Break up with Your Wall Street Credit Card

This article was originally published on 2/12/10 in YES! Magazine.

It was over a year ago that the Federal Reserve issued new credit card rules to protect consumers. Finally, on February 22nd, some of these new consumer protections will begin to go into effect.

But beware. The big credit card companies, wizards of fine print, will attempt to play some new games. You should watch your mail carefully for new terms on your existing credit card. Big card companies are raising minimum payments, lowering card limits, and raising interest rates.

With Valentines Day approaching, it may be time to re-evaluate your relationship. Do you feel a warm fuzzy attachment to your credit card?

No? You feel abused? Legalistic fine print? Hidden fees? Interest rate hikes? Whopper late fees?

So why do you keep going back? We understand you may need a credit card. But why do you keep forking over your hard-earned labor to Citigroup, Bank of America and the other Wall Street banks that drove our economy off a cliff? Why don’t you move your borrowing?

There is a national movement to “Move Your Money” out of the reckless institutions that trashed our economy. People who want to strengthen the real economy are taking their deposits to community banks and credit unions.

A local lending institution might be the place to also get your new credit card. Stacy Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance writes, “About three quarters of community banks and just over half of credit unions offer credit cards. Unlike big banks, these smaller institutions generally do not view their credit cards as major profit centers, but rather as a service for customers.”

A study by the Pew Charitable Trust found that these local issuers typically have lower interest rates, smaller penalties, and “fewer dangers associated with unfair or deceptive practices.”

Just remember, some local banks still use the big guys to handle their accounts, so ask around.

Happy Valentines Day!

Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies where he directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good (www.ips-dc.org/inequality). He is co-author, with Mary Wright, of The Moral Measure of the Economy.