SEATTLE (9/24/08)--The city of Seattle is collaborating with 22 credit unions and banks to offer services to people who are unbanked to make it easier and more affordable for them to open savings and checking accounts. Roughly 52,000 households without traditional banking services in King County, Washington--the county where Seattle is located--pay an annual average of $800 in check-cashing fees, the city said (The Seattle Times Sept. 23). There are seven credit unions participating in the program, Linda Jekel, director of credit unions for the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions (DFI), told News Now. Seattle modeled the initiative after a similar program that has been running for about two years in San Francisco. Participating financial institutions there have about $4 million in deposits from new customers, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Seattle’s goal over the next two years is to get 10,000 people to open accounts, and to have 80% of the accounts remain open for at least one year, the paper said. Credit unions and other financial institutions provide financial education to participants in the program. Most of the participating financial institutions allow people to open accounts with $50 or less, and all but two offer free checking. The others charge $6 per month in fees. Participating credit unions in some instances are offering low-cost and minimum balance accounts. The city’s initiative will help credit unions market their services to new population segments, including outreach to immigrant groups, the Times said. Once people get in the door of affordable financial services, they can learn how finances work and become better financial citizens, Scott Jarvis, director of the Washington State DFI, told the paper. The seven Seattle-area credit unions participating in the inititative are: Boeing Employees CU, Express CU, Seattle Metropolitan CU, Verity CU, Washington State Employees CU, Watermark CU and Woodstone CU.