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Millions In U.S. Do Their Banking Without Banks

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Millions In U.S. Do Their Banking Without Banks

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Millions In U.S. Do Their Banking Without Banks

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Some 60 million American adults do their banking at places other than traditional banks - that's according to a new survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The FDIC wants consumers to rely more on insured banks, but some people say it's in their financial interest to stay away.

NPR's Sam Sanders reports.

SAM SANDERS: Al Walker may seem a little too trendy for the check-cashing store he's outside of. It's in the heart of Washington, D.C.'s U Street district. He's wearing fitted jeans, a hipster scarf and oversized sunglasses. He looks like a yuppie on his day off, but he's outside of Ace Cash Express, a national check casher, even though he has a bank account. He's one of millions of people who rely heavily on check cashing services, payday loans or pawn shops instead of traditional insured banks. In spite of FDIC warnings against it, he likes Ace's services.

Mr. AL WALKER: I don't have to worry about them posting things to my account. I don't have to worry about them taking anything from my account. I don't have to worry about an overdraft fee here. I don't have to worry about overdraft protection. I don't have to worry about whether or not this is free. I know what I'm paying. It's the same every day, every time I come here. And maybe that's something that banks should look into.

SANDERS: Walker came to D.C. from Atlanta to attend American University. He graduated in 2006. Now, he goes to Ace to cash his unemployment checks. He's been laid off four months. Walker is not alone.

The FDIC found that 17 million adults don't have bank accounts at all. Another 43 million have bank accounts, but still rely on places like Ace Cash Express. Minorities and people who are poor, unmarried or lack a college degree are more likely to not use banks. And more than half of all black households use financial services outside of traditional banks or credit unions.

(Soundbite of store)

SANDERS: Inside Ace, the line snakes to the door. Walker comes there so often, the teller, Roberta, knows him by name.

Mr. WALKER: Hi there.

ROBERTA: How's it going, Alvin?

Mr. WALKER: I'm good. How are you?


SANDERS: She details him of the fees while getting Al his cash.

ROBERTA: 2.5 percent for payroll and government checks, 4 percent for tax checks, 5 percent for insurance checks and other checks.

SANDERS: Walker gives up nearly $5 each time he gets an unemployment check. If he'd used a traditional checking account, there'd be no fee at all.

ROBERTA: Okay, Mr. Walker.

Mr. WALKER: Thank you.

ROBERTA: Thank you so very much. And you (unintelligible).

SANDERS: The FDIC wants customers like Walker to leave places like Ace behind. But FDIC Chair Sheila Bair told reporters that people use services outside of banks because it makes sense for them.

Ms. SHEILA BAIR (Chairperson, FDIC): A lot of this is the product of rational economic decision making. And a lot of the folks who do not use banks now had one choose them and found it not to be cost effective for them.

SANDERS: In the FDIC survey, the biggest reason people gave for not using banks was that they don't have enough month to maintain their accounts.

(Soundbite of street)

SANDERS: Many outside of the Ace check cashing store had nothing nice to say about the banks they avoid. They detailed rampant overdraft fees, waiting for checks to post and transactions hitting their account too early or too late. For them, places like Ace took out that hassle and expense.

Mr. WALKER: I have an extreme distrust and, I guess, disdain for banks 'cause so many of them have done me and money wrong.

SANDERS: The FDIC is pushing banks to introduce new types of services for low-income individuals. They want lower transaction and penalty fees for poorer bank customers as well as easier access to credit. However, banks so far have not shown much interest in reaching these customers. Fewer than 20 percent of banks told the FDIC that reaching out to these communities is a priority.

Sam Sanders, NPR News.

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