Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Credit Unions offer real money tools

Not all credit cards are created equal. I'm not really in the habit of making financial tips, but I do think there is an art to moving capital through communities to the greater benefit of the common good. Or moving cash through a lifetime to help you make the most of your best opportunities. And now we are swimming in shark-infested waters.

I attended a financial services webinar today, offered by Signal Financial Federal Credit Union, the credit union serving the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA). The presenter described in detail the advantages of seeking financial services from a credit union, especially in today's economy. Credit unions did not engage in sub-prime mortgage lending, or make wildly speculative investments at the risk of members' deposits. They are in a position to lend, at reasonable rates.

Signal Financial is offering an affinity card with a relatively low APR (6.5%) for the life of a balance transfer, with no balance transfer fees. You must qualify to join, with a $5 deposit to a share (savings) account. This particular affinity card directs 2¢ of every purchase to the Cooperative Development Foundation, a group that helps co-ops in our country and abroad (including cooperative groups in Haiti).

You can contact them directly to find out how to qualify for membership. Signal Financial is networked with other credit unions across the country.

Credit unions are cooperatives guided by the Seven International Cooperative Principles, including education, information, and training. One of the things I appreciate about them is that they usually have someone on staff who gives free financial services advice. They typically offer accounts for children that help kids learn how to manage and save money, too. Here's a neat "Thrive by Five" program for preschoolers over at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) website. As is so often the case, teaching these principles to kids is not a bad way for adults to absorb them.

Meanwhile, I received an application today for The New Visa® Black Card. Lord knows I don't "deserve" one – they are meant to attract those discerning "individuals" (always that word) who have thousands of dollars of disposable income (read "flush it away") per year, who might find it a privilege (or sign of status) to pay a $495 annual fee. Here are the jaw-dropping terms and conditions for this Black Hole of Debt card. You don't find this kind of language over at the credit union sites, either, by the way:
For those who demand only the best of what life has to offer, the exclusive Visa Black Card is for you. The Black Card is not just another piece of plastic. Made with carbon, it is the ultimate buying tool. 
The Black Card is not for everyone. In fact, it is limited to only 1% of U.S. residents to ensure the highest caliber of personal service is provided to every Cardmember.
That requires some levity. Here, Jon Stewart gives a little lesson about loan sharks (with thanks to Daughter Number Three):

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Daughter Number Three said...

Go credit unions!

I saw an ad for the Black Card a few months ago and couldn't believe they would think that people with that much money would be stupid enough to spend it on a $500 fee for a credit card, just so they could appear to be part of some exclusive club. Clearly, the rich are already part of an exclusive club and don't need a card to prove it. This is meant to appeal to strivers and people who wish they were strivers. Which accounts for why you and my father-in-law got offers for it... they're trolling for strivers. Wonder what list they're using.

Did you hear that Target test-marketed a credit card in the Kansas City market that offered an automatic 5% discount on all Target purchases? It was very successful -- people bought more stuff. Unfortunately for Target, they all paid their bills on time and so Target didn't get anything from the almost-25% interest rate and lost money overall. Darn.

elena said...

I'm a striver, for sure...striving for alternatives to the greed-mongers.

I heard from someone who got a Black Card offer a couple of months after filing for bankruptcy. BTW, isn't it cool that The Black Card is made out of carbon, and that's part of its intangible appeal?!? The Black Hole of Debt Heavy Carbon Footprint Card.

Interesting about that Target test case.

Credit unions act on the radical/reasonable/responsible idea that consumer education is an important part of what they offer.