this Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, file photo, a customer uses
an ATM at a branch of Chase Bank, in New York. Fewer
Americans are without access to a checking or savings
account, according to a survey released Thursday, Oct. 20,
2016, by federal regulators, a sign that the improving
economy is helping lift the nation's poorest households.
NEW YORK — More
Americans have access to a checking or savings account, according
to a survey released Thursday by federal regulators, a sign that
the improving economy is helping lift the nation's poorest
Having a checking
or savings account is considered a cornerstone of financial
stability in the U.S. Without one, households must rely on
check-cashing services, prepaid debit cards and other costly ways
to pay bills and make routine transactions.
The portion of
Americans who do not have a bank account, known in industry jargon
as the "unbanked," declined to 7 percent in 2015 from
7.7 percent in 2013, according to the survey from the Federal
Deposit Insurance Corp. The improvements came mostly from
households making less than $15,000 a year and among minority
populations, particularly black and Hispanic households.
Another way of
looking at it: For every 10 households that were unbanked in 2013,
one of those households is now banked.
improving economy no doubt impacted these numbers in a positive
way," FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg said in an interview.
Department reported last month that median
household income rose 5.2 percent from 2014 to 2015 , the
first annual increase in that metric since before the Great
Recession. That same report showed the proportion of Americans in
poverty also fell last year, from 14.8 percent to 13.5 percent,
the biggest annual decline in nearly 50 years.
Not only did more
Americans making less than $15,000 open bank accounts between 2013
and 2015, but the number of Americans making less than $15,000
have more money in their pockets, and more are able to afford bank
accounts," said Aaron Klein, a fellow in economic studies at
the Brookings Institution.
There are several
reasons why people choose not to have a traditional bank account.
Some do not trust banks or want to avoid their fees, or they have
privacy concerns, according to the FDIC report. There is also a
perception among the unbanked that bank accounts are not for the
poor. More than half of unbanked households said they believe
banks are "not at all interested" in serving households
like theirs, the report said.
But the No. 1
reason why Americans say they do not have a checking or savings
account is that they believe they do not have enough money to get
an account. The FDIC said roughly 57 percent of all unbanked
households cited lack of money as a reason not to have an account,
and roughly 38 percent of those same people said that was the main
The FDIC conducts
a survey of the unbanked and underbanked every two years,
gathering the data on odd years and releasing the results roughly
a year later. The figures released Thursday were gathered in June
2015, so the results do not reflect improvements in the economy
The FDIC report
also showed the growing proliferation of prepaid debit cards as an
alternative to bank accounts, particularly among the poor, young
and minorities. Prepaid debit card usage grew to 9.8 percent of
American households in 2015, up from 7.9 percent in the FDIC's
survey in 2013.
which can be picked up at most drugstores or grocery stores, have
become increasingly sophisticated in recent years and in many ways
can be thought of as a bank account replacement. The growth of
prepaid cards has become so noticeable that federal regulators,
notably the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, moved
to introduce regulations for the industry last month . But
since only 17 percent of all prepaid debit cards were issued by a
bank or through a bank website, the FDIC considers prepaid debit
card users as unbanked.
percent of unbanked households used a prepaid card in 2015, the
FDIC said, up from 22.3 percent in 2013.
The number of
unbanked American may continue to decline as the economy keeps
improving, Gruenberg said. If more banks start offering low-fee
transactional accounts with low barriers for access, that may also
bring some of the unbanked back into the mainstream.