CFPB Report Spotlights Issues for Rural Communities

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau yesterday released a report spotlighting the financial challenges facing individuals living in rural communities, representing about 14% of the total population of the United States, are far more likely to conduct their banking in person than they are over the phone or online even though people living in rural communities are more likely to live in “banking deserts.”

Individuals living in rural communities are also more likely to have unpaid medical debts, according to the CFPB, which cited data from a recent report it released about the medical debt burden in the United States. That report detailed how medical debt is more common in the Southeast and Southwest portions of the country — which are known to have significant rural populations. Making the problem more acute for individuals in rural communities is the fact that healthcare and health insurance tend to be more expensive in those areas, according to the CFPB, leading to higher bills and more debt.

Nine out of 10 rural households visited a bank branch in 2019, according to the report even though those households are the most likely to not live within 10 miles of a bank branch. Perhaps that’s a reason why consumers in rural areas have the highest rates of individuals without a credit report maintained by one of the three major credit reporting agencies.

For an accounts receivable management industry that is trying to get more individuals to self-serve and pay their own accounts, rural consumers might not be the target demographic. Only 76% of individuals in rural communities had access to a smartphone, compared with 86% of individuals living in urban areas, and only 68% of households in rural areas had access to the Internet, compared with 79% of urban areas and 84% of suburban communities. Only 56% of rural communities use online banking, according to the report.

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