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Tired of credit-card gotchas?

By Jen Haley, producer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Mired in debt from your plastic habit? Maybe you can't even qualify for a credit card. More and more folks are turning to alternative credit cards.

Credit union credit cards

In a recent op-ed two Harvard doctoral students talked about a study they conducted between investor-owned banks and customer-owned credit unions.

They found that credit cards from credit unions were less likely to charge fees and penalties that big banks do. And when fees are involved, those fees are less.

Credit union cards actually offer lower annual fees and longer grace periods than regular cards.

To join a credit union, you typically need to be a member of an organization. Ask your employer if there's a credit union you can sign up with. Perhaps your college alumni organization or community group belongs to a credit union.

To find a credit union near you, go to creditunion.coop. The Credit Union National Association can help you find a credit union by calling (800) 358-5710.

Prepaid credit cards

If you're having trouble qualifying for a credit card, you may consider opting for a prepaid credit card. Basically, you deposit money onto this card and use it until the money runs out. There are no bills and no interest charges.

There are some things to bear in mind. First, there are a number of fees associated with prepaid cards.

You'll pay a fee when you set the card, typically around $10, according to Ben Woolsey of Creditcards.com. You may also pay a monthly fee, transaction fees and fees when you reload your card with money.

In general, you won't be building your credit. And these prepaid cards aren't covered by the federal statutes that protect credit-card holders from fraud or limit their losses when cards are lost or stolen says Curtis Arnold of Cardratings.com. Some companies will offer some fraud protection however.

These cards may be a good option for younger people who are just getting introduced to the world of revolving credit. It's a safer alternative than secured credit cards.

Secured credit cards

This type of credit card is secured by a deposit held by the issuing bank. In general, you will have to deposit $500 to $1,000 to get one of these secured cards. But if you don't have good credit, or you're looking to improve your credit, secured credit cards can be helpful.

The downside is that you have a limited credit line and you do need that security deposit. But if you make payments regularly and on-time, this could help you graduate to an unsecured credit card.

Talkback: Are you considering using a credit union for some financial services? To top of page

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