You may have heard rumblings about the credit union tax exemption being up for debate yet again. It’s a debate we’ve seen before and a cause we’ve defended before. Unfortunately, the so-called controversy never really left us. Time and again, banks have tried to use the argument that credit unions are unfairly benefiting from their exemption from federal corporate income tax.
What the repeated attacks from the bankers always fail to mention is that nearly one-third of all banks are Subchapter S corporations which pay no corporate income tax.
Despite the repetitiveness of the debate—and the déjà vu feeling of each new attack from bankers—we have to stay strong in our commitment to defending the credit union tax exemption.
Why? Because it’s the bedrock of our existence.
Among the many issues NAFCU focuses on is the increasing burden on credit unions from overregulation. More than 700 credit unions have closed their doors since the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010. But while overregulation is thinning our ranks, the elimination of the credit union tax exemption would wipe us out almost completely. The banks would win.
And it’s not just about us and the banks. It’s not even just about our member-owners—it’s about the economy as a whole. A year ago, NAFCU commissioned an independent study which showed that eliminating the credit union tax exemption would shrink the GDP, result in a net loss of revenue to the federal government and eliminate 150,000 jobs a year over the next decade. On the flip side, keeping the exemption benefits the economy as a whole: the cumulative benefit credit unions generate for the economy—non-credit union members included—is more than $10 billion a year.
If banks win, this benefit goes away, which would be a devastating consequence for consumers and the economy. Banks that are already too big to fail will just get bigger. According to an editorial from Bloomberg, big banks—instead of having learned their lesson after the crisis—in fact have more incentive to get and remain big: “The larger they are, the more disastrous their failure would be and the more certain they can be of a government bailout in an emergency…the banks that are potentially the most dangerous can borrow at lower rates, because creditors perceive them as too big to fail.” In fact, according to the Federal Reserve, five of the biggest banks in America—including JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs—held 43% more assets in 2011 than they had five years before.
And if the credit unions that kept lending to consumers and small businesses during the financial crisis aren’t there anymore, the banks are unlikely to fill that role themselves. According to a report from the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Assets Relief Program, when the Treasury Department offered a small business lending fund program for banks, more than one-third of the participating banks used most of the money—$4 billion overall—to help extricate themselves from the TARP instead of using it to lend to small businesses. Consumers can’t trust banks to behave any differently in the future. Banks will lend less, raise fees and keep getting bigger if credit unions aren’t there to provide consumers with options.
History is not just repeating itself with this debate—this time is different. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) have been traveling the country promoting tax reform, and looking for ways to cut tax expenditures.
NAFCU’s Congressional Caucus, going on this week, is our opportunity to make the credit union community’s voice heard—to remind lawmakers that in this age of sequestration and cutbacks, the country can’t afford to cut back on credit unions and the good they provide to communities.
Since the Great Depression, credit unions have been serving the communities in America that no one else would serve. We just survived the worst financial crisis since that time; now is not the time to forget the value credit unions hold for America. We can’t let our representatives in Congress forget either.
Don’t let our voices be drowned out by the desperate attacks from bankers. Join the call to preserve the credit union tax exemption and, through it, the important role credit unions play in American communities.
Our existence is on the line.
B. Dan Berger is president/CEO of NAFCU.
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