Felix Salmon

America’s unbanked

By Felix Salmon
December 2, 2009

The FDIC’s EconomicInclusion.gov website is a fantastic resource for information on the unbanked — it has all the latest figures, including the rather depressing fact that if you look at the black and hispanic population in the US, one in five is unbanked. Single mothers, too, are disproportionately likely to be unbanked, none of which should come as a surprise: all of these things are basically proxies for the likelihood of being poor. And of course if you don’t have a bank account that just makes you poorer, since you’re forced into a system where banking services are much more expensive.

Not having enough money to feel they need an account is the most common reason why unbanked households are not participating in the mainstream financial system…

About 66 percent of unbanked households use the following alternative financial services (AFS): non- bank money orders and non-bank check-cashing, pawn shops, payday loans, rent-to-own agreements (RTOs), and refund anticipation loans (RALs).

Not mentioned on the list but also increasingly popular are prepaid debit cards, which are better than things like pawn shops and check cashers, but still much worse than just opening an account at the local credit union.

Be sure to play with the map at the top of the website: you can see state-by-state data there, as well as see major conurbations broken out. For instance, in the Riverside-San Bernadino area of California, over 24% of hispanics are unbanked; in Mississippi, one in three blacks are unbanked, and another one in three blacks is underbanked.

It’s not clear what if anything the government is doing about this problem, but it’s definitely a problem. If we can spend this much effort on trying to get healthcare for all, can we spend a tiny fraction of that on trying to get banking services for anybody who wants them as well?

3 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

In some European states banks are forced by law offer a basic account for the poor, so all the exploting of the ASF in not an issue. Would help the US to introduce sth like this, now the banks are anyway on their knees in front of DC.

Posted by Bankeuro | Report as abusive

In light of the way in which banks are and have been operating (see the nicely done PBS Frontline series aired recently) is it such a bad thing so many are unbanked? Perhaps we should all be…

Posted by Mliton Friedman's Ghost | Report as abusive

You quote that most common reason is that they don’t feel they need banks, and then suggest the need for a program to help them sign up anyway? How much of the budget for said program would go toward convincing the people hit hardest by the bank-caused recession that giving their money to a bank would be a good idea?


Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/