Align Your Banking and Credit Card with Your Values

Are your credit cards aligned with your values?
an aerial view of a grand opening at Beneficial State Bank. People are gathered in small groups, chatting.
Beneficial State Bank is investing in environmental protection through its new location at the Port of Los Angeles. The bank's commercial loan hub, working out of a shipping container, will provide financing for nonprofits and busine

What is the largest part of your carbon footprint: Is it a) your car, b) your furnace, c) your stove, or d) your bank account?

If you bank with or use credit cards issued by one of the four biggest US banks—JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, or Bank of America—or other conventional banks, the answer is likely your bank account.

That’s because these four banks have plowed $1.37 trillion—that’s trillion with a T—into coal, oil, gas, fracking, pipelines, and other dirty fossil fuel projects since the Paris Agreement in 2015, as documented by the “Banking on Climate Chaos” report. This report—researched by seven climate-finance organizations—has been endorsed by more than 600 groups including Green America.

If you hold a balance of $1,000 at one of these banks, the resulting annual carbon emissions are equivalent to those generated by flying from New York to Seattle. If you hold $62,500 in one of the Big Four banks, your money is producing as much carbon as all the driving, heating, cooling, cooking, and flying the average American does in six months.

Want to stop your bank from using your deposits to fund climate-destroying projects that go against your values? Get a better bank and better credit card.

Finding a Better Bank

Green America’s “Get a Better Bank” map can help you find a bank that will not only minimize the carbon emissions associated with your account, but also actively use your money for good. The map’s more than 6,000 bank and credit union locations nationwide follow a social-justice mission to invest in low- to moderate-income people, serve communities of color, or finance sustainability projects, among other positive goals, rather than prioritizing lending to the fossil fuel industry or other polluting mega-corporations.

To appear on the Green America map, banks and credit unions must be confirmed to be at least one of the following:

  • Federally certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI)
  • Member of Inclusiv, a group of community development credit unions
  • Member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV)
  • FDIC-identified Minority Depository Institution
  • Certified by the Green America Green Business Network

Other organizations offer similar better-banking directories. For example, Bank for Good and Bank.Green list 30 to 50 banks and credit unions that have signed a fossil-free pledge, and Mighty Deposits uses federal reporting data to pinpoint the percentage of investments a bank or credit union is making in its local community.

By using a mix of these resources, while keeping in mind the services you need, you can find a bank or credit union that’s right for you, your community, and the planet.

Finding a Better Credit Card

Your credit card purchases also make a difference, and can do harm or good, depending on the activities of the underlying bank. To understand how, it is helpful to know how credit cards work.

Credit card issuers make money—which they may invest in projects you don’t support—in three ways:

  • The annual fee. Credit card annual fees can run $100 or more and may include perks like travel assistance. Not all credit cards have an annual fee.
  • Interest payments. If you carry a balance on your card, you know how exorbitant interest rates are. Credit card debt in the United States is a serious problem, totaling over $1 trillion at the end of 2023, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  • Transaction fees. Even if you have a card with no annual fee, and you pay your bill in full every month, your purchases will still earn the credit-card issuer the majority of each transaction fee. This fee—usually around 3%—is deducted from the payment to the merchant for each credit card charge.

Next, it’s important to understand the difference between the branding of a credit card and its issuer. The branding is the name on the front of the card. The issuer is usually on the back in small print. The issuer is the financial institution that receives your monthly payments.

Sometimes the branding and issuer of the card are the same—such as when a bank or credit union issues its own card. If your responsible bank or credit union issues its own card, then you can use that card knowing the fees you pay will help the institution invest for good.

If your responsible bank or credit union does not issue its own credit card, then you’ll need to look elsewhere—and the key is to find out which bank is issuing the card (it may be one of the Big Four). You may need to read the fine print in the application, research the card online, or call the phone numbers provided on the application to ask questions. For example, some banks and credit unions have issued credit cards through Elan Financial, which is owned by US Bank, an investor in the fossil fuel industry.

If you hold an American Express card, according to a Forbes article published in January 2024, American Express “does not appear to reflect the investment-heavy models of many banks.” American Express claims to have been carbon-neutral since 2018, and made a public commitment to net-zero operations globally by 2035. However, American Express cards often require a higher annual fee than cards issued by responsible, mission-focused banks.

Some more responsible credit-card issuers include:

  • Beneficial State Bank, a Green Business Network member, a B-Corp, CDFI, and fossil-free bank on the West Coast. Their Climate Card offers points that can be redeemed for merchandise, cash back, or charitable donations.
  • First National Bank of Omaha, a Green Business Network member and a family-owned independent bank dedicated to investing locally. Their Evergreen card offers 2% cash back.
  • Hope Federal Credit Union, a Green Business Network member and a community development bank that invests in under-resourced communities in the Deep South, offers a Platinum Rewards Visa card to members.

In addition, consumers often carry credit cards from other branded categories such as:

  • Store or airline cards, which are branded for a merchant where you may do a lot of shopping, or an airline you fly regularly. Many are issued through Synchrony Bank or Community Bank, which specialize in providing store cards and do not invest in fossil fuels. However, some popular store cards are issued through fossil banks. For example, Costco’s card is issued by Citibank, a major funder of fossil fuels. Green America has joined with allies to urge Costo to either pressure Citibank to stop financing fossil fuels or drop Citi as its issuer.
  • Affinity cards, which let you support your favorite nonprofit through purchases on your credit card—usually half a percent is donated. It’s critical to know the issuer of these cards. For example, the Green America card (see box at right), is issued through TCM Bank, which is the credit-card-issuing arm of Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA). Sadly, some other nonprofit cards are issued through big fossil banks, undermining the very good the nonprofit is trying to do in the world.

Using the information in this article, you can choose a credit card that puts your money to work for your community and the planet. The card does not have to be issued by the bank or credit union where your bank account is—any card issued by a responsible bank or credit union is a good choice.

Adelia Moore, a psychologist and author in upstate New York, chose the Climate Card from Beneficial State Bank. “I’d been casting about for some way to act on my fears for the planet,” Moore said. “It was a small step to get my ‘green’ card, but each time I use it, I am taking action for the climate—and that feels great!”

When you align your banking and credit cards with your values, and move away from the biggest fossil-fuel-investing banks, you’re aligning yourself with a global movement that has divested $40.6 trillion from fossil fuels, according to the Stand.Earth Divestment Database.

Your values-aligned banking makes an impact! When each of us shifts our accounts to support responsible finance, that momentum builds into something big. Together, our collective deposits become an engine for change to propel finance in service of people and planet.

From Green American Magazine Issue