Basic finances out of reach for 1 in 5 Aussies

Basic finances out of reach for 1 in 5 Aussies

More than three million Australians lack access to critical financial services including transaction accounts, credit cards and basic home and car insurance, a new report has revealed.

Young people, migrants and people in low-paying work – earning between $20,000 and $25,000 per year – are the most at risk of being “financially excluded”, according to the report from the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) and NAB.

Many of these disadvantaged Australians are reportedly relying on pricey, short-term cash loans because they aren’t allowed access to mainstream banking.

The cost of living is a major factor, according to the report, which shows that the cost of these basic financial services is now more than $1700 per year.

“People are doing it tough,” NAB Personal Banking group executive, Gavin Slater told News Ltd. “We’re wealthy on average, but the average, I think, is misleading. House prices have put pressure on disposable incomes, there are a lot of people earning a relatively low wage and the cost of living has increased.”

“The fact there is a demand out for it [cash loans] in Australia shows that the mainstream banking system is failing these people,” he said. “It’s unacceptable in today’s society that people end up having to do that.”

The report shows that the cost of maintaining basic financial services has actually decreased slightly compared with last year.

RateCity shows there are 70 free transaction accounts and 26 free credit cards (those charging no ongoing fee or account-keeping fee) available in its database.

Yet the number of people excluded from accessing them is still increasing – around one in five Australians are now considered to be “financial excluded”, it found.

Cost is just one contributing factor to the financial exclusion, says CSI research associate and author of the report, Chris Connolly.

The level of documentation required to establish an account can be a hurdle, and many banks do not lend less than $5000 as a personal loan.

“Language and identification documents, a lack of financial literacy, geographical barriers, and employment arrangements such as ‘cash-in-hand work’ all contribute to growth in financial exclusion,” he said.

“Younger Australians and migrants are particularly marginalised. The casualisation of our workforce is compounding the issue, with increasing number of people engaged in low-paying casual, part-time or seasonal work.”

Once individuals gain access to basic financial services they’re often able to improve their overall financial position and ultimately enter the mainstream financial system, the report found.

There is an obligation for banks, governments, the corporate sector and community groups to improve financial inclusion, urges NAB’s Slater.

“Financial exclusion is a deep, complex issue,” he said. “It’s something the whole industry needs to tackle, if we’re going to achieve significant change.”

NAB works in partnership with the federal government and charity organisation Good Shepherd to reduce economic inequality and assist marginalised and disadvantaged Australians. Good Shepherd Microfinance provides financial services, such as no-interest loans, to people on low and limited incomes who may not otherwise have access to mainstream financial services, to help them become financially independent. For more information, or to apply for a loan through the loan scheme, visit goodshepherdmicrofinance.org.au.

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Learn more about bank accounts

Can Centrelink access your bank account?

Yes, Centrelink can access your bank account, but only if you give them a reason to. Centrelink uses data-matching software with other federal government agencies to help it crack down on welfare cheats.

This is why it’s important to give true and matching information to all government agencies.

For example, if you report to Centrelink your annual income is $25,000, but at tax time you report your income as $50,000 with the ATO, it’s likely you’ll be ‘red flagged’.

At this point, Centrelink can legally request that your bank hand over your personal bank account details, to review your finances.

In most cases, Centrelink does not have the authority to take money out of your account. You will usually be given written notice to repay the debt.

However, Centrelink can also reduce your benefits until you’ve paid back what you owe. In extreme cases, Centrelink can garnish your wages and assets (including money in your bank account) until your debt is repaid.

How do I close a bank account?

Closing a bank account is one of those tasks that’s easy to put in the too-hard basket. There are quite a few steps involved, some which may require you to hang on the phone for a while.  

Here’s a handy checklist of items to tick off, so the job gets done quicker. If you don’t do your banking online, the following steps can also be done at a branch.   

  • Cancel any scheduled or recurring payments
  • Update your direct debit details (such as loan repayments) with creditors
  • Export your payee address book (to keep a record of saved third-party bank account details)
  • Transfer the balance of your account (to the new bank account)
  • Close your account online, or by calling the bank or visiting a branch

How do I open a bank account for a baby?

If you’ve just welcome a new baby into the world, congratulations. Opening a bank account for your child can be a wonderful first gift.

Before you can open your child an account, you’ll need to have a birth certificate or passport for your baby.

As the parent or guardian, you’ll also be listed as a joint holder on the account. This means you’ll need to have proof of your identification and address (a driver’s licence, passport, birth certificate or Medicare Card).

Many banks and credit unions offer baby banks accounts. Usually, you can apply online; otherwise you can head into a local branch or office with your documents.

How do I open a new bank account?

There are a number of ways to open a new bank account – online, over the phone or in the branch. The trick is to decide what type of bank account you want beforehand.

It might sound like a simple enough task, but there are literally hundreds of bank accounts to choose from. And each offer their own banking features and benefits.

A comparison site like RateCity can help you work out what bank account product matches your needs.

Once you’ve made up your mind what you want, it’s advisable to have the following information ready for the application process.

  • A couple of forms of identification (such as driver’s licence, Medicare card, passport)
  • Tax file number
  • Residential address, contact phone number and email (though email is not essential)

How do I open a bank account if I'm under 18?

The good news for savvy young folks like you wanting to take charge of your finances is that there are many bank accounts available for under-18s.

For bank accounts that require you to be 18 or older, you’ll have to rope in a parent or guardian to open the account for you.

Otherwise, you can apply by yourself online or at the branch of the bank, credit union or building society that has the account you would like to open. 

If applying online, you might be asked for a form of identification. For under-18s, this could be a Medicare card you’re listed on, your birth certificate and/or your current home address.

In most cases, you can verify your identity online (at the time of applying) or at the branch afterwards.

Do I need to open a business bank account?

Just because you’re in business doesn’t necessarily mean you need a business bank account. You could be a sole trader not registered for GST, and use your personal bank account for business.

If you do want a business account, there are plenty of benefits attached to business transaction and savings accounts, as well as business term deposits.

There are business bank accounts designed for businesses with a high volume of transactions, and those for start-ups with a small amount of trade. You could also include an EFTPOS service with your account.

Some business bank accounts charge for the number of transactions per month, while others offer a pay-as-you-go fee structure, where you only pay fees for transactions you make.

It’s up to you whether your priority is mainly transactions, or earning the maximum amount of interest on your principal. There’s a business banking solution for you if you need one.

Can you deposit money into somebody else's bank account?

One of the easiest banking tasks in the world is depositing money. You can even deposit money into someone else’s bank account if you wish.

The basic information you need to deposit money into a third-party bank account is:

  • Payee’s name
  • Bank, building society or credit union (though this isn’t necessary)
  • BSB (or bank code, which is the branch identifier)
  • Account number

Including the name of the financial institution isn’t necessary – particularly with online banking – because the BSB will identify this for you.

A handy tip is to record yourself (or add a personal message) in the transaction description or reference. This will show up on the recipients account, letting them know who’s paid them the money.

How can I find bank accounts in my name?

To find ‘live’ bank accounts in your name, you’ll have to ask individual lenders, which involves contacting them one by one and proving your identity each time. To find ‘unclaimed’ bank accounts (those that have been inactive for at least seven years), you can use this website.

How do I open a bank account for a child?

There are few better ways for a child to learn about money management than through savings. And there’s a plethora of bank accounts designed specifically for young people and children.

A bank account for a child can be opened online, over the phone or in a branch in a few easy steps. The minimum age a child can open a bank account for themselves usually ranges between 12 and 14.

If the child is too young to open the account, you can do it for them as their legal parent or guardian. 

To do this, you would need to be over 18, have an Australian residential address and currently reside in Australia (or have proof of residency).

You would also need to provide:

  • Identification for yourself and the child
  • Your tax file number (TFN) or TFN exemption

Depending on the bank account, you might be able to choose what level of access the child has to their bank account (online and via the phone).

Do you need a bank account to get a credit card?

To get a credit card, you need to show proof of income, which will almost certainly require you to have a bank account.

Can I find my bank account number online?

Yes, you can find your bank account number by logging into your online banking and clicking on the relevant account.

Can I open a bank account in another country?

Despite having a bad rap for facilitating tax evasion, it is possible and legal to open a bank account in another country, also known as an ‘offshore account’.

Some people choose to open a bank account in another country to invest overseas, for higher interest-earning potential or to access foreign banking services.

The process for opening an offshore bank account differs depending on the financial institution and country in which you’re opening the account.

Typically, you will need to provide identification such as a passport, a local bank statement and a signed declaration proving the source of the money being used to open your account. Usually, deposits into offshore accounts can be made by international money transfer.

Do you need a bank account to sell on eBay?

You don’t need a bank account to sell on eBay. But if you don’t have a bank account, you must provide either a credit card or debit card.

How can I deposit cash into my bank account?

The traditional way to deposit cash into your bank account is to go to a branch and give it to a teller. These days, many banks will allow you to make deposits through an ATM as well.