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Ethical Money - Credit Cards

Credit card loans are a big factor in soaring consume‍‍‍r debt in both the US and Britain (as well as many other countries!), and credit card companies have come under attack for irresponsible selling strategies. Sophisticated direct marketing enables companies to target vulnerable people who are more likely to be tempted by credit card loans. A survey by homeless charity Centrepoint revealed that almost a quarter of homeless youngsters had received letters from credit card companies, urging them to apply for loans. We recommend that you stay away from credit cards if you can! But if you find yourself wanting or in need of one, make sure you at least select a brand that is rated top for ethics. In the current economic context, the difference between the ethical choice and non-ethical choice is immense.

Look out for our new sector-specific Ethical Accreditation‍‍‍‍‍‍ certification marks which now cover over 15 different consumer product sectors. These are additional to our original Ethical Company mark that features on the packaging of over 100 million consumer products every year.

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Current UK personal debt totals are nearing £1.5 trillion with half a million people suffering from ‘crippling debts on their cre‍‍‍dit cards’ according to the National Consumer Council. These terrifying figures come after years of uncurbed consumerism built on an easy supply of credit.

In 2004, after three high-profile suicides by men who had racked up huge credit card debts, HBOS, Lloyds TSB and Capital One were accused by MPs of encouraging young people to get into debt they couldn’t handle. Capital One, in particular, was condemned for aggressive marketing and its failure to make clear the cost of repayment.

Many major banks and credit card companies bombard supposedly susceptible households with junk mail and offers of unbeatable deals. The Office of Fair Trading has said that misleading advertising by credit card companies included using introductory rates to lower their overall APR.

Ethical money – ‍‍‍Charity credit cards

Charity credit cards are a good example of ethical credit cards, which raise money for good causes without serious cost to the customer. Nowadays there are plenty on offer, most of which let the holder choose which charities they wish to support. Single charities issue the cards to raise money and to win publicity. Several banks co-operate closely with them, but not all.

The cards raise money for a charity when the card is first taken out or first used, and from then on a small percentage, for example 25p for every £100 used, goes straight to the charity.

Few affinity cards charge an annual fee, but it is worth checking on this before taking one. Some have low introductory rates of interest in the first few months, but in general the rates are close to the average available at any one time. However, this is irrelevant if the bill is paid off in full, as most affinity cardholders apparently do. As the donations depend on the money spent, not on the size of the outstanding balance, there is no loss to the charity if the card is cleared every month.

Many banks have been happy to co-operate not only with conventional charities but also with sports clubs, hobby groups and professional organisations, seeing it as a way to gain market share. In terms of ethics, it makes little difference whether the card is Visa or Mastercard. It is more appropriate to ask which bank the charity has teamed up with to issue its credit card – see our detailed Ethical Ranking table below for further details.

The PVC iss‍‍‍ue

‍‍‍The Co-operative Bank’s Greenpeace credit card, launched in 1998, was the first non- PVC card to enter the market. Although the bank made a c‍‍‍ommitment to convert all its cards to non-PVC plastic by 2000, there does not appear to have been any progress on the issue. No other UK card issuers seem to have followed their lead, despite the cumulative toxic effects of some of the chemicals involved in the manufacture and disposal of PVC.

Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the finding‍‍‍s behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.


We have created ethical money comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Charity Bank, Ecology BS, Triodos Bank, Britannia BS, Co-op Bank, Chelsea BS, Cheshire BS, Derbyshire BS, Nationwide BS, Yorkshire BS, Coventry BS, Newcastle BS, Norwich & Peterborough, Leeds BS, Skipton BS, AIB, Bank of Ireland / Bristol & West, Clydesdale / Yorkshire Bank, Halifax / Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Lloyds, TSB, Natwest, Northern Rock, Alliance & Leicester, Barclays / Woolwich, Santander, CITIBANK

Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning we earn commission if you click through and make a purchase. Placement and use of these links has no bearing in terms of the ethical scores that we give to a brand.  All commission earned by The Good Shopping Guide is re-invested into the research carried out by The Ethical Company Organisation.