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CHICAGO – The Woodstock Institute, a sometime critic of mainstream credit unions and a member of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, has issued a report on bank and credit union credit cards which praises credit unions overall for their card behavior. The think tank’s survey found that while cards issued by credit unions have similar purchase interest rates, they also come with fewer fees, lower fees, lower default rates and overall conditions which are much easier to understand. “The details of the credit union card show how credit card lending can be done sustainably without exorbitant penalties and misleading terms and conditions,” the Institute said. The Institute surveyed the top 10 credit union credit card issuers, the top 10 bank card issuers and the largest 10 credit union card issuers in the Chicago area. The Institute is based in Chicago and often references local conditions in its reports. The 10 credit unions are Navy FCU, Pentagon FCU, Suncoast Schools FCU, Boeing Employees CU, Pennsylvania State Employees CU, Digital FCU, Orange County Teachers FCU, Vystar FCU, America First CU and Golden 1 CU. The survey found that credit union credit card practices differed in some ways, though they also resembled each other in some ways. For example, the Institute noted that all 10 banks in its survey advertised a range of possible purchase rates for each card, rather than one specific rate. This practice means the consumer is “buying” the card without knowing its true cost, the Institute said. Upon receipt of the application, the bank will determine the card’s rate based on the consumer’s creditworthiness and subsequently offer a contract based on it. The consumer is not told the method for which his/her creditworthiness is determined. But credit unions were much less likely to conceal the initial purchase rate by advertising that the purchase rate would be fixed post-application within a range, the Institute found. Ranges were advertised by five national credit unions and only one Chicago region credit union. Instead of advertising a range, credit unions were more likely to have three levels of creditworthiness – Standard/Classic, Gold, or Platinum – each with a specific corresponding rate. But while the relationship between the level of credit and pricing was fixed for a number of the credit unions, consumers would still only know after they receive the card in which creditworthy category they would be placed. “It is clearly not possible to shop for a price if the price is concealed in this manner,” the Institute noted. The bottom line is that the terms and conditions of credit cards issued by the large banks are much more complex than those of the large credit union issuers, the Institute said. “Those complexities are likely to result in the bank customers not understanding the full cost of using the banks’ cards and therefore in incurring much higher fees,” Woodstock added. [email protected]

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