Just 7 percent of households lack bank accounts now

— from The Washington Post by Jonnelle Marte

As the economy improves, more people are landing jobs and using traditional bank accounts, a new survey shows.

The share of consumers who were unbanked fell faster than expected last year to 7 percent, down from 7.7 percent in 2013, according to a new report from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. That percentage has been dropping since it peaked at 8.2 percent in 2011 and is now the lowest it has been since the survey was started in 2009.

Consumers were defined as being unbanked if no one in their household had a bank account. The FDIC also looked at the underbanked, meaning that someone in the household had a bank account but that the person still turned to nontraditional — and sometimes costly — financial services, such as payday loans, pawn shops or auto title loans.

About 1 in 5 consumers said they were underbanked last year, about the same as in 2013.

Consumers across income brackets and racial groups became more likely to have bank accounts over the past couple of years. African American households that are unbanked drop to 18.2 percent last year from 20.6 percent in 2013. Among Hispanic households, the rate dropped to 16.2 percent from 17.9 percent. One exception was Asian households, which saw the share of unbanked nearly double to 4 percent in 2015 from 2.2. percent in 2013.

Even households with incomes below $15,000 a year, who are typically less likely to have bank accounts, saw their unbanked rate drop “significantly” to 25.6 percent in 2015 from 27.7 percent in 2013.

It’s unclear exactly why there was such a strong increase in the share of people with bank accounts. The FDIC is still studying the reasons why different groups are more or less likely to be unbanked, Chairman Martin Gruenberg said in prepared remarks. More details will be released with the full report in October.

But generally speaking, the decline among the unbanked is partly the result of a more robust economy. One-third of the people who opened bank accounts over the past year said that the move was connected to a new job or because they wanted to have their checks deposited directly into their accounts. “Many households enter and exit the banking system for job-related reasons,” Gruenberg said.

People who have lost their jobs or who saw a sudden drop in income are less likely to have a bank account, as are people with unsteady paychecks, the report found. Four percent of households with stable pay that earned between $30,000 and $50,000 a year lacked bank accounts. The share more than doubled to 9.5 percent for households with similar earnings but irregular paychecks, the report found.

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