't rise to the level of being a significant contact with a particular state, so that doesn't apply either.
Also, many of us full-timers no longer own real estate, so that often doesn't apply. With that said, many full-timers still do own real estate and that's a pretty strong contact. However, real estate ownership alone does not establish legal residence without the requisite "intent" and existence of other significant contacts. So, just because one owns real estate in a particular state, that doesn't mean that state is automatically a domicile.
Typically, full-timers establish a mailing address, get vehicles registered, get driver's licenses, and register to vote as proof of their "intent" to establish domicile. And one often-overlooked aspect of changing domicile states is that previously drafted wills, trusts, living wills, and other legal documents may not be valid in the new domicile state. So while having those documents re-drafted in the new state may be a valuable significant contact, it most likely will be necessary to make sure your wishes are legally carried out.
Now, in the areas of insurance and banking is where things can get a little tricky. Some insurance companies and financial institutions (i.e. banks, credit unions, lenders, etc.) require a verifiable "physical" address meaning they won't accept P.O. Box addresses or anything similar. And while the mail forwarding services all provide a valid street address, many of these banks and financial institutions have flagged mail forwarding addresses in their systems and won't accept these addresses in the establishment of an account.
In fact, a recent post by a member of our RV-Dreams Community Forum about their bank "flagging" their mail forwarding address when they applied for a business account is what prompted this Journal entry.
We have heard about issues from time to time about mail forwarding service addresses, but since we don't use a mail forwarding service ourselves and have never had a problem, we've never really delved into what the hurdles there might be. However, in recent years we've discussed the possibility of changing domiciles and using a mail forwarding service and, with the recent Forum post, I thought I should do some digging and address this address issue. So here is the deal.
In 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed to help identify and prevent money laundering and terrorist financing. Specifically, "These provisions are intended to facilitate the prevention, detection, and prosecution of international money laundering and the financing of terrorism."
Section 326 of the Patriot Act required the Secretary of the Treasury to promulgate rules in accordance with the Act. The following is from the joint final rule on Customer Identification Programs.
Section 326 of the Act adds a new subsection (l) to 31 U.S.C. 5318 of the BSA [Bank Secrecy Act]
that requires the Secretary to prescribe regulations “setting forth the minimum standards
for financial institutions and their customers regarding the identity of the customer that
shall apply in connection with the opening of an account at a financial institution.”
Section 326 applies to all “financial institutions.” This term is defined very
broadly in the BSA to encompass a variety of entities, including commercial banks,
agencies and branches of foreign banks in the United States, thrifts, credit unions, private
banks, trust companies, investment companies, brokers and dealers in securities, futures
commission merchants, insurance companies, travel agents, pawnbrokers, dealers in
precious metals, check-cashers, casinos, and telegraph companies, among many others.
See 31 U.S.C. 5312(a)(2) and (c)(1)(A).
Section 326 of the Act provides that the regulations must require, at a minimum,
financial institutions to implement reasonable procedures for (1) verifying the identity of
any person seeking to open an account, to the extent reasonable and practicable; (2)
maintaining records of the information used to verify the person's identity, including
name, address, and other identifying information; and (3) determining whether the person
appears on any lists of known or suspected terrorists or terrorist organizations provided to
the financial institution by any government agency.
Financial institutions were required to establish a "customer identification program" or CIP tailored to their size, location, and type of business, and certain standards were mandated for all banks. They "must verify enough information to form a reasonable belief that it knows the true identity of the customer". Note that more deference is given to existing customers, so it may be best to continue a long-standing banking relationship if you can make it work.
They have to gather the following specific pieces of verifiable information from the customer:
- Date of Birth (for an individual)
- Taxpayer Identification Number (Basically a Social Security Number for an individual or an Employer Identification number for a business)
We're focusing on the address piece. Originally, it was going to be required that two addresses be collected - a physical address and a mailing address. However, there were some that were against the physical address requirement.
Most commenters urged Treasury
and the Agencies to eliminate the requirement that the customer provide a physical
address. Some of these commenters stated that this requirement could interfere with the
ability of certain segments of the population to obtain a bank account, such as members
of the military, persons who reside in mobile homes with no fixed address, and truck
drivers who do not have a physical address.
At least someone was trying to look out for us. Ultimately, it was decided that only one address would be required, but that it would be the physical address with exceptions as follows:
The final rule therefore provides that a bank generally
must obtain a residential or business street address for a customer who is an individual
because Treasury and the Agencies have determined that law enforcement agencies
should be able to contact an individual customer at a physical location, rather than solely
through a mailing address. Treasury and the Agencies recognize that this provision may
be impracticable for members of the military who cannot readily provide a physical
address, and other individuals who do not have a physical address but who reliably can be
contacted. Accordingly, the final rule provides an exception under these circumstances
that allows a bank to obtain an Army Post Office or Fleet Post Office box number, or the
residential or business street address of next of kin or of another contact individual. For a
customer other than an individual, such as a corporation, partnership, or trust, the bank
may obtain the address of the principal place of business, local office, or other physical
location of the customer. Of course, a bank is free to obtain additional addresses from the
customer, such as the customer’s mailing address, to meet its own or its customer’s
So, full-timers with a mail-forwarding service address would fall under "other individuals who do not have a physical address but who reliably can be contacted". And thus such full-timers can supply a "residential or business street address of next of kin or of another contact individual".
This is likely the reason that most full-timers using mail forwarding services never have an issue with their address. However, certain financial institutions may still have mail forwarding service addresses flagged in their sophisticated systems and these systems may have to be manually over-ridden. But as long as they are satisfied that they have verified "enough information to form a reasonable belief that it knows the true identity of the customer", the mail forwarding address should suffice or you should be able to supply the address of a family member or friend.
Now, the above is for "individuals". But our Forum member was trying to open a business account. The address rules are slightly different. "For a customer other than an individual, such as a corporation, partnership, or trust, the bank may obtain the address of the principal place of business, local office, or other physical location of the customer." The exception for individuals with no physical address doesn't seem to be extended to businesses.
Thus, it's possible that a mail forwarding service address may not be flagged at all for individual accounts but might be flagged for accounts set up as "business" accounts or with business names that include "Corporation", "Partnership", "LLC", "DBA", etc.
Again, all that should be required is to verify "enough information to form a reasonable belief that it knows the true identity of the customer". That may mean providing documentation of the legal existence of the entity. But each institution sets up its own CIP, and if their policies are more strict than the "reasonable belief of true identity" standard, then that's just the way it is.
As sole proprietors, we use our individual accounts for both personal and business use to avoid such issues. But we then keep very detailed records to separate the business transactions from the personal transactions.
So, we just wanted to throw out some information and potential issues you might run into when setting up your mailing address as a full-timer.
Certainly, the decision process on domicile selection is more important, so go through the domicile selection process first and choose your domicile state. Consider income taxes, vehicle registration fees, vehicle registration renewals, vehicle inspection requirements, driver's license requirements, driver's license renewals, personal property taxes on vehicle values, health insurance options including costs and whether there is a national network of service providers, vehicle insurance, life insurance, and legal requirements for wills, trusts, etc. It may be worthwhile to get insurance quotes in each of the zip codes you are considering so you can compare.
Just because Texas, Florida, and South Dakota are the most popular states (for good reason), that doesn't mean any of them will be best for you. You really have to do your homework based on your situation.
Once you've chosen your domicile state, then you can choose whether you are going to use a mail forwarding service (and which one) or you are going to use a family member or friend's address.
Once you've established your mailing address where all of your mail goes, then how does the mail forwarding service or your relative or friend get the mail to you?
Public campgrounds will never accept mail for you unless you are working or volunteering there. Some private campgrounds/RV parks will accept mail for you, but don't expect them to. I know if I were a campground owner, I wouldn't accept mail for anyone - there is just too much potential liability involved. But if they will accept it, good for you.
You can have your package of mail sent to the local post office where you are physically located by using General Delivery. It's addressed as follows:
- Your Name
- General Delivery
- City/Town, State, Zip Code
The post office is required to hold General Delivery for thirty days once they receive it. You just go in, provide ID and they go get your package from the back and hand it to you.
A couple of cautions about General Delivery. First, not every post office accepts General Delivery, so check with the particular post office before having mail sent there. Second, try to have your General Delivery sent to where there is only one post office in the town or one post office within the zip code. You are just asking for lost mail if you try General Delivery in larger cities.
Often, RV parks will allow FedEx or UPS packages to be delivered to your site or to the office on your behalf. If they don't you may have to find a Mailboxes, Etc., a UPS Store, a FedEx Office, etc. Post offices generally don't allow UPS or FedEx packages, but we've heard that some will allow you to use their address for such packages - it appears to be a local accommodation in some places.
As for us, our domicile is in Kentucky mostly due to our inexpensive, grandfathered, national health insurance plan. We have gone paperless on everything we can.
Our mailing address is our friend's house in Kentucky. Stephanie opens all our mail, scans it and emails it to us the same day. If we need the hard copies (usually not), she puts it in pre-paid USPS Priority envelopes that we provide for her and we let her know where to send it.
If we receive checks, she scans those for us and mails them in to be deposited. We have our bank accounts through our investment advisers, and they provide pre-stamped envelopes and a "For Deposit Only" stamp for Stephanie. As a side note, our bank reimburses all ATM fees that we incur, so there is no extra cost if we need cash beyond what we can get with a debit card at a grocery store.
Our insurance costs are based on her zip code and we vote in her precinct.
For those looking at mail forwarding services, just do an internet search on "mail forwarding services" for the state you have chosen for you domicile. Compare the benefits, the services they offer, and the costs. Some are now providing scanning services.
Just take your time in deciding on a domicile and in selecting a mail forwarding service. You can always change later, but you don't want to do that unless you have to. It's a real pain to have to change your address and a bigger pain to completely change domicile, so the less you have to do it, the better.
We hope this information is helpful, and please let us know if you have any questions. :)