The headline might seem to pose a silly question but, depending on who you ask, it's actually a legitimate one.
A significant number of American households — nearly 8 percent, or 9 million, to be exact — are "unbanked," meaning they have no bank account. This, according to a report released today by The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
And an even larger number of U.S. households — 18 percent — are "underbanked." Although these households have a checking or savings account, they rely more heavily on non-bank institutions or services, such as payday loans or neighborhood check cashing centers, to meet their personal finance needs.
It should come as no surprise that we became especially interested in this story after learning that African-American, Latino and Native American households are far more likely to identify themselves as either having no bank account at all or making little use of the one they have. Twenty-two percent of black households, 19 percent of Hispanic households and 16 percent of American Indian/Alaskan households are categorized as unbanked, according to the FDIC.
For white and Asian households, that rate is 3 percent and 4 percent, respectively.
There could be a number of factors that influence both the general numbers and the breakdown in racial disparities. Believe it or not, there are people — I actually happen to have met one or two (mostly elders) — who are fundamentally skeptical about entrusting their hard-earned wages to one big money system, guarded by someone or something they don't know, stashed away someplace they cannot readily access. (Hey, extended ATM/branch hours, compared to under-the-mattress convenience can be a tough sale for some.) One might also argue that banking options are more plentiful in some neighborhoods than others.
Still, we're curious to learn what these findings really say about class, wealth, access and trust in this country. And how, in this case, one's decision to avoid personal banking could do more to stifle the American dream than to advance it.
When we find out, we'll tell you more ...