Banking program provides accounts with little or no fees to underserved communities

On May 4, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Open Account Coalition (MOAC) announced the launch of a new banking program. The MI Open Account program provides certified low-cost accounts from banks and credit unions across the state, helping unbanked or underbanked Michiganders gain access to financial services. 

Anita Fox, director of Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS), says the Coalition’s purpose is to help Michiganders build a relationship with a financial service institution, helping people overcome some of the barriers. 

“We know that many consumers might have concerns about opening a financial account with a bank or credit union because they worry there might be hidden fees or terms that they don’t understand,” Fox says. “We worked with the Michigan Banker’s Association, the Michigan Credit Union League and other community partners to address the kinds of things that were keeping people from having those accounts.”

“The reason why we care about that is because having a bank account or an account with a credit union can really open up the doors to a lot of economic opportunity for Michiganders,” she says.

On average, Michiganders without an account at a bank or a credit union, spend an average of $3,000 a year in fees for check cashing, money orders, bill pay services, third-party debit cards and more.

“The Coalition was a way to address some of those barriers for Michiganders and help them on a path toward building greater financial security,” Fox says. All account holders of a MI Open Account will have no overdraft, account activation, closure, dormancy, inactivity, low balance fees, as well as limits on ATM drafts (no fees in-network, $3 or less out-of-network), a limit on minimum opening deposits ($25 or less) and a limit on monthly maintenance fees ($5 or less). 

The initiative is part of a larger, national effort, in partnership with Bank On and Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund

“If you look at the Bank On program across the country, most of [the accounts], about 82%, are opened by customers who did not previously have a bank or credit union account. We know that in certain areas of our state … we have a disproportionate number of African Americans who are unbanked or underbanked,” Fox says. “It’s an attempt to reach out to some of those communities.”

For many, the first step to financial freedom is opening up an account at a credit union or bank, which Fox says is an “entryway into a lot of other financial transactions.”

“If you have a relationship with a bank or credit union and need a loan, you already have a place to start. You’ve built a relationship, a history with them,” she says. “That may mean you have more likelihood of getting a loan at a lower rate, for example. It also allows you to pay bills online, which may avoid late fees.”

There are currently 20 certified MI Open Accounts in the state and the number is growing. A complete list of financial institutions is available online. Some of the institutions and respective accounts include Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking Account, Capital One 360 Checking Account, Chase Secure Banking Account, Fifth Third Bank Express Account, Old National Bank EZ Access Checking Account and PNC Bank Foundation Checking. 

Fox recommends consumers do some research, call up participating banks and credit unions, find which is closest to them and what member perks they may offer. “From there, they can choose what’s most convenient for them,” she says. “If people still have questions, our department (DIFS) runs a live call center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, where you can get your questions answered. If you need help accessing that website, that can be [obtained] at 877-999-6642. 

Photos courtesy of the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services 

Sarah briefly lived in Grand Rapids years ago, before moving back to Lansing, but that West Michigan love never really left her heart. Through her coverage on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, and anything mitten-made, she’s committed to convincing any and everyone -- just how great the Great Lakes state is. Sarah received her degrees in Journalism and Professional Communications. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at [email protected]