There are about 200 penniless banks in the United States that will never need a federal bailout.
Known as "time banks," the institutions are becoming more popular as the jobless rate rises, according to Edgar Cahn, founder of TimeBanks USA, a non-profit organization in Washington that assists in setting them up.
In the first two months of this year, requests for startup kits doubled to 32 from a year earlier, he said.
Here is how time banks work: For every hour that people perform a service for someone in their community, they earn credit for that time. The participant can then use their credits to exchange for someone else's services.
Members generally don't pay a fee to join a group.
Starter kits from TimeBanks USA cost $49.50 and include six free months' use of Internet-based software to manage the network, Mr. Cahn said. To renew the use of that software, there is a fee of $99 annually for groups of fewer than 35 people and $500 annually for those with more members.
But time bank coordinators can also opt to use a free computer-based software program called Timekeeper instead.
The popularity of time banks is partly due to the economy, Mr. Cahn said. "People have more time at home now, and families are trying to figure out how to survive," he said.
One time bank, the Time Trade Circle of Cambridge, Mass., has seen its membership triple to about 206 members since September, said Katherine Ellin, the group's founder.
A computer-based networking program allows members of the Time Trade Circle to set up profiles describing the services that they are willing to provide. In addition, there is a marketplace where members can search by category.
The Time Trade Circle's members offer a range of services, including cake making, gardening, pet care and computer assistance.
"It seems like there are more people with more time than money," Ms Ellin said.