If you've been looking for ways to make your financial life cleaner and greener, one simple thing you can do is switch to using green credit cards and debit cards to make your purchases. Credit cards that support the environment are issued by financial institutions that show some type of commitment to fight climate change and protect the environment.
What is a green credit card?
There are several ways that climate-conscious banks provide eco-friendly credit cards that differ from traditional credit cards. Some banks buy carbon offsets in projects such as tree planting or renewable energy projects to offset the carbon emissions associated with your purchase. Or they may offer cash back through a green rewards charge card when you make eligible purchases from sustainable businesses. Other banks offer green affiliate cards that donate a percentage of your monthly bill to environmental nonprofits. Finally, though less impactful, some banks issue eco-friendly cards made of recycled plastic. (1)
At first thought, it may seem inconsequential to lower your carbon footprint simply by using a socially responsible credit card. However, the power of your purchasing method becomes more obvious when you factor in that there are approximately 549,870,000 credit cards in the U.S., with a total credit card debt of $887 billion(2) and 108 million credit cards transactions being made every day(3). All of those purchases add up to making a difference when even a small amount goes toward supporting the environment.
How green is your bank?
Another factor to consider when greening your financial relationships is to understand where your bank invests its holdings - in climate-conscious companies or in fossil fuel-related corporations. Over the past six years, fully 25% of fossil-fuel financing has been done by four big banks: J.P Morgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America. (1) If you are banking with one of these institutions, it may be time to consider breaking up with your bank. Our article on Best Green Banks digs into this topic more deeply.
One thing to note as a cautious conscious consumer, as major banks jump on the bandwagon and start to offer sustainable alternatives, it is important to verify that their practices truly are green, or whether they are continuing to invest in the fossil fuel industry while engaging in greenwashing.
The good news is that several neobanks (solely digital banks) and other financial organizations are refusing to fund fossil fuel projects and are offering innovative alternative banking services and eco-friendly credit cards. In fact, many of these organizations use their deposits only to invest in sustainable companies and initiatives.
Once you realize how your bank and credit card purchases can either hurt or help climate change, it begins to feel more imperative to make an informed and conscious choice of where to bank and which environmentally responsible credit cards you'd feel proud to use.
Best green credit cards
To help you choose an eco friendly credit card that's right for you, we have compiled a comprehensive list of green credit card services to help you make an informed decision:
1. Aspiration Zero Credit Card
The Aspiration Zero credit card is offered by the online bank Aspiration, which is based in Marina del Rey, California. Aspiration allows its customers to use their rewards to plant more trees or receive a statement credit. In fact, every time a customer swipes an Aspiration Zero credit card, a tree is planted by the company, with an option to plant an additional tree. Aspiration does not use deposits to fund oil or coal projects. The card, which charges a $60 annual fee, offers purchase annual percentage rate (APR) of 13.9%-23.7%. The card, made mostly from corn, also tracks your progress towards being carbon-neutral every month and offers a bonus of $300 when you spend $3,000.
Aspiration is a certified B-Corp, or benefit corporation, a distinction that is granted to socially conscious companies. An important aspect of companies certified as B Corps is that they demonstrate high social and environmental performance.
In terms of where Aspiration invests its customers' holdings, while they don't invest exclusively in clean energy companies, they do follow an ESG (environmental, social, and governance) strategy, investing in companies that "do better when it comes to environmental, social, and governance metrics".
2. Green America Visa Credit Card
Green America is a nonprofit organization that promotes environmentally aware, ethical consumerism. The Green America Rewards Platinum Visa credit card is issued by TCM Bank. A portion of every purchase on this card goes towards Green America's work to advance clean energy, build fair trading systems, get GMOs out of the food supply, support green businesses, and other such initiatives.
The Green America Visa card offers no annual fee and 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months. After that, it applies a variable APR of 12.99%-22.99%, based on your creditworthiness. In terms of rewards, it offers one point per dollar, with no cap on how many points you can earn. The points never expire and they can be redeemed for merchandise and travel rewards.
3. Amalgamated Bank Credit Cards
New York-based Amalgamated Bank is a certified B Corp, and a net zero organization, powered by 100% renewable energy. It has pledged to not lend to fossil fuel companies and 35% of its loan portfolio goes to climate solutions.
Amalgamated Bank offers two credit cards, which are issued by First Bankcard® (First National Bank of Omaha.
The Maximum Rewards World Mastercard offers unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase and a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 billing cycles. A variable APR of 19.24%-25.24% is applied post that, based on your creditworthiness. The card also offers a $30 bonus, equivalent to 3,000 points, when you spend $600 within the first 3 billing cycles.
The Secured Mastercard comes with a $35 annual fee and allows you to request your own credit limit by providing a single deposit between $300-$5,000 upon applying. You can increase your credit limit as well as get your deposit back in less than a year subject to maintaining a good payment history. The bank charges an APR of 27.24% on purchases and balance transfers. Amalgamated Bank also charges a transfer fee of 5% or a minimum of $10 on each balance transfer on both cards.
4. International Living Future Institute Credit Card
The International Living Future Institute is an environmental NGO committed to catalyzing the transformation toward socially just and ecologically restorative communities. Their work focuses on green building, affordable housing, and regenerative design. A portion of every purchase made on the International Living Future Institute Affinity Visa Platinum Credit Card goes towards its mission to offer green building and green infrastructure solutions.
The card is offered in partnership with Beneficial State Bank. It offers no annual fee and a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months. After that, it charges a variable APR of 12.99%-22.99%, based on an individual's creditworthiness.
It also allows customers to earn a point per dollar on net purchases. The points don't expire and there is no cap on how many points a consumer can earn. These points can be redeemed for merchandise and travel rewards. This card is also issued in collaboration with TCM Bank
5. Verity Signature Rewards Visa
Not-for-profit financial institution Verity Credit Union aims to dedicate a higher percentage of its loans (40% by 2023) to areas of social empowerment, environmental sustainability, and economic resiliency. It also uses about 87% of its members' deposits to invest in the local economy and individuals through loans, for purposes like buying a home, starting a small business, buying an eco-friendly car, etc.
The Verity Signature Rewards Visa offers a 0% APR introductory rate and a 0% APR balance transfer, with a 3% fee, for a year. It allows you to earn 1.5 points on every dollar spent, which can be redeemed for cashback, travel, and other perks in the Signature Rewards program. The credit limits for the card start at $5,000.
6. Beneficial State Bank Climate Card
A certified B Corp, Beneficial State Bank is committed to no investments in fossil fuels, weapons, private prisons, and no predatory lending. Beneficial State Bank is also a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and Fossil-Free Certified bank.
CDFIs are community banks or organizations like credit unions, loan funds, microloan funds, or venture capital providers that are committed to creating economic opportunities for low and middle-income communities by making financial services more accessible.
Beneficial State Bank's Climate Card allows users to earn one point for every dollar spent; the points can be redeemed for merchandise, cashback, airline tickets, and charitable donations to nonprofit organizations. The standard variable APR for purchases on the card is 14.65%-26.25%, based on your creditworthiness.
Best green debit cards
Here are two green debit cards that support the environment:
1. FutureCard Visa Debit Card
The FutureCard, issued by Future Inc., which is building a payments and rewards ecosystem for a low-carbon economy, offers 6% cash back for climate-smart spending and 1% for other purchases every time you use the card. The debit card is designed for everyone, regardless of their credit score or their paycheck. No credit check is required. The Silver Spring, Maryland-based Future Inc defines climate-smart spending as purchases that have a lower carbon footprint compared to a common alternative, like charging an electric car or using public transport. To use the debit card, users connect it to a bank account or cash app like Venmo.
2. Atmos Financial Debit Card
Atmos Financial is a fossil-free-certified online banking platform, which is a part of 1% for the Planet, a network of individuals and businesses that fund diverse environmental organizations. Atmos says it uses 100% of the money people deposit to fund technologies and infrastructure that combat the global climate crisis, like renewable energy, energy efficiency overhauls, electric transportation, green construction, and regenerative agriculture.
Its debit card offers account holders 5% cash-back on sustainable brands and products, no monthly service fees or minimum balances, and ATM withdrawals at more than 55,000 ATMs worldwide. As of September 2022, Atmos was a certified B Corporation.
For people wanting to find a credit card with good benefits, the challenge sometimes is that the best credit cards in the business are offered by big banks that invest heavily in fossil fuels. But there are good green options, as listed above, available in the market that can help you be a more responsible consumer.
Moving to green banking or eco-friendly credit cards is definitely the way to go. However, if you aren't able to do it immediately, you can still contribute by directing the rewards you earn on your card or the cash back you receive to organizations working for the environment.
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