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Hispanic Heritage Week 2013: Not Having Bank Accounts Creates Extra Steps For Immigrants

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Being unbanked can create extra and costly steps for Hispanic immigrants, which is why officials are looking to help out those populations. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.

Not having a bank account is a lot of work.

"I recently heard it described as a part-time job," says Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz.

Where many of us can move cash in and out of our accounts with the click of a button, unbanked immigrants have to go through a lot of extra and costly steps.

"You have to get your check, you have to take the time to go somewhere or to go to somebody, you have to give them money to get your money, and then, you have a wad of cash," Mintz says. "Well, how are you going to pay your bills? Well, now you have to pay somebody to write a check for you or to go hand-deliver money."

Dealing primarily in cash can also be dangerous and financially debilitating.

"We don't want people walking around with huge sums of cash in their pocket," says Fatima Shama of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs. "We don't want these huge sums of cash sitting in their homes. There are public safety concerns that surround that reality."

"In this country, you have to have a history of credit," says Consulate General of Mexico Sandra Fuentes. "They don't have credit to access. Therefore, they don't send their children to school, they don't have a mortgage for a house. It puts them in a very, very vulnerable condition."

That isn't to say Hispanic immigrants aren't saving. They are. It's just that those without bank accounts are saving less.

According to the city's study, a significant majority of Hispanic immigrants with bank accounts reported having saved more than $500. For the unbanked, only about one-third had that amount.

"They want to buy homes here," Shama says. "They want to establish themselves here, send their kids to college."

To help them achieve those goals, the Consulate General of Mexico is looking to create a financial center, where they can answer questions and guide new immigrants toward the services they need.

At the same time, Mintz says financial institutions need to be doing more to market themselves to what he calls a vibrant but overlooked population.

"They're a population that spends a lot of money on financial transactions, and you need to let them know, we do have people who speak your language in our banks, we do have people who understand the various transaction needs that you're going to have," Mintz says.

Free financial counseling is available, in English and Spanish, at the city's financial empowerment centers. Call 311 to make an appointment.

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