Hardly anybody uses cash much anymore.

If you're like two-thirds of the country, you have a checking and a savings account, and a debit card linked to one or both. You take it for granted that you write a check to pay a bill.

But for one-third of the nation's households, it's a different story. They don't have bank accounts, or rarely use them, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Those are folks who can be easy prey for high-interest lenders, said Anthony Moore, CEO of Greater Charleston Empowerment Corporation, part of the group of 30 nonprofits, community groups, local governments and financial institutions that make up Bank On Charleston. And these same folks are spending money they don't have, Moore said. The average person with no checking account can easily spend $800 to $1,200 in check-cashing fees each year.

That's not going to help anybody get ahead, except the loan companies.

More than cash-only

Dealing exclusively in cash is just not practical, or safe.

“Everyone's at some point going to have to have some way of dealing with money other than cash,” Moore said. Having a checking account helps people plan ahead, get prepared, save for a down payment on a car or a house. And that kind of longer-term thinking leads to more planning, thinking about things like saving money to help their kids go to college, he said.

Bank On Charleston wants to get 500 people signed up for some kind of bank account in its first year, and Moore thinks that's reasonable.

Of course, that's a drop in the bucket, based on the estimated 238,632 households in the tri-county area that are “unbanked” or “underbanked,” according to the FDIC.

Getting ahead

“Folks have said to me: Why are you out there helping these big banks? But of course it's not about that,” Moore explained. “It's about helping people to become financially stable through managing their money, opening an account, maintaining that account.”

The program has a strong educational component. It takes the FDIC's Money Smart training program and breaks it into two, two-hour sessions.

The program just started; Moore said they're finding they need to increase marketing and advertising to bring in more people. And they'll be able to do that with funding from partner banks. “It's going to be so important that we just keep the information out in front of folks,” he said.

Folks who want more information can visit with Bank On Charleston representatives at the Charleston Housing Authority's community resource day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at the authority's main office at 550 Meeting St.

People who complete the program get a certificate from Bank On Charleston that they can take to a partner bank where they can open a low-cost bank account, Moore said.

And then they can start planning for a brighter, less costly future.

Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or mbalog@postandcourier.com.