WASHINGTON (1/24/11)--Credit Union National Association (CUNA) President/CEO Bill Cheney advocated for both credit unions and consumers in a story on where to find low-cost checking carried by The Chicago Tribune and separately in a column on debit interchange published in the online news source Huffington Post. In his Huffington Post editorial, Cheney called the Federal Reserve’s proposed interchange changes “a huge new regulatory burden, whose true costs end up falling on the shoulders of millions of consumers.” The Fed’s interchange proposal, which would implement provisions enacted by the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform package, offers a dual framework for determining what the law calls "reasonable" interchange fees. One plan would provide issuers with a safe harbor of seven cents per transaction, and set a maximum interchange fee cap of 12 cents per transaction. An alternative framework would simply cap the maximum interchange fee at 12 cents per transaction. These safe harbors and/or caps would be reevaluated by the Fed every two years. While financial institutions holding under $10 billion in assets would be exempted from the interchange rules, CUNA has expressed concern to policy makers that exemption will not work in practice and has estimated that up to 67% of credit unions could lose money on their debit card programs if related revenues decrease by 40%. Cheney in his Huffington Post editorial noted that some recent media reports have mischaracterized credit unions and community banks as “big winners” in a recent regulatory battle over how much revenue financial institutions should derive from interchange. Emphasized Cheney: “No financial institution -- and more importantly, none of the millions of Americans who use their services -- is a winner here.” “The coming changes to the debit card interchange rules, esoteric though they may be, are going to have real and negative consequences that will unfortunately hit consumers directly in the pocketbook,” Cheney added. “Consumers can expect higher fees or diminished debit card services” as credit unions and other financial institutions attempt to adapt to the interchange rules. While retailers have claimed that the interchange changes would permit them to lower costs for consumers, Cheney said that those claims “are spurious at best.” One way that consumers can get ahead, as detailed in the Tribune story, is by joining a credit union. Cheney in that story emphasized that “We like to say, ‘anybody can join a credit union, just not the same one.’" The Tribune article points consumers to findacreditunion.com and credtiunion.coop to find a credit union they can join. While many banks are threatening new charges for customers with checking accounts, Cheney noted that 80% of credit unions currently offer free checking, with no minimum balances. The level of service and accessibility for both large and smaller credit unions is on par with the rest of the modern banking system, Cheney adds. For both articles, use the resource links.