Households Are Using Prepaid Cards More Than Ever Before

Image courtesy of (Misfit Photographer)

Weeks after federal regulators finalized rules aimed at making prepaid cards safer and less costly for consumers, a new report from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. finds that more households are relying on the financial products than ever before. 

The FDIC report [PDF], which looked broadly at the behaviors and attitudes of household without access to traditional bank accounts, found that 9.8% of all households in the U.S. reported using prepaid cards as their primary financial tools.

That figure is up from 7.9% just two years ago, the FDIC says, noting that the increases were primarily seen among lower-income households, less-educated households, younger households, black households, and working-age disabled households.

Use of prepaid cards was most prevalent among unbanked households. An estimated 27.1% of unbanked households used a prepaid card in 2015, compared to 15.4% of underbanked households and 6.9% of fully banked households.

The increase in use of prepaid cards comes at the same time that the FDIC found more households have gained access to traditional banking products.

According to the same survey, the number of Americans without access to banking services fell from 7.7% in 2013 to 7% in 2015. This, the FDIC says, translates to about nine million households being considered “unbanked.”

While the decrease in the number of unbanked households was smaller than the increase in customers using prepaid cards, the FDIC points out that the figure is progress, as 8.2% of U.S. households were found to be unbanked in 2011.

When broken down by demographics, the FDIC saw “significant declines” in the number of unbanked.

For example, unbanked rates among black and Hispanic households fell about 10%; households with very low incomes and households headed by individuals without any college education also saw their unbanked rates fall significantly.

Conversely, unbanked rates for Asian households increased during the two-year period from 2.2% to 4%.

Of the consumers who said they were unbanked, most said it was because they “do not have enough money to keep in an account.”

Other common reasons included “avoiding a bank give me privacy,” “I don’t trust banks,” and “bank account fees are too high.”

FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg suggests the latest findings are a good sign for consumers’ financial well-being.

“The decline in the share of households who do not have a banking relationship is a positive development, and the FDIC will continue working to help ensure households have access to safe, secure, and affordable banking services,” Gruenberg said in a statement.

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