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Millennials Look for Easy Credit Outside Banks

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Millennials shell out for convenience.

That's what a new survey to be released Friday and given exclusively to USA Today suggests when it comes to the generation's use of alternative financial products that often come with high fees.

The survey of more than 1,000 people ages 18 to 34 by alternative financial products company Think Finance found that while 92 percent currently use a bank, nearly half, or 45 percent, say they have also used outside services including prepaid cards, check cashing, pawn shops and payday loans.

For a generation in which many are finding themselves cash-strapped, in debt from student loans and underemployed, convenience appears to trump getting stuck with extra charges when it comes to quick access to cash and credit.

"It's flexibility and controllability that's really important for Millennials," says Ken Rees, president and CEO of Think Finance. "Banks don't have great products for people who need short-term credit. They're not really set up for that."

And he points out that more than 80 percent of survey respondents said emergency credit options are at least somewhat important to them.

These are options that have been historically known for charging fees -- check cashing can cost up to 3 percent of the amount of the check, and more depending on the company and how much you're cashing. Most prepaid debit cards come with at least a monthly fee, and more fees for checking the account balance, ATM withdrawal or activation among others, found a survey of prepaid cards by Bankrate.com in April.

The Think Finance survey revealed that Millennials don't seem to mind. Nearly a quarter cited fewer fees and 13 percent cited more predictable fees as reasons for using alternative products, though convenience and better hours than banks won out over both of those as the top reasons.

"With non-bank products...the fees are very, very easy to understand," Rees says. "The reputations that banks have is that it's a gotcha."

These products may be winning because of marketing tactics, says Mitch Weiss, a professor in personal finance at the University of Hartford in Hartford, Conn., and a contributor to consumer site Credit.com.

"The way they approach the business is, we're not charging you interest we just charge you a fee," he says. "When you think fee, your reaction is it's a one-time thing."

Many companies that offer alternative products have developed an online savvy and cool factor Millennials appreciate, Weiss says.

"The banking industry to a very large extent can't get out of its own way," he says. "These smaller companies that have popped up all over the place, they're cleaning up because they can move really quickly...and they just look younger and more with it than the banks do."

Banks are trying to catch up. The Bankrate survey points out that five major banks started offering prepaid cards in the past year — Wells Fargo, PNC, Regions Bank, JP Morgan Chase and U.S. Bank — and the cards are starting to become more mainstream as free checking accounts become more scarce. The Bankrate survey found that just 39 percent of banks offer free checking, down from 76 percent in 2009.

Austin Cook, 19, wanted to avoid racking up fees for using his bank debit card on a trip abroad last summer so bought a prepaid card at Target to use instead.

"I just thought this was more convenient and very reliable," says Cook, of Lancaster, Pa. "I had gone and talked with my bank. And honestly it was confusing, and you could sign up for different policies. And I didn't want to bother with any of that."

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