We all want to get the most out of life. A great family, an education, a business, a home... but for a growing number of Americans, the price of getting ahead is higher because of a financial system that leaves millions underserved. Despite his tough past, Justin's built a small production company and wants to start a life with his girlfriend, Brittany. He makes a good living shooting videos for corporate clients. But while business is good, Justin's at a disadvantage.
Justin is 1 of 70 million Americans who lack access to the traditional financial system. And as that number grows, it includes more and more people who once lived in the mainstream. When Melissa first met Alex, he had a career in the music industry and was doing what he loved most. With two kids and two incomes, Alex and Melissa had a healthy, happy home. Their son was diagnosed with autism. Shortly after, Alex was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Alex's illness affected his ability to work, and he was forced to give up his job. So they did what many Americans do at their bank. When a customer withdraws more money than they have in their account, they can give their bank permission to cover that cost with an added fee. This is called overdraft protection.
Some customers didn't make money for banks, so they found other ways to meet costs. When Alex and Melissa paid their bills, their grocery and student loan checks cleared okay, but the price of power went up, and that bill emptied their account. One overdraft fee, $35. But if all three debts posted on the same day, their bank had software that reordered their purchases: power bill first, then loan, then groceries. Three overdraft fees, $105.
If banks can't keep those customers, there's an alternative that will. Every year, over 30 million Americans use check cashers. And for many of them, the service works. Underserved Americans spend the same percent of their income on fees and interest as the typical American family spends on groceries. That amounts to $89 billion a year.