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Despite the negative headlines about the economy, there really is no better time for credit unions to offer credit cards than today. While the economy squeezes lending products such as mortgages, home equity lines of credit and auto loans, credit card usage is trending upward as electronic payments resonate with consumers as the primary payment vehicle. Electronic payments, which include debit and credit cards, equaled 41% of payment transactions in 2006. By 2011 consumer electronic payments will rise to 51%, eclipsing cash and checks.

Payments cards, with more than a billion transactions each week and growing, have become an invaluable touchpoint between the cardholder and issuer. If your credit union’s card program isn’t a primary product offering, now is the time to turn your attention to it. Your card is not only a convenience for your members but also a miniature traveling billboard that reinforces your brand with your members each time it is used. No other credit union product or service offers the same level of brand exposure.

Many positive trends indicate that credit union card portfolios are poised for growth, even in the face of today’s credit crunch. According to Callahan’s, credit union card balances are outgrowing those of banks and thrifts (14.5% to 12.5%), which means interchange revenue and interest income are also increasing. As balances have grown, credit union delinquencies and charge-offs remain below industry averages reflecting credit unions’ historically sound lending practices.

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