NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Mandating Low-Cost Checking Accounts

March 26, 1999

Some politicians at the state and federal levels think poor people should have checking accounts. So a few states have passed laws requiring banks to make low-cost accounts available. Recent attempts to make such accounts available nationwide have failed in Congress.

Perhaps that is just as well, because poor people have shown a distinct lack of interest in opening such accounts where they are available. They say banks are inconvenient, have high fees or lack branches nearby.

  • More than one in eight families nationwide have no bank account, according to government estimates.
  • Seven states -- Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Minnesota -- have adopted some sort of low-fee checking-account laws.
  • Some other reasons poor people shun banks: they lack proper identification, they face collections or other legal problems and do not want a financial record, or they simply do not have enough money left after paying for basic needs.
  • New York has one of the toughest laws in the nation -- requiring banks to offer basic services to anyone for $3 a month, to accept a minimum initial deposit of just $25, to leave accounts with just one penny in them open and to allow eight free withdrawals a month.

Regulators in New Jersey estimate that 700,000 residents now have low-cost accounts -- but they are mostly college students. The same is true of the 235,000 low-cost account holders at Chase Manhattan.

Despite the fact that poor people shun banks, Treasury officials in Washington are putting the final touches on a plan they hope will attract more than six million recipients of federal benefits to open accounts. They will offer to deposit checks directly into a new type of account at banks, credit unions and savings associations.

Source: Richard A. Oppel Jr., "The Stepchildren of Banking," New York Times, March 26, 1999


Browse more articles on Government Issues