Poor Towns Losing Bank Services

By Olson, Thomas | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Poor Towns Losing Bank Services


Olson, Thomas, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Joachim Pantelis soon won't be visiting his local PNC Bank branch in Clairton anymore. The only bank in this downtrodden town will close Aug. 16.

"I'm going to sorely miss this branch to do my banking," said Pantelis, 72, a retired Greek Orthodox priest who has banked with PNC for about 20 years.

Major banks such as PNC close branches located in poorer areas such as Clairton much more often than in wealthier areas, leaving customers in the lurch, according to a recent study of branch closings and openings by the nation's 4,477 largest banks.

SNL Securities, a research firm in Charlottesville, Va., found that banks since 2006 opened a net 519 branches in neighborhoods with median household incomes of $100,000 or above.

By contrast, however, those banks closed a net 806 branches in neighborhoods with median household incomes of $50,000 or less, including 182 in neighborhoods under $25,000.

Median household income in Clairton is $35,989, according to census data.

"In a lot of these lower-income neighborhoods, when people lose their branch, they go to a currency exchange, a check casher or pay day lender, and they wind up with high-cost credit and a debt trap," said Dory Rand, president of the Woodstock Institute, a fair lending advocacy group in Chicago.

"It's an example of how it's expensive to be poor," Rand said. "We have millions of individuals in this country who are unbanked, and they are disproportionately people with less education, lower income and people of color."

PNC spokeswoman Marcey Zwiebel said current Clairton customers are being directed to another branch in Elizabeth about 1.5 miles away. In addition, PNC is installing an automated teller machine inside a pharmacy less than one block from the branch.

"Every PNC branch closing that is planned in a low- or moderate- income community must pass through additional levels of review before completion," Zwiebel said. That review is meant to "ensure that appropriate banking services will remain available in a community following a closure," she said.

The SNL study put PNC and Citizens Bank, two of the biggest banks in Western Pennsylvania, among the top 10 in branch closures in lower-income neighborhoods. …

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