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Abstract: This paper presents data from a new survey of low- and moderate-income households in Detroit to examine bank account usage and alternative financial service (AFS) products. We find that for the vast majority of households, annual outlays on financial services for transactional and credit products are relatively small, around 1 percent of annual income. This estimate is lower than those extrapolated by previous work using the posted fees of financial services alone, suggesting that LMI households do not always choose the most expensive financial services option. This evidence is also consistent with LMI households substituting among an array of financial services from the mainstream and alternative financial services sector. Households with bank accounts are more economically active and have access to more forms of credit than unbanked households, resulting in greater use of financial services and higher total outlays. Results from the DAHFS study show permeability in the financial services decisions of LMI households. Namely, having a bank account does not preclude the use of AFS, being unbanked does not exclude households from using mainstream financial services, and contrary to popular belief, being unbanked is not a permanent financial outcome. Generally, results from the DAHFS study suggest that policies designed to expand bank account access alone are unlikely to improve financial outcomes among LMI households unless accompanied by changes in the functionality of mainstream banking products.

Keywords: Financial services, low- and moderate-income households

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