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Hispanic Heritage Week 2013: Study Finds Many Hispanic Immigrants Without Bank Accounts

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They've been in the country for years, working, paying their rent, growing their families, but a study earlier this year found that many Hispanic immigrants don't have a bank account. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner looked at the reasons why in the following report, part of Hispanic Heritage Week.

The city's Immigrant Financial Services study looked specifically at three populations: Chinese, Ecuadorians and Mexicans.

Although they'd only been here an average of six years, 95 percent of Chinese respondents had bank accounts. Compare that to the Hispanic groups. Only about two-thirds of Ecuadorians had bank accounts, and even fewer Mexicans, even though they've have been in the country a decade on average.

"The most alarming part of our finding is that for both Ecuadorians and Mexicans, and particularly for Mexican immigrants, the journey from getting to New York and joining a bank or a credit union with a real or safe account is far too long," says Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz.

With close to 60 percent of the Mexican respondents unbanked, the big question is why? Fatima Shama, commissioner of immigrant affairs, says many of the answers boil down to misperception.

"The amount of money you need to open a bank account. The documents you need to open a bank account," Shama says. "The idea that nobody speaks Spanish in these hubs in their neighborhoods."

Besides misperception there's the issue of mistrust, a deep-seeded problem that stems from their home country. Consul General Sandra Fuentes says many of the immigrants surveyed have roots in Mexico's poorest areas.

"Therefore, these people are in most of the times, people that are illiterate or that are, at least, functionally illiterate," Fuentes says. "And there is little banking in their own communities there, so it is difficult for them even to approach a bank when they arrive in the states."

Compounding that problem is the issue of documentation. A large majority of the Mexicans interviewed for the study were undocumented, making them less likely to seek out mainstream services like banking.

"The problem is, is that without that financial identity, these families' ability to grow their finances, their ability to save money in a regular way, their ability to pay their bills without having to pay somebody to help them pay their bills, all of those extra stresses and expenses are really holding them back," Mintz says.

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