he holidays are almost here. The lights are up, the tree is decorated, but are you financially prepared for the festivities?

If you didn't anticipate your expenses at the beginning of the year and haven't saved what you've already spent or intend to spend, you still can keep holiday expenses in check by using a low-cost credit union credit card to purchase remaining gifts.

Credit union credit cards are easier on the pocketbook than bank credit cards, according to the Credit Union Executive Journal's 1999 Credit Union Fees Survey Report and a bank credit card survey by the Consumer Federation of America in Washington, D.C., and Consumer Action of San Francisco.

Here's how much better a credit union credit card is:

  • Credit card rates at credit unions average three percentage points less than credit card rates at banks.
  • By the way, some bank card offers tout attractive low-interest "teaser" rates, but when you read the fine print you see that after six months or so the issuer may double the low introductory rate.

  • When credit unions charge a late fee, it averages at least $10 less than late fees at banks.
  • By the way, banks have increased late fees by more than two-thirds in the past three years.

  • Credit unions' over-the-limit fees average nearly $10 less than do banks'.
  • By the way, this fee reached a high of $29 at one bank.

  • Credit unions typically allow five more grace days than do banks.
  • By the way, some banks have shortened grace periods to as few as 20 days.

©1998 Credit Union National Association, Inc.