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A new survey from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, found that in 2021, 4.5% of U.S. households were unbanked – that is, they didn’t have a checking or savings account with a bank. That amounts to 5.9 million households.
The FDIC says that’s actually the lowest proportion of unbanked households since the survey began in 2009.
Part of the reason more households are opening bank accounts is because of pandemic-related government stimulus, said Jonathan Mintz, CEO of the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund.
“The government did a really great job of saying to people who didn’t have a bank account: ‘Listen, we can get you your money much faster and much more safely if you open up a safe account.’”
And, Mintz said, people responded.
According to the FDIC, a third of recently “banked” households – those opening an account within 15 months of the survey – said getting a government benefit payment contributed to their decision.
But whether people will hold onto their new accounts is an open question, said Lisa Servon, chair of the City and Regional Planning Department at the University of Pennsylvania.
“The two primary reasons that people said they didn’t have a bank account were first, that they didn’t have the minimum balance, and second, that they don’t trust banks,” she said.
Lower-income households can’t always afford to maintain the minimum balance required to avoid fees, Servon said, and those fees aren’t going away.
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