There is little argument that millions of Americans are in need of assistance. However, once funds like pandemic-related stimulus payments are disbursed, how will those Americans receive their payments? The usual response is through direct deposit or a paper check, but 7.1 million American households operate outside of the banking system. This leaves millions of Americans having to pay unnecessary fees to cash checks and vulnerable payday loan companies.
What are the disadvantages of not having a bank account? Without a bank account, conducting financial business during the pandemic has become increasingly difficult due to economic and social disruptions. Those without bank accounts also experience delayed receipt of payments. If they receive payments in the form of a paper check, the unbanked households must go to a check cashing establishment where their fees can “be as much as 2.5 percent of the check amount. So, cashing a $5,600 stimulus check for a family of four in the latest round of relief (married couple with two dependents) would mean $140 in fees”. And lastly, with more assistance being distributed in the form of the child tax credit, for example, it is paramount that families receive this assistance, and a bank account would speed up these payments.
The response to this dilemma seems obvious: why don’t the millions of unbanked Americans get bank accounts? “About half of unbanked households said they didn’t have an account because they didn’t believe they had enough money to meet minimum balance requirements. Others said they didn’t trust the financial institutions.” Of the 7.1 million unbanked American households, 14 percent are Black and 12 percent Hispanic, compared to 2.5 percent of White households. This disproportionality means that Black and Hispanic households experience a considerable disadvantage when receiving funds.
The FDIC has launched its #GetBanked public awareness campaign to help households get their stimulus payments and highlight bank accounts’ benefits. The FDIC will begin in Atlanta and Houston, where it “finds a disproportionately higher percentage of unbanked Black and Hispanic households.”
In its media campaign, the FDIC highlights its no/low-cost program (as little as $5 per month) to help unbanked Americans get bank accounts. This includes 75 banks and credit unions under a national initiative called “Bank On”. Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund run this national “Bank On” program. Individuals can open an account for $25 or less and, with this account, there are no overdraft or non-sufficient funds fees allowed.
For more information on the FDIC #GetBanked campaign and on Bank On accounts, visit https://www.fdic.gov/getbanked/.