When Finding The Nearest ATM Is The Least Of Your Problems

Oct 24, 2016


In Pennsylvania 4.7 percent of households don’t have access to a traditional bank. Another 18.8 percent of households rely on alternative financial services such as check cashing or payday lending to manage their money.
Credit Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Banks make it possible to build credit, wealth, and security. But for the 7 percent of U.S. households that don’t have a checking or savings account, those benefits remain out of reach.

In 2014, three roommates in New Paltz, New York discovered that their $20 thrift store couch wasn’t lumpy with age, but envelopes stuffed with cash. More specifically, the life savings of a widow whose husband wanted to be sure she was taken care of when he was gone. Unfortunately, not knowing what the old couch contained, the woman’s well-meaning children surprised her with a new one. (Don’t worry, this tale of star-crossed furniture has a happy ending: the roomies returned the $40,000).

The seemingly odd storage choice made by those two New York retirees isn’t an aberration. Whether due to lack of access to the banking system or mistrust of it, many people prefer to deposit savings at home, or with friends and family. They’re part of a larger group for whom securely storing and accessing money is hardly ever as simple as going to an ATM.  


Keystone Crossroads is a statewide public media initiative reporting on the challenges facing Pennsylvania's cities. WPSU is a participating station.