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Want to move away from the big banks? While big banks can have plenty to offer, they’re not for everyone. What are the alternatives though? While some people opt to bank with smaller banks, others prefer to do their banking with credit unions and building societies.
In fact, there are around 4.5 million Aussies who choose to bank with building societies and credit unions – like Community First. Having been around for more than fifty years, Community First now has more than 76,000 members. Offering everything from bank accounts and loans, to insurance and credit cards, Community First seems to have banking covered.
But is Community First right for you? Let’s take a look at what it means to bank with a member-owned financial provider – and what Community First has to offer in the way of credit cards. You never know, it might just be time to make that jump from the big banks, to something a little bit different.
What is a member-owned financial provider exactly? As the name suggests, this is a financial provider that is owned by its members – by the people who use its financial products. Many financial providers – like the big banks – are not member-owned. They are businesses, with shareholders to please.
As a mutual organisation, member-owned institutions are not required to make large profits to pay out dividends to shareholders. An institution such as Community First is simply run for the benefit of its members. That means it can often offer lower rates and fees on products such as credit cards and loans.
Member-owned institutions also pride themselves on offering superior service to their members – something many members feel they cannot get from bigger, faceless banks. But – and this is a big but – are member owned financial providers safe?
We all want our money to be safe. If we take out a mortgage, we want to be able to rely on our lender. If we take out a credit card, we want to know we can count on our provider. If we place our hard-earned savings in the safe-keeping of an institution, we need to be able to trust that institution.
Community First is an Authorised Deposit-taking Institution (ADI). That means it is regulated by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) under the Banking Act, and must meet the same high standards as banks. Just like people who use banks, Community First members are eligible for the Australian Government Deposit Guarantee.
In banking, strength is paramount – and that means having sufficient capital to act as a buffer in times of trouble. Community First has a strong capital position, currently standing at around 15.5%, compared to Australian banks sitting at around 10%.
Community First also has more than $54 million in reserves. That means, in the event of financial difficulty, Community First would still have around $54 million to distribute to its members after paying off all its debts.
Now that’s covered, it’s time to look at what Community First has to offer in the way of credit cards. Community First currently has two credit cards on the table – the Community First Low Rate Visa Card and the McGrath Pink Visa Credit Card. So, then, what do these cards have to offer?
Both the Community First Low Rate Visa Card and the McGrath Pink Visa Credit Card have a super low rate of interest. As we said, member-owned financial providers such as Credit Union can often offer much lower rates of interest on financial products such as credit cards. Why?
To answer that, we need to think about what a credit card actually is. Most people take for their credit card for granted. It’s there to pay for stuff, and we either pay it back straight away, or further down the track.
But, that credit card is providing a service. Credit card providers are providing us with a service by giving us access to credit. The cost of that service comes either in the form of interest (if we don’t pay off the balance before interest starts accruing), or in fees, such as annual fees.
Obviously, with profits and shareholder dividends on their minds, banks can often charge higher rates of interest and fees on their credit cards. After all, it’s a way of making money on a service they are providing, and bottom line, banks are businesses.
Community First is of course, a business. But it is run for members, that’s why it can offer lower rates on its credit cards. So now the question, why should you choose a low rate credit card?
A low rate credit card can suit many different types of credit cardholders. First up, there are those who simply want a simple credit card. Because low rate credit cards tend to be less profitable for credit card providers, they usually offer fewer features.
Other cards with higher interest rates and higher fees can be packed with features. From enticing introductory offers and rewards programs, to ‘complimentary’ insurances and personal concierge service, these cards can have loads of tempting extras.
While some low rate credit cards can offer features and extras, most are pretty simple. And that suits some cardholders. They either don’t want or don’t need those extras. They don’t want to have to pay more for them, or they don’t want to be complicated by them.
Other cardholders just want to save money by using a low rate credit card. Obviously, a balance left unpaid on a credit card with a purchase rate of 20% p.a. is going to attract much more interest than a low rate card with a purchase rate of 10% p.a.
Some cardholders have a revolving balance – one that is never paid off fully at the end of each month. Other cardholders simply have a large balance that they are trying to pay off. For them, the amount of interest they are paying on that balance is crucial.
By choosing a card with a low purchase rate, they can save a substantial amount in interest. This can help them to pay off more of their debt, while paying less in interest overall all.
In addition to being low rate cards, both the Community First Low Rate Visa Card and the McGrath Pink Visa Credit Card also charge low annual fees. Again, cards with low – or even no – annual fees attract a certain type of cardholder.
No or low annual fee cards tend to be no frills. The features on offer usually comes down to how much money the card provider is getting back from its cardholders. So, low annual fees generally means low features. For some cardholders, this is perfect. They don’t want loads of features they don’t need or would never use.
For other cardholders, it’s about saving money. Paying low or no annual fee allows them to free up some extra cash to be spent elsewhere. It’s that simple. This can also make these cards attractive to people who rarely use their credit cards. After all, anyone who keeps their credit card for emergencies only wouldn’t want to be spending heaps in annual fees.
Want to give back with your credit card? With a charity credit card, you can. As the name suggests, the McGrath Pink Visa Credit Card is set up to benefit the McGrath Foundation. Each year, each cardholder automatically donates half their annual fee to the Foundation. So, what does the McGrath Foundation do?
The McGrath Foundation is dedicated to helping those with breast cancer – and their families. The Foundation raises money to place McGrath Breast Care Nurses in communities across Australia – while also working to raise awareness in young people. So, if you’re looking to give to a good cause, this could be it.
Now we know more about the McGrath Foundation, let’s look at the card itself. The card is pretty straightforward. It has the same low purchase rate, cash advance rate and balance transfer rate. This not only helps you to save money, but it can also make the card easier to understand.
The card’s annual fee is low too, helping you save money – while also giving back to those who need it. You can also enjoy up to 55 days interest free on purchases, as long as you pay your balance in full for each statement period.
Just like cards from the big banks, this card offers easy access to your account using internet banking and their smartphone app. The card also offers the same levels of security you’d expect from a bank. This includes smart chip protection, Visa Zero Liability and Verified by Visa for online purchases. Credit limits range from $1000 to $15,000.
Now for the lowdown on the Community First Low Rate Visa Card. This card has pretty much that same set-up as the McGrath Pink Visa Credit Card. Except for the fact that it doesn’t offer an automatic donatation to the McGrath Foundation.
It has the same low purchase rate, cash advance rate and balance transfer rate. It has a low annual fee. It offers up to 55 days interest free on purchases, as long as you pay off your balance on the due date.
It provides the same easy access to your account, the same levels of security, and the same credit limits. However, one big difference it its colour. The Community First Low Rate Visa Card is black. Whereas, the McGrath Pink Visa Credit Card is of course, pink.
For some cardholders, it’s not all about the credit cards on offer. It’s about who is offering them. We’ve already looked in credit unions and member-owned financial institutions in general, but what about Community First in particular?
Community First says its mission is, “To help members achieve their financial goals by building relationships for mutual benefit”. How does it do this? Community First says it offers its members superior service, fairer fees, and competitive interest rates.
Yep, it must be doing something right. In terms of service, Community First says it continues to retain an overall member satisfaction level of 85%. Many of the banks, on the other hand, regularly receive satisfaction ratings from their customers in the range of 60-70%.
Community First also offers plenty of convenient ways to bank. As part of Australia's second largest ATM network, Community First allows members to transact direct charge-free at more than 3,500 rediATMs.
The organisation has 15 financial services stores across Sydney and the Central Coast. It has a dedicated call centre, and a range of convenient ways to bank, including mobile banking, internet banking and telephone banking.
According to a study by independent financial services research group, Canstar, members of Community First are better off than customers of the Big Four banks. The study showed that compared to the Big Four, Community First provided added value of $2.8 million to its members on a range of benchmarks based on rate, fees and transactions.
Community First also happens to be an award winner. Over the years, its home loans, personal loans and savings products have been recognised by many industry awards. These include awards from Money Magazine's Best of the Best, Your Mortgage Magazine and Financial Review Smart Investor Blue Ribbon Awards.
Sound like something you want to be part of? Check out Community First’s range of credit cards to find the one that works best for you. Perhaps it’s the Community First Low Rate Visa Card? Or maybe it’s the McGrath Pink Visa Credit Card? Take a closer look to find out if credit union banking is right for you.
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