There's three components here:
(1) diversify by having investments/cash outside Germany, indeed outside of the EU
(2) have access to some funds that are not available here (Wellington/Wellesley funds)
(3) have a "catastrophe" nest egg somewhere totally different, but still within borders that one of us holds a passwort for in a country that places some kind of value on private property
Whether the US is a good match for any of these criteria (as seen from Germany) is, of course, debatable.
Having never had any dealings with banks, bank accounts, investments and investment accounts in the US, I'm spectacularly lacking in basic knowledge here. I've done a bit of reading and what I (think I) know so far is this:
- Vanguard mutual funds/ETFs are probably a good idea (not available here at all, I'm looking at Wellington/Wellesley)
- Local banks (i.e. for checking accounts), and apparently major ones, charge a surprisingly large monthly fee to handle your account, something like $25/month
- It is my understanding that she doesn't qualify for any kind of IRA because she is not earning any taxable income in the US
- Same for 401(k)
- Pretty much any kind of tax-exempt or even tax-deferred account is inaccessible to her/us
- The US has a bilateral tax agreement with Germany, so we'll have to pay the tax difference here in any case, but at least the legal frame is settled
I'm guessing a checking account as a base will be required, if only to have a channel for the funds coming in from Germany. I'm still unclear on the legal ramifications of that "channel", by the way. When it comes to opening accounts, here, it's pretty much walk into the bank, sign a few papers and voila. There's very little in hidden fees, which my gut feeling tells me is not at all the case in the US.
So: what are the major pitfalls to avoid here if what we want to do is have a few investments in the US? Any pointers or helpers would be greatly appreciated.