No consumer experience has come down further than banking. I can remember when you could put money in a savings account and get interest that actually incentivized savings. Banks were just happy to have your money in them and didn’t feel the need to create screw you fees for every occasion. Make a withdrawal? Screw you, pay the withdrawal fee. Make a deposit? Screw you, deposit fee. Wrote a check on a Tuesday? Screw you, Tuesday fee! Going into a bank has become like going to a car dealer with customer reps trying to upsell you into getting a CD with the underbody coating when you just wanted to get a roll of quarters.
My father is 94 and in a long term care facility. The entirety of his banking is two deposits into the account and one check to the facility a month. And for that they charge a $7.00 fee.
It’s even worse for those people who never have enough money to open an account, or who just don’t have any bank branches in their community. There are huge numbers of underserved people who need an alternative to check cashing, pay day loans and other costly so-called services.
The answer, as I’ve mentioned before, is postal banking which existed until 1967. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is pushing for bringing it back.
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.
And this New Republic article by David Dayen “The Post Office Should Just Become a Bank: How Obama can save USPS and ding check-cashing joints.” gives the details of how it can be done.
Maybe it’s time for President Obama to step in. He’s been looking for something to show he can help improve the lives of ordinary Americans, regardless of Congress’ inaction. Here’s a perfect opening on an issue of equal access, of affordability, of saving an American institution. Sure, the banks will squawk: the chief counsel of the American Bankers Association has already pronounced himself “deeply concerned”—but as the IG report shows, they have no interest in serving this community.