Boulder County, financial organizations create program to aid ‘underbanked’

BOULDER — Boulder County’s department of human services and community organizations are partnering with banks, credit unions, and state and federal banking regulatory agencies through a new program designed to help people open bank accounts and educate them on how to navigate the banking system.

The program, called Bank On Boulder County, was launched Monday to offer free or low-cost accounts that have no- to low-opening deposit requirements and no overdraft fees. The program urges people without a bank account, or those considered “underbanked” who may have an account but primarily use check-cashing and other alternative services, to explore banking options.

There is an estimated 5,000 unbanked and 15,000 underbanked households in Boulder County, according to a statement issued Monday announcing the program.

According to the 2015 Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, the No. 1 reason given by the unbanked for not having an account is: “Not enough money.” This concern is often based on the perception by the unbanked that they would encounter high and unpredictable fees, including overdraft fees.

Katie Pague, the program’s lead and a coordinator of Boulder County’s financial counseling program, said the county’s personal-finance team will work one-on-one with Boulder County residents at no charge to help them understand why Bank On accounts save them time and money, as well as offer them guidance on a variety of other financial topics, from creating spending plans and managing debt to improving credit, saving for emergencies and preparing for a home purchase.

The five Bank On-approved accounts are:

  • First National Bank — Access Debit Account: $0 opening deposit and $4 monthly fee.
  • Key Bank — Hassle Free Account: $10 opening deposit and $0 monthly fee.
  • Wells Fargo — Easy Pay Card: $25 opening deposit and $5 monthly fee.
  • Chase — Chase Liquid: $25 opening deposit and $4.95 monthly fee.
  • Bank of America — Safe Balance Account: $25 opening deposit and $4.95 monthly fee.

Other banks involved in the program include Great Western Bank, Community Banks of Colorado, First Bank, Guaranty Bank and Trust, High Plains Bank and Elevations Credit Union.

Through the program, counselors will help people understand how these options save time and money by avoiding late fees through automatic payments and prioritizing rent and utility payments.

Personal finance counselors and Bank On coalition members will share information via social media, present the program and answer questions at more than eight different sites around Boulder County, including OUR Center and the Center for People with Disabilities in Longmont; Sister Carmen Community Center and Josephine Commons Senior Housing in Lafayette; the Emergency Family Assistance Association in North Boulder; and the Community Food Share in Louisville.

The coalition is accepting applications from financial institutions and human-services organizations that want to participate in the program.