Unbanked Household Rate Hits New Low
The number of households without an account at a bank or credit union fell in 2015 to its lowest level since at least 2009, in part because of an improving economy, the FDIC reported Thursday.
The survey, conducted every two years by the U.S. Census Bureau and the FDIC since 2009, also tracked strong gains among consumers in reaching their account online or with a smartphone.
In 2015, 7% of 128 million U.S. households were unbanked – meaning nine million households had no one with a checking or savings account.
As in past surveys, the highest rates of the unbanked were among the poor, the young, the less-educated and minorities. Those groups generally also showed the most improvement from 2013 to 2015.
Far and away the most common reason households gave for not having a bank or credit union account was that they “do not have enough money to keep in an account.” This was cited as a reason by 57.4% of unbanked households and was the main reason among 37.8% of them.
The most common other reasons were “avoiding bank gives more privacy” (28.5%), “don’t trust banks” (28%) and “bank account fees are too high” (27.7%).
The survey included new questions about consumer perception of banks and income volatility.
When asked, “How interested are banks in serving households like yours?,” 55.8% of unbanked households chose “not at all interested,” compared with 17% for underbanked households and 12% for fully banked households.
Among the unbanked who believed banks weren’t interested in serving them, 17.3% were very or somewhat likely to open an account in the next 12 months, compared with 50.4% of unbanked households who thought banks were very or somewhat interested in serving them.
The survey also showed a strong link between bank status and income volatility. More than one-fifth of households had income that had varied somewhat or a lot from month to month in the previous 12 months. The unbanked rate rose from 5.7% among those with steady income, to 8.7% for those with income that varied somewhat and to 12.9% for those with income that varied a lot.
Households using their accounts through online banking rose from 55.1% in 2013 to 60.4% in 2015. Mobile banking was used by 31.9% of households in 2015, up from 23.2% in 2013. Meanwhile, households that used a teller in the previous 12 months fell from 78.8% in 2013 to 75.5% in 2015.
“Use of bank tellers was especially prevalent among lower-income households, less-educated households, older households and households located in rural areas,” the report said.
Credit union growth accounts for some of the improvement, CUNA senior economist Perc Pineda said. Credit unions have grown from about 101.5 million members in December 2014 to 105 million in December 2015 and are on track to surpass 109 million by year’s end.
“A lot of it has something to do with credit unions as credit unions continue to offer affordable services to working-class Americans,” Pineda said.
Pineda said the distrust isn’t surprising, given scandals like those at Wells Fargo, which created a sales culture that led employees to open accounts without customers’ approval. More households could be “banked” if the NCUA is able to reform field of membership rules, he said.
“It’s important that people have acccess to the financial institutions they’re comfortable doing business with," he said.
In response to the study, NAFCU Executive Vice President of Government Affairs and General Counsel Carrie Hunt added, "While this study did not specifically include credit union data, NAFCU knows that there are many consumers that do not access traditional banking channels, including not-for-profit member-owned credit unions. In fact, NAFCU has been pressing for field of membership improvements so that credit unions can reach more of the unbanked. In particular, we support regulatory changes to the NCUA’s field of membership rules and H.R. 5541, Financial Services for the Underserved Act of 2016, so that credit unions can reach the underserved.”