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Thursday, May 27, 2010 - 8:00pm

Savannah Fights Check Cashing

Savannah has turned more than 1,000 check-cashing customers into bank customers.

Over the past year, a city anti-poverty initiative has tried to get low-income residents to stop using predatory financial businesses like title pawn and check-cashing stores.

Daniel Dodd of Step Up Savannah says, people using those shops spend about $1,000 a year on financial services, much more than banks or credit unions charge"

People who are going to check-cashers are spending a lot of money to cash their checks. But why are they going to the check-cashers? They're going because it's a more informal environment.

The city worked with banks and credit unions to ease requirements for low-income residents, educated residents in financial management and agressively marketed a "Check Cashing Rips You Off" message.

About 800 of the 1,000 new account holders still had their accounts after a year

"It all goes to, how are we helping to build these household's wealth. That's asset building," says Dodd. "It really needs to be linked in with working families."

Eleven institutions participated in the banking initiative, led by the City of Savannah, the F.D.I.C. and the Federal Reserve.