I heard that by using a credit card, I could be supporting some pretty dreadful practices. Is there a better card out there I could get?
-- Lou M., Ann Arbor, MI
Fortunately, responsible credit cards do exist. But before determining whether a card is responsible or not, it's important to understand how they work. The fees connected to a card -- annual and late fees, interest payments -- all go to the issuing bank. That bank may use your money to finance projects such as an oil pipeline that could destroy animal habitats.
To put at least some of your credit card fees toward a good cause, consider an affinity card -- an option offered by large banks that bears the logo of a charity or nonprofit. Each time you use an affinity card, the issuing bank donates a set percentage to the charity or nonprofit. (Note, though, that since these cards are usually connected to a mega-bank, your money may still indirectly support objectionable projects financed by that bank.) One of the best affnity cards is MBNA's Working Assets Visa card (workingassets.com). It donates 10 cents with every purchase to a pool of 50 nonprofits.
To ensure that your credit card's fees and interest payments go toward projects that support people in need and protect the environment, use a card issued by a community investment bank. When making loans, community investment institutions (CIIs) take social benefits like education for low-income communities -- not just profitability -- into consideration. Two CIIs that offer credit cards are Shore Bank Pacific and Albina Community Bank. Based in Ilwaco, Washington, ShoreBank Pacific shorebankpacific.com) uses 50 percent of the income from its Salmon Nation Visa Card to fund the environmental stewardship efforts in the area where wild salmon live. And one percent of every purchase made using the Scholastic Plastic Visa card issued by Oregon's Albina Community Bank (albinabank.com) goes to fund instrumental arts and athletic programs at Portland schools. To find more information about community investment banks, visit communityinvest.org.
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Text by Tracey Fernandez Rysavy