Middle-class families falling on hard times and grappling outside the traditional banking system are alarmingly common. Approximately 70 million Americans don't have a bank account or access to traditional financial services. That's more people than live in California, New York, and Maryland combined. It's more than the number who voted for Barack Obama (or Mitt Romney) in the 2012 election.

Instead of direct deposit, many rely on physical pay stubs. Instead of checking accounts, they have to drive to check-cashing services, like Pay-O-Matic. Instead of automatic payments, they drive again across the suburbs to pay utility bills in person. In lieu of a credit history that qualifies them for bank loans, they have a history of cash that is disqualifying. Instead of low-interest loans, they rely on payday lenders whose services can ultimately cost three- or four-times the original loan. And so, replacing the services of a bank on your own becomes a second part-time job, an odyssey of stripmalls, check-cashing storefronts, money orders, prepaid cards, and miles and miles on the road.

Ron Brownstein has called it the "archipelago of alternative finance."

Read it at The Atlantic.