Basic financial services can be expensive for working families that cannot easily afford them. In June 2013, a McDonald’s employee in Pennsylvania named Natalie Gunshannon sued her local franchise over the fees on the prepaid debit card that the store used to pay its employees—a card on which employees were forced to receive their wages. These fees included $1.50 for each ATM withdrawal, $5 to withdraw cash at a bank, $1 to check the account balance at ATMs, and 75 cents to pay bills online. In response to the lawsuit, the franchise owner agreed to give workers the options to get paid by a paper paycheck or by direct deposit to an account of their choice, rather than the payroll card.
Since Natalie had a free account at a local credit union, she was better off without the card. But according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, 17 million American adults lack a bank account, and that number is growing. An additional 51 million adults are considered “underbanked” by the FDIC, meaning that while they may have bank accounts, they also rely on some nonbank financial institutions such as check cashers and pawn shops.
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