Wal-Mart Tip-Toeing Toward Banking

Planet Money reports that Wal-Mart will be expanding its check-cashing and bill-paying centers, called “MoneyCenters,” by another 400 this year, bringing the nationwide total to 1,400 MoneyCenters. That’s 40 percent of the Wal-Mart stores in the U.S. which will now be happy to cash your paycheck(for aroun $5) or sell you a pre-paid Visa debit card.

In a way, it seems like good news, as it will offer many low-income families a better alternative than check cashing shops, which generally figure their fees based on a percentage of the check rather than a flat fee and are often housed with pay-day lending operations that might be tempting.

But, as the piece points out, this may discourage people from getting bank or credit union accounts, which would also save on fees while helping people build credit and stablize their money flow. So — yay, and boo.

What’s stunning, though, are the statistics in the piece. Which of these knocks you down the hardest? Is it that:

  • Wal-Mart accounts for 3 percent of U.S. GDP? Or that:
  • Seventeen million Americans don’t have bank accounts?

It seems like these two things will continue to grow in relevance to each other.

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