The poor pay more.

According to a report put out this week by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Postal Service, about 68 million Americans — more than a quarter of all households — have no checking or savings account and are underserved by the banking system. Collectively, these households spent about $89 billion in 2012 on interest and fees for non-bank financial services like payday loans and check cashing, which works out to an average of $2,412 per household. That means the average underserved household spends roughly 10 percent of its annual income on interest and fees — about the same amount they spend on food.

Think about that: about 10 percent of a family’s income just to manage getting checks cashed, bills paid, and, sometimes, a short-term loan to tide them over. That’s more than a full month’s income just to try to navigate the basics.

The poor pay more, and that’s one of the reasons people get trapped at the bottom of the economic ladder.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In the same remarkable report this week, the OIG explored the possibility of the USPS offering basic banking services — bill paying, check cashing, small loans — to its customers. With post offices and postal workers already on the ground, USPS could partner with banks to make a critical difference for millions of Americans who don’t have basic banking services because there are almost no banks or bank branches in their neighborhoods.

Families rely on financial services more than ever, but those who need them most — who struggle to make ends meet — too often must contend with sky-high interest rates and tricks and traps buried in the fine print of their loan products.

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