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Posted: 6:00 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013

Who needs the banks anyway?

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By Clark Howard

ClarkHoward.com


More retailers are rolling out alternatives for those who can't get or don't want a traditional account.

Tens of millions of people are blacklisted with the Chex Systems and typically banned for up to half a decade from getting a bank account. They're known as the "unbanked." Then you have many other people have been fee'd to death by the banks and want to be done with them.

So what choices are you left with?

Well, Walmart and American Express recently came up with a service called Bluebird, which is like the financial account of the future. The design is brilliant and the lack of fees great. You can pay bills, have access to ATMs, write checks and everything else -- all with no monthly fees and no inactivity fees. The Bluebird account is even good for overseas use because it has no foreign currency exchange fee.

Now Walgreens has decided they want to get in on the action too. They're launching their own Balance Financial prepaid card in 3 cities, with a nationwide rollout planned in a few weeks.

But Balance is inferior to Bluebird, in my opinion. Balance does offer fee-free ATM withdrawals at Walgreens and Duane Reade pharmacies, but there are just too many other fees associated with the account.

So if you're deciding between Bluebird and Balance, pick Bluebird. And don't just take my word for it: Consumer Reports recently named Bluebird the best banking alternative in America. Who needs the banks anyway, right?

Meanwhile, here are some more kudos for Bluebird: Walmart is getting into the cash wire business with a new service called Walmart to Walmart. While the typical wire cost could be $50 to $75 from Western Union, this new program allows you to go into any Walmart store to the Money Center and send a wire of up to $900 for just $9.50.

This could be a big money saver for people who need to wire money to family and friends across the country!

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