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Wal-Mart made news last month when it announced an expansion of its check-cashing and money order services and the rollout of a prepaid debit card for its customers. At first blush, this sounds like good news for consumers since Wal-Mart estimates that its fees would be about 25 to 50% lower than its competitors’.

Unfortunately, Wal-Mart’s new financial services may have an adverse consequence–perpetuating low income individuals’ reliance on basic money-handling services while doing very little to advance financial literacy, establish a formal relationship with a financial institution or truly help promote prosperity. For the millions of Americans who are unbanked, does Wal-Mart offer a path toward financial independence, or simply a less expensive way to remain outside the mainstream banking system?

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