An interesting story from yesterday's New York Times:
City’s Poor Still Distrust Banks
In 1986, when the Lower East Side had just one bank in a 100-square-block area, the high numbers of residents without bank accounts alarmed the city but did not surprise anyone.
In the years since, the number of bank branches has skyrocketed, with the big names compelled to open in underserved areas. Community credit unions have sprung up from Washington Heights to Bedford-Stuyvesant. Outreach workers have taken to the streets to draw the “unbanked” — many of them the city’s poorest, living check to check — into the system and away from the high-fee world of check-cashing and money orders.
But none of it has worked. In Manhattan, long the world’s banking capital, 12 percent of households still do not have a bank account, compared with the national average, 8 percent, according to recently released data by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
You'd think the reason might often be that banks charge high fees for low balances, but many of the people quoted in the article aren't even thinking about that: they hardly ever have any spare money. If they do, they send it to relatives in another country. And sometimes they just don't trust banks not to rip them off. So instead they go to check-cashers who really do rip them off!