For people struggling to make ends meet, every dollar is important. And when it comes to banking, concern of overdraft or insufficient fund fees leave many unbanked.
In California and beyond, U.S. Bank and community partners like Oakland, California-based Community Financial Resources are helping hundreds and thousands of underbanked individuals receive affordable access to banking through the U.S. Bank Focus Card — a reloadable prepaid card that provides consumers with a fast, safe and cost-effective way to get paid, conduct transactions, monitor spending and save.
“We focus on providing a pathway to financial wellbeing for low-income communities, and where that starts is safe and reliable banking,” shared Parisa Esmaili, Executive Director of Community Financial Resources.
Community Financial Resources makes the cards available through its partnerships with more than 100 nonprofits similarly focused on financial well-being for low-income households, including Volunteer Income Tax Assistance programs to ensure direct deposits of tax refunds and foster youth programs where teens need access to banking without custodial signatures. The organization also works with many employers to ensure employees have a secure and reliable way to be paid.
Last year alone, Community Financial Resources distributed nearly 4,000 Focus Cards across the country, with an estimate of nearly 50,000 cards in circulation since establishing a relationship with U.S. Bank in 2011. In addition, more than $35 million was deposited onto the Focus Card in 2021, with some 220 individuals having utilized their free linked savings accounts to save more than $485,000.
The card has been a critical component of several guaranteed income pilots, including a program with Santa Clara County in California and the national nonprofit MyPath, which provided $1,000 a month for 72 youth aging out of foster care. The Focus Card was also utilized for the first mayor-led guaranteed income program that provided $500 to 125 low-income residents in Stockton, California.
“What we saw was use beyond guaranteed income. It allowed these individuals to file their taxes, receive government stimulus via direct deposit and receive their child tax credits,” Esmaili shared.
Peter Klukken, General Manager of the Prepaid Division at U.S. Bank, oversees the Focus Card program. Focus Card relationships support nonprofits like Community Financial Resources, as well as employers across a variety of industries who utilize the Focus Card to support employee payroll.
“Because the U.S. Bank Focus card offers a fast, safe and easy way to get paid, conduct transactions, monitor spending and save, working with organizations like Community Financial Resources helps open the doors to affordable and safe banking for those who need it most,” said Klukken.
The Focus Card is connected to the award-winning U.S. Bank Mobile App, making banking, budgeting and saving even easier. According to 2019 data from Community Financial Resources, approximately 57% of Focus Cards distributed through the organization were used to receive pay and 43% were used to receive direct deposit of tax refunds. In a use study from 2018, CFR-issued Focus Card holders had saved roughly $350,000 in emergency fund savings.