WASHINGTON (3/16/11)--Credit unions are distinguished from all other interested parties in the ongoing interchange debate by having “the one demonstrated history of passing savings to consumers as part of a business model,” the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) said Tuesday in a letter to a key lawmaker. “What distinguishes credit unions from other financial firms and merchants in this debate is our concern for the impact on the consumer,” CUNA President/CEO Bill Cheney penned. “Last year alone, consumers benefited to the tune of $10 billion from better rates and lower fees by using credit unions rather than banks.” “Credit unions are different: the member-owned, not-for-profit structure is central to how they conduct business. At the end of the day, credit union members benefit when the credit union does well, and that benefit is reduced when the credit union is challenged,” Cheney added. The letter was addressed to the architect of the interchange language that was adopted as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, Sen. Richard Durbin. It was prompted when Illinois Democrat chided credit unions for their alliance with banks and other financial services providers in the interchange fight. CUNA has urged the U.S. Congress to “stop, study and start over” before the Federal Reserve Board implements its plan to set a seven to 12 cent cap on debit card interchange fees. CUNA is concerned that statutory language meant to exempt all but the three largest credit unions from the rule will fail to protect small issuers from the impact of the rule and will drive up costs to credit unions members and other consumers. As the Fed’s April implementation deadline draws closer, real concern about its potential negative impact is being expressed not only by credit unions and banks, Cheney noted, but by key regulatory officials, consumer groups and “other noteworthy commentators concerned about the impact on smaller financial institutions, consumers or both.” Cheney pledged to keep up the fight against the interchange plan on behalf of credit unions and consumers, and sought Durbin’s support for the growing effort to encourage the Fed to enforce the small issuer exemption, or to seek a legislative remedy in the likely event that the Fed concludes it does not have the authority to enforce the exemption.