Media Blitz: 'Goodbye Free Checking'

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LANSING, Mich. — It's time to get to the point and let consumers know the Durbin Amendment will take away free checking, according to a campaign with major financial backing from credit unions here.

With the July 21 interchange deadline looming despite recent Fed pronouncements (see story above), the Michigan CU League is being very direct with consumers, launching a $900,000 media blitz and website that warns them they will likely lose free checking as a result of the proposed interchange legislation. The campaign asks consumers to support bills in the U.S. House (HR 1081) and Senate (S 575) by sending letters to their state's lawmakers.

"For a campaign like this to work, there is no time to go into all the technical intricacies of debit interchange," MCUL CEO David Adams told Credit Union Journal. "We need something that will hit home. Consumers understand free checking and that more fees on services are a bad thing. We think the message resonates."

The campaign includes a four-week run of radio ads in Michigan. "This is our biggest priority and it requires a big financial commitment," noted Adams.

The league is also sending op-ed articles and letters to editors to newspapers statewide sharing the story of how the Durbin Amendment will impact consumers. The website, www.savemyfreechecking.com, encourages people to "Take action. Don't give up your hard-earned money." The site includes form letters that can be personalized and quickly e-mailed to elected officials to support the House and Senate bills.

The site also covers the basic issues surrounding the interchange debate, what consumers can do, studies and reports that show the potential affects of the Durbin Amendment, and FAQs. An "action center" for use by credit unions contains print materials, website banners, and website content—including a "Don't Change Interchange" video by CU acoustic group The Disclosures. Adams explained that the materials are not Michigan specific and are designed to be picked up at no cost by credit unions and leagues across the country. The radio ad can be used by CUs outside Michigan, as well.

"It is too soon to gauge results," said Adams. "But at our kickoff we had 150 people on the call and we are speaking regularly with credit unions across the country."

Adams said MCUL will run the website as long as the interchange rules are an "active issue. It depends on the legislative process. Obviously the next four weeks are critical. But the Fed could issue a reg and have the legislative process continue for several months before the July implementation date. So this could run for several months. If we need to spend more money for advertising, we will spend it."

Last week Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress the Fed will not be able to meet an April 21 deadline to complete a final interchange rule, as required by last year's Wall Street reform bill, because it still is sifting through more than 11,000 public comments on the controversial proposal. But the Fed still expects to meet a July 21 deadline for implementation of a final rule, Bernanke told lawmakers.

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