Minorities vastly underrepresented when it comes to having bank accounts, studies show

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — We all know Charlotte is a banking town.

In fact, a local study counts more than 300 branches in Mecklenburg County alone.

But, even so, many people don’t have bank accounts, especially African-Americans.

A study by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation found while only 3% of white families don’t have bank accounts, almost 17% of African-American ones don’t.

One big reason is access to banks. According to multiple reports, there just aren’t many branches in a lot of minority neighborhoods.

Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke wanted to see for himself, so he asked the Urban Institute for a map, showing the concentration of banks and credit unions in Mecklenburg County. The map shows a lot of predominantly African-American neighborhoods have fewer branches than other neighborhoods -- what Stoogenke calls “bank deserts.”

And, when there are banks in predominantly minority neighborhoods, reports say that nationally those branches tend to “require higher minimum balances ... than banks in white neighborhoods.”

That’s where banks and credit unions -- like Mechanics & Farmers Bank -- come in. They’re called Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). The federal government gives them money to focus on minority and low-income neighborhoods.

“It’s all about access to capital. As you’re aware, there’s a huge wealth gap in this country and so banks like ours, we kind of fit in to help reduce that wealth gap,” said James Sills, President and CEOI of M&F Bank.

“It’s our mission. It’s what we are all about,” Claudie Johnson, an executive with another CDFI, Self-Help Credit Union, said. “We’re here to serve the little guy, the little guy that’s forgotten in many cases. That’s our role is to make sure that they have access.”

But many people who don’t use banks turn to check-cashing businesses or retail stores instead. Those typically charge higher fees.

NerdWallet found some check-cashing places keep as much as 10% of your check.

According to another research group, “[I]ncreasing basic banking access could save many black individuals up to $40,000 over the course of their lives.”

So, Action 9 urges people to open bank accounts for them and their children.

Action 9 Tips:

  • Look to open account with no fees
  • Don’t be afraid to switch banks
  • Consider credit unions
  • Look into CDFIs
  • If it’s a bank, just make sure it’s FDIC-insured
  • If it’s a credit union, just make sure it’s NCUA-insured

Click here for a list of CDFIs in each state.