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Taxing times for everyone

SCOTT M. STRINGER | 5/25/2011, 9:24 a.m.

Tax season is here again. For many New Yorkers this means an income tax return is around the corner, representing a new chance to save money and invest in their future.

Last year, however, many New Yorkers went to a neighborhood check casher with their refunds, instead of depositing them in a bank account. It cost them money--in the form of service fees--just to get the money that was rightfully theirs. And that was on top of the average $530 that over 166,000 "unbanked" Manhattan residents give to check cashing services each year, simply to redeem their paychecks and pay their bills.

Doesn't that extra $530 belong in your pocket? This message is especially important in Northern Manhattan. In Washington Heights and Inwood, 46 percent of families go without a checking or a savings account. In Harlem, 37 percent of families are unbanked

Here's a better way to handle your finances and plan for a more prosperous future:

Last summer my office launched a program called Bank On Manhattan. It tackles this problem head on, by offering safe, low-cost checking accounts to New Yorkers who don't have them. Bank On Manhattan is a joint venture of retail banks, community-based organization groups and bank regulatory institutions in New York City. This public-private partnership offers a safer and more efficient way to handle money for thousands of hard-working people.

Bank On is actually a national program that started in San Francisco in 2006, and it's been so successful it has been launched in more than 50 cities--including Houston, Seattle and Newark. Because of its track record, President Barack Obama has committed $50 million to creating a Bank On USA initiative.

When my office sponsored the first Bank On effort here in Manhattan, we helped develop a special checking account that was designed to create a positive experience for first-time bank customers--and to earn the trust of communities that often avoid banks. The results have been impressive. Since we launched this program, 7,000 New Yorkers have opened Bank On Manhattan accounts, representing a savings of over $3.5 million!

Here's the best part: You won't need more than $25 to open a Bank On Manhattan account. Once established, there is no minimum monthly balance requirement. The monthly fee ranges from $0 to $6, depending on which financial partner you choose. Further, our financial partners have agreed to work with folks who have a troubled banking history--and to accept government IDs from foreign countries. In keeping with recent changes in federal law, overdraft protection won't affect an account unless a customer requests it. For Bank On Manhattan customers, this means there will be far less unexpected and costly fees for overdrafts.

But the real value for unbanked families goes beyond their ability to avoid check cashing fees. New Yorkers who open Bank On Manhattan accounts will begin accumulating the assets and building the banking history needed for prosperity and success. Their money is safer in the event of a robbery or home fire--and so is their financial future. For any family that dreams of buying a home or putting children through college, a banking account is essential.

Bank On Manhattan offers all of them the chance to visit a participating bank branch, open an account, take a financial education class, build a banking history and make their money safer. It's a golden opportunity to hold onto more of the money you have earned, so it's easier to make ends meet during these tough economic times.

This tax season, don't get ripped off at a check casher. Visit www.bankonmanhattan.com or call (877) 646-2BANK to find a Bank On Manhattan Financial Partner that is right for you. Open your checking account today and remember: It's about your future.