Archive for October, 2009

Caveat Emptor: beware trade-in fraud

Imagine trading in your vehicle, driving away in your new vehicle, only to find out the dealership hasn’t paid off your trade-in. And you’re stuck with the bill.

That’s what happened with several couples, the Detroit Free Press reports. It happened when Walt Michael’s RV Superstore failed to pay off a couple’s trade-in RV. When the dealership went under, the couple was stuck with the RV payoff amount. Even though the trade-in RV was sold by Michael’s, the Free Press reports.

The Free Press recommends paying off your trade-in vehicle before turning it over to the dealership, or making sure the dealership agreement includes a promise-to-pay provision that says the dealer is 100% responsible for the trade-in amount. Also, ask around to see how the dealership does businesses. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see what others have to say, or to check for problems in the past.

As always, caveat emptor: buyer beware.

Help us fight for Interchange

Your debit or credit card transaction goes something like this: You buy something at a retailer, either online or in your hometown, and you go to pay with your card. Your payment gets split, with a tiny percentage going to Visa or MasterCard, and the rest going to the merchant.

But now Congress is looking to change the whole system in a way that hurts American 1 and other financial institutions.

Merchants pay a fee for the privilege of using Visa/MasterCards payment infrastructure. That’s called interchange. Visa and MasterCard pay card providers, like American 1, a bit of that interchange for being a part of their system.

Everyone wins. The merchant gets an ease-of-use system for payments, Visa gets some income from the merchant, and we, as a credit union, get a fraction of that income for providing the debit or credit cards. Interchange is great because it helps credit unions of all sizes to issue debit and credit cards. We see interchange as a merchant’s fair share of the costs of this convenient system.

But it’s more than just convenience. Merchants, the ones taking the Visa or MasterCard payment, pay a small fraction for this service and reap most of the benefits, all while assuming none of the risk. American 1 has to cover the costs for fraud, card errors, and serving debit and credit card accounts. All the while, merchants benefit from the increased purchasing power such card systems provide. When you have a Visa account, for example, it’s easier to pay for more and bigger stuff. The merchant gets all that income, and only has to pay a small, single-digit percentage back to card issuers to maintain the system.

If credit unions like American 1 didn’t provide debit and credit cards to our members, imagine what would happen to local businesses. Or online retailers. Now think about all the other credit unions and banks across the nation. We all have to provide debit and credit cards, and providing that system costs money. The only way we can pay for this convenient system is to charge a fair interchange fee.

Now, Congress is looking to change the interchange fee structure, which means American 1 and other card providers could get less income for providing debit and credit cards. If this happens, our debit and credit card system could cost you, the member, more.

If interchange were reduced and could no longer adequately support American 1’s card system, you, as members, may end up paying more to use your debit and credit cards, or we may no longer be able to offer cards at all. Members of Congress should oppose merchants’ proposals to reduce interchange.

So we’re fighting back with a petition. You can stop in to our Home Office or Argyle Branch locations this week to sign the petition telling Michigan’s senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, that we don’t want them messing with interchange income. Use those links to e-mail your senator, and your local Congressional representative, and tell them we don’t want any reduction in interchange income.

Big banks get desperate on credit cards

So that big Credit CARD Act that’s due to hit financial institutions next year? Big banks are scrambling to set up more fees and more interest rate hikes to get your money before the act goes into affect.

Bank of America is testing an annual fee on 1% of their cardholders (that’s 800,000 people, all together).

“We’re testing this to see what the feedback is,” said Bank of America spokesperson Betty Reiss. “In terms of any plans going forward, we haven’t made any decisions yet.”

Here’s a clue, Betty: feedback is going to be negative.

Lucky for them, BoA has chosen not to raise their card rates, but an annual fee means if you’re holding a Bank of America card, you could be paying more.

Meanwhile, Wells Fargo is going to raise rates on its card-holding customers, says the South Florida Business Journal, by up to 3%. The new ouch-worthy rate will affect “most” of Wells Fargo’s credit card customers, whatever that means. “Most” usually means “more than half,” so it’s going to hurt a lot of people.

Progress continues at North St.

North St. - materials

Construction is continuing at our new North St. Branch, and we have new photos to share.

O’Harrow Construction now has the base of the building set up, and is working on pouring concrete, setting the roof, and defining walls at the branch location.

For up-to-date photos on our North St. progress, visit our Flickr photo gallery.

Payment-free auto loan winners

Payment-free auto loan - Carl and Pamela

A hearty congratulations to Carl and Pamela Barkema of Onondaga. American 1 is paying off their $8,800 Ford F250 loan thanks to our big payment-free auto loan promotion in September.

The Barkemas have been members since 1989, and remember getting their first loan with American 1 – a four-wheeler to take up north.

In September, the Barkemas used their truck to finance an outdoor wood stove to heat their home. They were deciding between a signature loan or a secured loan using their vehicle. Carl and Pamela made the right decision, because American 1 is paying off their loan completely.

When we called and talked to Carl, he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He only remembered vaguely what the promotion involved.

“I thought maybe it was to pay off all the interest,” Carl said. “It surprised me to hear that the whole thing was being paid off.”

“It’s like having an extra $180 a month for the next five years,” Pamela said.

The Barkemas are using their new-found money to purchase a hi-def TV.

We held a little celebration for them at the Home Office Tuesday morning. Check out pictures on our Flickr photo gallery, and congratulate the Barkemas if you see them around.

Poll: What’s the best way to get information?

We’re wondering what method you use to get information about American 1, or what is the best way to get that information to you. Answering either is fine – we just wonder what our members are looking for.

If you have any further thoughts, leave them in the comments below. Thanks!

Fall Women’s Expo jewelry winners

Fall Women's Expo - at Gold Crown Jewelers

Congratulations to the three lucky women who won Gold Crown Jewelers’ jewelry giveaway at our Fall Women’s Expo.

Fall Women's Expo - Amanda Nastally, 1st prize

Amanda Nastally, above, was our first prize winner. She opted for Gold Crown Jewelers’ heart pendant necklace.

The 2009 fall expo was Amanda’s first. She was surprised at the variety of vendors and seeing all that was there.

“I liked it,” she said. “I’ll definitely come back.”

Fall Women's Expo - Andrea Wint, 2nd prize

Andrea Wint was our second prize winner. Andrea picked the sterling silver ring with marcasite and amethyst.

She’s been to two women’s expos – March’s spring expo was her first.

“Now I’m hooked,” Andrea said. “It’s awesome.”

Fall Women's Expo - Justina Kukulka, 3rd prize

Justina Kukulka was our third prize winner. Justine earned the 14K gold two-tone earings.

Like Amanda, this fall’s event was Justina’s first women’s expo, and she enjoyed the hands-on activities.

Congratulations to all the women. For more photos from this fall’s event, head to our Flickr photo gallery. Look for more opportunities to win prizes at our Spring Women’s Expo, coming Saturday, March 13, 2010.

Storage units bad, saving money good


Do you keep things in a storage unit? If so, it could end up costing you thousands of dollars that could be better spent somewhere else.

That’s the lesson behind Wise Bread’s storage unit post.

The conclusion? Storage units are a money, time, and effort sink.

Not only do they cost money to store things you’re probably not using anyway, they also affect the world around you:

Bigger houses are harder to fill up, which may explain why Americans buy twice the number of consumer goods than the citizens of any other first world nation. (Okay, so we’re a geographically huge country, but if we’ve got such big homes, why do we need an additional billion square feet of storage space?) The environmental cost of creating, transporting and finally housing two billion square feet of unused possessions is mindboggling.

If you’re backpacking across Europe for a year, or a member of the armed forces, storage units can make sense.

If, however, you’re using a storage unit to stash away possessions because you don’t have room for them, you might have a problem.

Ask yourself: if your photo albums or boxes of momentos are important to you, why are they out of sight, out of mind?

How to sign up for MasterCard’s Secure Code

Maybe you’ve been ready to purchase something online with your American 1 MasterCard debit card, but you get prompted by something called SecureCode.

MasterCard’s SecureCode is a security system to prevent online fraud and theft. It protects others from using your American 1 debit card, keeping your money safe.

There’s just a bit of set-up required. First, you have to make your way to American 1’s own SecureCode site, where you can begin the registration process.


When you click on American 1’s link, the first thing you’ll see is a “Register Now” button. Click that to begin the process.


Be sure to read through the agreement and click “I Agree” underneath.


On the next screen, you’ll enter your American 1 debit card number.


Then, SecureCode will ask for the rest of your information, including your card’s expiration date, the last four digits of your Social Security number, and your birthdate. This is to confirm that it’s actually you signing up with the SecureCode system.

Finally, you’ll pick your Secure Code – a 8-15 character password made up of both numbers and letters. Use something that you’ll remember, but is hard for others to guess, and the more numbers and letters you use, the better. If you forget your Secure Code, you’ll have to pick a new one.

Now, when you’re prompted to enter your SecureCode at online retailers, you’ll be set up with MasterCard’s security system.

Fall Women’s Expo pics posted

Fall Women's Expo - Enter to win

See what all the Fall Women’s Expo fuss was about at our Flickr photo gallery.

Thanks to everyone who came out to the best Women’s Expo yet. Look for our Spring Women’s Expo, coming March 13, 2010.

American 1 Federal Credit Union