Oct 8 - Checking account fees are on the rise, and the world's biggest retailer, Wal-Mart sees opportunity by teaming up with American Express to offer Bluebird, a low-cost banking alternative for consumers. Bobbi Rebell reports.
Wal-Mart ratcheting up its efforts to go after the unbanked: teaming up with American Express to offer a prepaid debit card called Bluebird. The card will have no minimum balance and no monthly, annual or overdraft fees. Users can make deposits by smartphone and have access to mobile bill paying. It comes at a time when the percentage of people with free checking accounts is falling- now just 39 percent, down from 76 percent in 2009. Credit.com's Michael Schreiber: SOUNDBITE: MICHAEL SCHREIBER, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CREDIT.COM (ENGLISH) SAYING: "Even though regulations have limited the amount and type of fees that banks can charge, their revenue from these fees continues to climb. So fees are a big problem for people" The average monthly service fee on non-interest checking account set a new record last year: $5.48 cents, up 25 percent from the previous year. The average balance to avoid that fee? up 23% to $723. REPORTER BRIDGE: BOBBI REBELL, REUTERS REPORTER (ENGLISH) SAYING: And the number of consumers who don't even have a bank is on the rise in recent years. According to the FDIC, more than one in 4 households either doesn't have a bank account or relies on non-traditional financial institutions like Western Union for their banking. In the past, Wal-Mart has said 85 percent of transactions at its U.S. stores are in cash- a sign many of its consumers may be among those without banks. SOUNDBITE: MICHAEL SCHREIBER, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CREDIT.COM (ENGLISH) SAYING: "For a lot of people who maybe don't want to pay the fees associated with bank accounts which are estimated at up to $250 a year this could potentially cut those fees in half if you use the card smartly. " But buyer beware. Bluebird may be a good bank alternative for poorer Americans, but unlike banks- its deposits are not insured by the FDIC. Bobbi Rebell, Reuters.