MOORHEAD – Michael St. Amant hasn’t had a bank account in six years.It was drowned out by $65,000 in medical bills stemming from a car wreck in 2008. That was fine, for a while.
But after getting laid off from his job in Seattle in 2010 and coping with his deteriorating health, he hasn’t been able to find a foothold. There was a glimmer when he moved to Fargo late last year for a job with John Deere, but a swollen leg – a complication from diabetes – ended that within a week.
Now almost 41, he’s been living at Churches United for the Homeless since before the new year.
A bank account could help him turn things around, he said, but no credit union or bank will take him – or, more importantly, his poor credit history. Until then, he’s stuck in the world of check-cashing fees, payday loans with sky-high interest rates and carrying cash – all of which, paradoxically, make life more expensive.
“It’s a no-win situation,” he said.
One in 12 American households didn’t have a bank account in 2011, according to a survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Many simply choose not to open an account, but it’s found predominantly in unemployed and lower-income households: 56 percent of unbanked households made less than $15,000 a year.
It’s less prevalent in the Fargo-Moorhead area, where an estimated one in 20 households does not have a checking or savings account, according to the survey. Still, financial counselors and advocates in the region say not having a bank account adds costs and roadblocks, making it harder for St. Amant and others like him to break out of poverty.