Wal-Mart to expand its financial services MoneyCenters

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., expanding its lucrative push into financial services, said Tuesday it plans to open 500 more MoneyCenters this year, including five in the Charlotte area.

The MoneyCenters are in-store centers that offer basic financial services such as check cashing, bill payment and money transfers. They're largely targeted at lower-income shoppers who might not have a traditional bank account but need to keep up with an increasingly cashless economy.

Wal-Mart says the MoneyCenters offer convenience, low prices and an "inviting" and "safe" place to carry out financial transactions.

Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, said the MoneyCenters could be a good thing for consumers, by bringing more competition to the industry and focusing on an underserved segment of the population.

"In and of themselves, there's nothing wrong with the services that Wal-Mart is offering," Rheingold said. "People need those services. The question is, What types of products are they offering, and are they fair? We've seen so many abuses in the banking system, I just don't want Wal-Mart to add to them."

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