Around 68 million Americans are unbanked or underbanked—either living without a bank account, or relying on “alternative,” predatory financial institutions like payday loan shops, check cashers, and prepaid payroll cards. One product on the last category, the Russell Simmons-founded Rushcard—which puts people in a labyrinth of jacked-up transaction fees for the privilege of getting their paycheck two days early—froze thousands of its users out of their accounts last week, leaving them stranded and moneyless during an absurdly protracted period of the company trying to get their system back up after what they’re calling a botched “technology transition.”

One user named Nicole Blackshear told HipHopDX:

Advertisement

“There are thousands of us that have been locked out of our accounts, can’t access accounts, money is missing, direct deposits not posted. They keep lying on their Facebook page that the system is back up, and it’s not. When you call, you stay on hold for hours and then the line just hangs up on you. I have not received my direct deposit and the money that I had in there already is not available. Try to swipe the card at a store or ATM and it declines. Tried to log in online and it says my card is deactivated. If you go to Facebook and go to RushCard’s or Russell Simmons’ page you will see that there are a million on us suffering. People are being evicted, can’t get to work because they can’t get gas. People are needing milk and pampers for their children. People’s utilities have been disconnected. There is so much pain and suffering and no explanation.”

Dozens of ConsumerAffairs reviews rolled in, evincing fear:

I was loving RushCard but now I’m very upset. I got paid but I can’t use my card. I don’t have any cash cause it’s all on my card. My child doesn’t eat air.

And confusion:

Sponsored

I am paid on Tuesday. It is now Wed and I still don’t have my paycheck. I call customer service am told my account don’t exist. I then try and speak to someone and it tells me high call volume. This is not okay. I rely on my paycheck as I live paycheck to paycheck and now have no clue what’s going on. I am extremely upset and not sure what to do.

The comments on their Facebook page are painful, as are Russell Simmons’ frenzied, haphazard messages and image macros assuring his customers that the company hasn’t lost their money. Five days ago, he posted the above video, stating that Rushcard was “addressing every issue as quickly as possible.” Since then, Simmons has since posted many more vague assurances and apologies for having “bad info.” His Twitter account over the last few days is also just pure bluffy struggle, including this recent thoughtful message:

Nice.

Advertisement

Minority households comprise a disproportionately large percentage of the unbanked—a population that’s 21 percent black, 19 percent Hispanic, 15 percent Native American—as well as the underbanked. It’s not a voluntary state of being: living outside the financial system usually signifies some combination of poor credit, lack of financial literacy, language barriers, or unstable and inadequate income.

Russell Simmons, who in 2011 published a book called Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All, has long defended Rushcard as “empowering” for black and low-income communities, going so far as to say that he will continue to “fight this fight, provide a voice for the voiceless and seek ways to provide financial freedom to those in need.” But Rushcard has become notorious for its fine print contradicting its big promises: it’s got a $20 activation fee, a $10 monthly fee, transaction fees up to $2.50. It doesn’t actually help build credit the way it advertises, it reportedly leaves its users little recourse in the case of identity theft, and its users, when they sign their contract, lose their right to sue under any possible condition.

It’s expensive to be poor. Rushcard is proving that and then some.


Contact the author at jia@jezebel.com.