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Analysis Shows Only 3% of Americans Have More Access to Post Offices Than Bank Branches


Several prominent Democrats — including Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand; and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — support the idea of providing basic banking services through U.S. post offices.

There are several reasons why advocates are getting behind this concept, but the main idea is concern for Americans who live and work in so-called “banking deserts,” where access to basic financial services is limited by geography. Supporters believe that mandating the United States Postal Service (USPS) to provide basic financial services would help address the problem of banking deserts.

While it’s true that banks have closed branches in many communities, due in part to the spate of mergers following the Great Recession, there are still far more bank and credit union branches than there are post offices. This makes us wonder how many Americans really have better access to post office locations than to credit union or bank branches.

According to my analysis of available location data for banks, credit unions and post offices, it seems that post offices are a less convenient option for most Americans. However, this fact does not mean the financial and banking needs of a substantial number of adults are well-served.

Key findings

  • About 20% of U.S. counties have more post offices than banks and credit unions. Those counties are home to about 7.2 million adults, or 3% of the entire adult U.S. population.
  • Around 1% of counties have a post office but no bank or credit union branch, representing an adult population of under 207,000 people, or 0.1% of the adult population.

  • There are about 88,500 bank branches in the U.S., over three times the 26,500 U.S. post offices I was able to map. Adding in almost 22,000 credit union branches, there are about four traditional banking branches for each post office.

  • Nearly 32% of zip codes are home to one post office and no bank or credit union. These are the only examples of zip codes where post offices outnumber traditional bank or credit union branches.
  • Around 38% of zip codes have a greater combination of banks and credit unions than post offices.
  • Almost 16% of zip codes have neither a post office nor a bank or credit union. Meanwhile, 13% have an even number of post offices and bank and/or credit union branches.

Putting it in context

It’s important to remember that traditional bank and credit union branches aren’t the only game in town. The internet and mobile technology have greatly expanded the reach of banking services. People can use computers and smartphones to deposit checks, transfer money, pay their friends and even apply for loans.

Online banking is not a solution for people who lack technology access or skills, but basic financial services are also available at nonbank retail outlets, such as currency exchanges or check cashing offices. Walmart claims that it serves millions of people at the MoneyCenter offices in their stores.

Our analysis was broken down by zip code to capture smaller geographies, but a person might live one block, 20 blocks or 15 miles from the next zip code. In addition, our county-level analysis attempts to give a better sense of how much access people have, particularly rural or suburban Americans who are more likely to be car dependent.

Limitations of the analysis

Finding a list of post offices has proven challenging. In the end, I had to download individual state pages from the USPS website, but there did appear to be some issues with their list, which only presented state, zip code, name and the date that a post office was decommissioned. Many of the post offices did not have zip code information, and a spot check of about a dozen such lines didn’t show post offices with those names. Additionally, 539 post offices had zip codes that didn’t appear on a zip code to county crosswalk from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and a search for a sample of those zip codes on the USPS site showed that they were invalid. It’s possible that we are undercounting post offices because of the issues inherent in the data.

It’s also the case that some zip codes map to multiple counties, presumably in very low-density places. I assigned those post offices to the first county associated with the zip code, on the basis that it seems to be the primary county associated with it. This applied to over 9,400 post offices.

The post office reports that there are 31,324 Postal Service-managed retail post offices in the United States, and I was able to map 26,516 locations. I excluded post offices in U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands, among others. It’s also possible that the larger number includes services available inside third-party stores or colleges.

There were no such issues with the bank branch or credit union locations, which included county data.

Methodology

Using data from the FDIC and NCUA, I mapped the total number of bank branches and credit unions according to their reported zip codes and counties. Using data from the U.S. Postal Service, I mapped post offices according to the reported zip codes, and used the zip code to county crosswalk from HUD to map them to counties. In the event that multiple counties were associated with a single zip code, I used the first-named county.

Mapped bank addresses were limited to full-service brick-and-mortar offices, full-service retail offices, full service seasonal offices, limited service facilities and limited service contractual offices. Listed post offices with blank or non-existent zip codes were excluded, following spot checks that were unable to identify those zip codes or post offices through other USPS search portals.

Related Pages: banking tools and data
Comments
Jean
Jean   |     |   Comment #1
In my area on the west coast, there seems to be a small Chase Bank branch every mile or so. They went crazy out here. Yet on the other hand, Post Offices are disappearing, and you are very lucky to see a mailbox anywhere. They removed them, forcing you to go find that rare Post Office somewhere.
Livethegoldenrule
Livethegoldenrule   |     |   Comment #3
How about doing what the UK does in some areas - provide general county services, library, post office, banking in one building?
RonPaul
RonPaul   |     |   Comment #4
Yes great idea, more government to increase efficiency
RonPaul
RonPaul   |     |   Comment #5
Why do people even need to go into a physical bank branch location anyway?
Ally6770
Ally6770   |     |   Comment #10
I live in Michigan. We just got dial-up just before we moved in 2011. I live near a larger town now and have internet but there are still many people without internet in my county and adjoining counties. It took me 3 hours to download my grocery ad when I had dial-up. Everyone should be able to have access to internet especially the school children.
proximus18
proximus18   |     |   Comment #14
+ Large financial transitions.
+ Need a Cashiers Check / Bank Money Order in a timely fashion.
+ Notary Services.
+ Problem resolution is better conducted in person.
+ Safe Deposit Box availability.

While I do 95%+ of my banking online, I would not be with a bank that didn't have a physical presence within 15 miles, or so.
111
111   |     |   Comment #17
Medallion Signature Guarantee. You don't need it often, but when you need it, you need it. I believe only banks and CUs can do it, and I assume only for their customers.
GIS Expert
GIS Expert   |     |   Comment #19
Zip codes are unreliable. They were created only to facilitate mail delivery and do not represent consistent geographic areas. Some zip codes are assigned to single buildings. They also change with surprising frequency, so it’s not surprising so many couldn’t be found. If they provided an address, better to geocode them with that and then assign to census geography.
DCGuy
DCGuy   |     |   Comment #21
I have come across many bank branches inside grocery stores and Walmart stores. Moving those to Post Office locations would probably be frowned upon by the banks because there is a much smaller number of customers in Post Office than in the stores. Also, the placement of a bank branch is determined by the bank who is willing to foot the cost of maintaining the branch at a specific location. I doubt most banks would build branches and hire workers to work in P.O. locations. I don't think the US Government can force any bank or credit union to open branches in locations that have a small number of customers. You would need to open a true Federal Bank all over the country (not the private ones).
DCGuy
DCGuy   |     |   Comment #22
If the idea is to make the Post Office clerk become also a Bank teller, then that is another matter. That would open up a lot of Post offices to the threat of robbers.
OAG
OAG   |     |   Comment #24
I have not been inside a bank or CU for over 15 years. The two main CU I am a member of and use are over 500 miles away. Everything is done on-line. I manage a T-IRA, ROTH IRA and over 30 CD's at these two facilities remotely. BTW 78 yo - can do everything via my IPhone and or Notebook.
pingpong
pingpong   |     |   Comment #23
Sure, there are more Co-Op ATMs than post offices, but while many of DA's readers are highly educated on the topic of banks and savings institutions, most Americans are not. And that's normal: people can only keep so much in their brain. Maybe there are others (as laymen) that know more about medicine or law or internet security, than us readers here do.

So you have to think in terms of the average person, who, with a family, job, and other concerns, can only hold so much in their brain at one time.

Having the Post Office offer bank accounts is a good idea. Anyone who has travelled and/or lived overseas in any of the numerous countries that have this setup know how well it works. Japan's one example, and it doesn't hurt the competition at all (look how many Japanese banks there are). You don't have to use them, you can keep banking at Bank X or Credit Union Y. But a little competition never hurt. And in the countries where the post office offers banking services, they coexist quite well with the other banks and credit unions.
Nadine
Nadine   |     |   Comment #25
According to the American Banker, between 1911 and 1967, the US Postal Service offered savings accounts but a drop in deposits led to their discontinuation. In recent proposals, deposit accounts might be offered by the Postal Service alone or in partnerships with banks and credit unions.
As stated in the article, Post Office Banking:An Old Idea Getting New Life many Americans living in poor neighborhoods and rural areas rely on costly off the grid services such as payday loans and check cashing. An alternative to payday loans could save Americans about 90 billion a year.
In my experience, many banks require a minimum balance for a savings account to avoid a monthly fee. Some credit unions only require a $5 fee to open a savings accounts but have eligibility requirements and fewer number of branches. And sometimes bank fees occur like when your daughter is first using a debit card without checking her balance and a $5 mocha latte from Starbucks becomes a $36 drink. (as an aside, going into my bank regularly, not participating in online banking resulted in my bank's manager reducing several fees my daughter incurred)
If 40% of Americans would struggle to cover a $400 emergency expense, wouldn't an alternative to get a small loan be helpful. :)
Sunny
Sunny   |     |   Comment #26
How about, put an universal ATM machine in any grocery store or gas station that accepts and dispenses cash and checks and can transfer money from bank A to bank B for any bank account you have, just use your debit card and a password, problem solved.
ILsaver
ILsaver   |     |   Comment #27
I agree with the person that said that zip codes are not a reliable way of looking at access to things, because in the next county over, people do all their grocery and other shopping. I also agree with the observations that with the internet being increasingly available to most in rural areas, the need for physical branch locations lessens. Finally, also... demographics are changing in this country and younger people are gravitating toward larger towns and cities. Service providers must adjust to this to make economic sense.
Mona
Mona   |     |   Comment #29
Our post office cannot get mail delivered properly so I can't imagine trusting them with my financial business.
John M Hansen
John M Hansen   |     |   Comment #30
Going back to postal deposits paying a market value interest and issuing postal money orders makes sense. Making loans and providing other banking services would not work. The decline of usage in the former postal banking service shows it is not really a good idea, and limiting the service to a few counties would probably increase the problem. The idea is a marginal one, and Congress has messed up the postal service enough in their attempt to privatize it.
Never Trump Republican
Never Trump Republican   |     |   Comment #31
Sure. Having more banking options is a good idea.

Post offices offer Money Orders already, so they are into a finance operation already. Having a tie-up with US Treasury to offer some I Bonds, EE Bonds, and others might be a great choice.

Treasury Direct offers money movement to/from Banks, so maybe some sort of a tie-up to offer regular checking/saving/bill-pay sort of option will be nice.

Will support Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand; and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in their efforts !!!
Never Trump Republican
Never Trump Republican   |     |   Comment #56
All-in-all I liked the post made by Ken Tumin, and the text provided in the opening paragraph of the post.

There is link that's in turn linked via the first paragraph. Giving it below.

https://medium.com/@SenSanders/senator-bernie-sanders-and-representative-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-s-plan-to-stop-big-banks-and-1817c205587b

Sen. Sanders and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez are giving details about "Loan Shark Prevention Act". It's a nice effort to curb the sky-high interest rates that some Americans pay. In rural communities where there is dearth if banks/CUs it might be a good idea for USPS to step-in the start offering small loans.
Att
Att   |     |   Comment #61
You can get a mortgage, car loan etc. via the internet from various banks or credit unions and do comparison shopping. Unless these areas don't have internet service.

What rates should the post office charge? Who will be subsidizing the low rates and what happens with unpaid loans? What protections and regulations would they have to follow? How do you submitt a loan application? Training? It ain't going to happen. Better chance for the Green deal. Why not give free loans along with healthcare, free education.
Never Trump Republican
Never Trump Republican   |     |   Comment #64
#61: Government - Federal/State is already in business of providing Loan - Home Loans, Education Loans either directly or indirectly. Financial crisis made Government go into Car Financing as well. (Remember Cash for Clunkers).

So it's not far-fetched idea to provide small loans that offer much lower rate than Pay-Day loans to the needy Americans.

I have no answers to the various questions you have asked, but I am sure policy wonks will come-up with answers.
Att
Att   |     |   Comment #66
# 64 So let's stop the reach of government and not have them make loans. And the government is trying to get rid of the quasi government agencies like Fannie Mae. They are part of the reason for the 2008 crash. And is the post office really a government organization? Congress is part of the problem making the post office a political football. Stop 5 day delivery and close unneeded post offices. Close redundant and unneeded distribution centers. Won't happen as the postal unions and pols are in charge.

The post office being a bank is not going to happen. And let the "policy makers" decide things.
Never Trump Republican
Never Trump Republican   |     |   Comment #68
#66: Actually let's not.

Government borrows money all the time by issuing I Bonds, EE Bonds, Water Bonds, etc. Able Americans are happy to lend government the money.

Similarly the Government should be free to loan money as well. Needy Americans surely will be happy to borrow money from the government, at the rates much lower that some of the Pay-day lenders offer.
Dunmovin
Dunmovin   |     |   Comment #69
Att...very efficient...if things were "right" when Congress authorized packages, etc. could use commercial carriers WITHOUT any royalty to the PO operations, things went south! The PO is/has been a punching bag. Like the mineral, oil, gas, etc. claims on federal land...goes to our Tea Pot Dome friends. There were no meaningful royalties paid to the original owners.
Never Trump Republican
Never Trump Republican   |     |   Comment #70
#69: Yes !!

Wonder which Tea Pot Dome friend of ours took the Old Post Office Building in Washington DC?

Wonder if any meaningful royalties got paid to the GSA for that particular lease of the Old Post Building?
Att
Att   |     |   Comment #72
#69 I don't understand why a royalty should be paid to the post office for private package delivery service. Competition is good. I believe FedEx handles the post offices overnight deliveries. Amazon in my area has their own trucks to deliver their packages and soon others.

Technology is also what killing the post office. People do not need the mail to receive bills or pay them. You can PDF documents. First class mail went down over 2 billion pieces. So the answer is to raise rates 10% and less people and businesses will use USPS.

The trucks are inefficient and are designed for 1st class mail and not packages. The old Grummun models they use in my area get 10 miles to the gallon.

No need for 6 day mail. My letter carrier has days when he delivers almost no mail. I read that ending Saturday letter delivery would save 2 billion a year. You would no longer have to have relief drivers to fill in the 6th day.

The post office sometimes does last leg for UPS. UPS bulk delivers to a local post office who then delivers to the local addresses.
Dunmovin
Dunmovin   |     |   Comment #74
Att...merely a Constitutional interpretation of postal service by US government. The rights belong to people thru the government which should not have been given away for nothing by Congress.
Never Trump Republican
Never Trump Republican   |     |   Comment #75
#69: Alas, perhaps the point about the "Old Post Office Building" in Washington DC was unclear. No matter do a Bing/Google search for this and maybe it will become clear.

PDF documents are good and fine, but that's always an option.     Why just recently I personally had to completely depend upon USPS tp delivery the mail ASAP. Check the details about when/how/why in the thread right here at Deposit Accounts.

https://www.depositaccounts.com/banks/dover-cu/offers/

You will notice that each of the Blog Post has the time-stamp !!

BTW, the DMV mails me the Vehicle Registration Renewal Notice and then the Vehicle Registration Sticker via USPS. I get the Ballots via USPS mail. I get Credit/Debit cards via USPS mail. From time to time I get Jury Duty Summon from USPS mail. Maybe the news of the demise of USPS because of the technology may be a bit premature     !!

You surely are entitled to your opinion of "no need for 6 day mail", however you ought to be respectful if others, like me, have an opinion that "yes, 6 day mail is needed".

Coming to the fuel-inefficiency of trucks ... well ... lawmakers are working on old/new green/greener deals ... let's see what gets done.
Dunmovin
Dunmovin   |     |   Comment #84
Need a warrant to get access to P.O. Box, not with private boxes
Att
Att   |     |   Comment #62
#31 The Treasury stopped offering savings bonds at banks. Why would they restart selling them at thousands of post offices? Politicians love coming out with ideas and promises that will never happen.
Never Trump Republican
Never Trump Republican   |     |   Comment #65
#62: Why not?

If the rural Americans have no access to banks, but have access to US Post office, then for such Americans it does make sense to have access to Bonds.

Corner convenience stores often sell Lotto tickets, so why should a neighborhood Post Office not sell Series EE bonds that will double in value in 20 years? (That's around 3.52% interest.)
willy12
willy12   |     |   Comment #48
I was going to say you can get many banking transactions at the supermarket but I guess the banking deserts are in the same area as food deserts. The same people that cannot manage a bank account cannot afford much of anything but get plenty of handouts from the government.

What about living within your means and not having kids you can't afford? Nah, I should be bound & gagged for even suggesting it.

Many of the banking transactions can be achieved with prepaid cards like Bluebird. So products are already out there. And bluebird is available at walmart.
Att
Att   |     |   Comment #83
Willy12 Using prepaid cards offered by Ealmart is a great idea. But it seems like a lot of post office retirees are on this site.
Jean
Jean   |     |   Comment #54
Many many (many!) years ago, you had to go to the post office to get the tax forms. Don't know why they were at the post office, but that was the only place to get them? Maybe also at the library. Take them home and fill it out by hand, then return them to the post office to mail them.

I was an 18 yr old kid in the Air Force, doing my first tax return. I forgot (or didn't know) to list the $23 of interest I earned in a savings acct. Three years later, I get a letter from the IRS. THEY FINED ME $250 for failing to list my interest. A lousy 23 bucks.

Fast-forward 48 years, I did my tax return using my cell phone via one of the online tax prep companies. Only once. Probably not safe to use a phone.
Never Trump Republican
Never Trump Republican   |     |   Comment #57
#54: Yes, I recall the time when I used to get paper Tax forms from Post Office.

I have visited Post office for paperwork related to Pass-Port as well.

USPS, can do a lot by having tie-ups with other Government Agencies - State-Department, US Treasury, and of course the beloved IRS.
Att
Att   |     |   Comment #67
The post office had a loss of almost 4 billion dollars last year. I guess they can lose more by offering no or low intrest loans
Factchecker
Factchecker   |     |   Comment #71
Why post 3% in the headline when it should be 32% according to your own analysis:
Nearly 32% of zip codes are home to one post office and no bank or credit union

People in those zip codes, especially in rural areas, could benefit from basic banking services at the post office.
Att
Att   |     |   Comment #73
#71 Easier said than done. At what cost? Will this make money or increase loses for the USPS? Politicians can say what they want. If it's practical is another atory.
Anonymous
Anonymous   |     |   Comment #93
Yes it is. Money well spent.
losingtrader
losingtrader   |     |   Comment #85
Sounds like it would be cheaper to force 207,000 people to move--and buy them new houses....
deplorable 1
deplorable 1   |     |   Comment #102
lol that's not only funny but true. Leave it to the government to come up with the most expensive "solution" for a problem that doesn't even exist.
deplorable 1
deplorable 1   |     |   Comment #94
If the government really wanted to help folks out they could give us a 5% savings account with a cap of say $10,000 or so. This would encourage those who don't save to start a savings account so we don't get another loan crisis down the road when folks with no savings can't pay their bills. This I would support even if it would cost a few taxpayer dollars since it would encourage good behavior. All the government does now is encourage bad behavior with endless handout programs for making bad choices in life.
CRAFT
CRAFT   |     |   Comment #97
You are right on......."What have you given us, Dr.Franklin? A republic......If you can keep it".
111
111   |     |   Comment #100
Of course. As Alexis de Toqueville said in the early 1800's - "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money."

That "day" as it were, is fast approaching, if in fact it is not already here.

Some things never change.
anonymous
anonymous   |     |   Comment #98
Too many people who are quite capable to support themselves want government handouts to support their own personal finances. Tax payers' money should never be used for such a purpose.
deplorable 1
deplorable 1   |     |   Comment #101
@Anonymous: I would consider that more of a hand up for those just starting out rather than a hand out. I suppose welfare checks and free cell phones are ok with you? With how much government handouts cost this country each year I think spending a trivial amount to encourage good behavior is quite justified.
anonymous
anonymous   |     |   Comment #105
@comment 101: That's the problem. When it benefits yourself, you consider it something other than what it really is. Call it anything you want, your still looking for a government handout using tax dollars that could be put to better use elsewhere.

You say one thing, but apparently still believe in a socialist government to support you.
deplorable 1
deplorable 1   |     |   Comment #107
No that would benefit everyone who wanted to save money as opposed to handout programs that I am forced to pay for through taxation that only benefit a select group of people.
loan crisis ???
loan crisis ???   |     |   Comment #99
it would also lead certain peoples behavior to open Multiple Accounts...
so much for the little guy to make a buck Huh.
DCGuy
DCGuy   |     |   Comment #104
They tried that in the early 1980s with the All Savers Certificates. The 6.26% rate at the end of 1982 just was not competitive with the 15%+ rates you could get elsewhere.

https://www.nytimes.com/1982/12/27/business/disappointing-end-for-all-savers.html
Brokered
Brokered   |     |   Comment #108
#94
Huh?
Who pays the 5%?
Here's an idea to promote good behavior.
You're hungry...get a job, earn money & buy some food.
You're cold...get a job, earn money rent some shelter.
You need transportation...get a job, earn money, take the bus or buy a used car.
You WANT a phone...get a job, earn money & buy a phone.
You're not very marketable...get an education, get a job & earn money.

The government can encourage "good behavior" by cleaning up the cities, providing good public transportation, enforcing existing laws, ensuring schools are safe and effective and defending us from enemies. A guaranteed 5% savings account is about the dumbest idea one can imagine, reminiscent of the failed...
https://myra.gov/
deplorable 1
deplorable 1   |     |   Comment #109
So Brokered a 5%(only 2.5% of that would be subsidized at current rates) capped account to encourage savings is a bad idea yet we have:
1. Welfare checks that encourage people not to work and to have multiple kids they can't afford to pay for.
2. Bridge cards that encourage people not to work.
3. Free services Cell phones, monthly minutes, free cable that encourage people not to work.
4. Subsidized housing that encourage people not to work.
5. Special deals like HARP that encouraged people to stop paying their mortgage to qualify for special low interest rates and write offs.
6. Obamacare which encourages the need not to work for medical benefits.
And the list goes on but you see my point? All current handout programs encourage bad behavior and we are all paying for them currently through taxation. All I was suggesting is that how about encouraging GOOD behavior.
Brokered
Brokered   |     |   Comment #111
#109
Go look at the failed myra for all the evidence you need. Besides, once again, why should I pay another bill for someone I don't know? When is enough enough?

When the unemployed gender-studies major comes demanding YOU pay THEIR student loan bill get back to me.

Remember, someone has to EARN the dollars you want to give away to someone who isn't earning their own. Stop making the payments and watch how fast people find productive jobs!
deplorable 1
deplorable 1   |     |   Comment #112
that MYRA plan was different because:
1. It wasn't any better than what you could get elsewhere.
2. It was a IRA so you couldn't get your money out to pay bills without paying a penalty.
Heck that idea was about the only thing Obama did that I actually agreed with because it encouraged good behavior.
I'm not advocating all the handout programs but I don't see anything wrong with a hand up. Are you against unemployment insurance as well? I know it costs us money but when you get laid off it sure helps until the next paycheck rolls in.
Brokered
Brokered   |     |   Comment #103
Like so many "ideas" emanating for politicians this is just absurd. We are moving to a digital economy and they want to saddle the PO with banking services. What services will be offered? Who will staff and manage each location? Personally, I don't want the government involved any further regarding individual finances. Each person must earn, spend, save and plan their own financial life. How you do it is YOUR choice, not the government's. This scheme is just another step in acquiring more control over the population.
111
111   |     |   Comment #110
Personally, I'd like to see us go the other direction. Remember "Sam Drucker's General Store" on the old Green Acres series? It was the general (actually, only) store, the grocery, the post office, the Hooterville community center, and a place where you could get a good game of checkers played on a checkerboard place on top the pickle barrel. Could've been a bank, too. Old Sam was the first multitasker.
deplorable 1
deplorable 1   |     |   Comment #113
Nadler reminds me of Mr. Haney! lol
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#120 - This comment has been removed for violating our comment policy.

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