Frozen in the cash-only past, they face myriad “kick-them-while-they-are-down” situations where getting money costs money. Banks typically charge $6 to cash checks. Want to secure an apartment? Fee-based money orders are the only option. Without credit cards, they must turn to triple-digit interest rate payday loans for emergencies.

Who are the unbanked? Many are poor – 56 percent earn less than $15,000 annually. Some are homeless or undocumented workers, fearful of any system that might create a paper trail. But the majority of the unbanked have held checking accounts in the past, according to the FDIC, meaning their reasoning lies elsewhere. Ask them why they don’t have a bank account, and one quarter will say they don’t see the value in it. With savings account interest rates stuck at almost zero, that’s hardly irrational…

Fuentes-Sanchez made a fairly good living working for a tree removal company in Lumber Bridge, N.C., for about 10 years. But he was skeptical of banks, and when he tried to open an account, he was surprised by the cost.

“Instead of making money, I would have to pay fees,” he said, through a translator. “(So) we used to keep money in the house. We were always trying to look for ways to hide the money in the house and keep it safe.”