Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fewer St. Louis Households Lack Bank Accounts

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fewer St. Louis Households Lack Bank Accounts

Article excerpt

A local effort to increase the availability of banking services to minority and low-income households appears to be gaining traction, according to the latest figures from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The percentage of black households in the St. Louis area who were unbanked that is, didn't have a checking or savings account fell to 13.3 percent in 2013, a sharp decline from 29 percent in 2011. When the survey results were released in 2009, the St. Louis area ranked highest in the nation for unbanked black households, at 31 percent.

Nationally, unbanked black households fell to 20.5 percent last year, down from 21.4 percent in 2011, according to the FDIC's National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households report released Wednesday.

The highest unbanked rates in the U.S. are among non-Asian minority households, lower-income, younger and unemployed households, the FDIC survey found. Unbanked Hispanic households in the U.S. fell to 17.9 percent in 2013, down from 20.1 percent in 2011.

The large number of unbanked minority and low-income households in St. Louis revealed in past FDIC reports spurred local nonprofit leaders, bankers and others to take action. The St. Louis Regional Unbanked Task Force, organized in 2011, has focused on increasing the availability of banking products while convincing those who pay high fees to cash checks and access other financial services to instead open a checking or savings account.

"It's reflective of the collaborative work we've been doing with the task force and Bank On Save Up," said Jackie Hutchinson, co- chair of the task force and vice president of operations at the nonprofit People's Community Action Corp., which provides food, clothing, financial literacy and other services in St. Louis. She called the latest FDIC survey results encouraging.

"When people have bank accounts, they move on to participate in the economy," Hutchinson said. "We've seen people go from unbanked to getting an account and purchasing a car or home. It improves the economy as a whole in the St. Louis area."

The group's first initiative, Bank On Save Up, started in February 2013 with a goal of opening 20,000 accounts in the St. Louis region within two years. Similar Bank On initiatives formed across the country after the first program was started in San Francisco in 2006.

When it formed locally, 18 banks and credit unions said they would offer accounts requiring low minimum amounts to open, access to free online banking services and safeguards to help customers avoid overdraft fees. The number of banks and credit unions now offering the Bank On accounts locally has since grown to 20.

Since its debut , the Bank On program led to 2,435 new accounts through the second quarter of 2014, far short of the goal. …

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