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By Jim Donovan:  These days, shoppers can find more than big bags of Doritos and giant jars of peanut butter, at discount retailers such as BJ’s, Costco, and Walmart.   The July 2013 issue of ShopSmart magazine, from Consumer Reports, features an up-close look at financial services including credit cards and mortgages offered by these discount giants and reveals if they are worth the expense.

“Discount retailers are a good place to shop for financial products and services like mortgages and credit cards,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. “But they’re not always as good a deal as the other products in these stores.”

Services to Buy, Consider, or Skip

ShopSmart’s experts looked at seven unlikely goods and services available in BJs, Costco or Walmart.  Here’s their take on some of those services and whether or not they are a good deal for consumers:

1.      BUY Checks.  For the half of consumers who still use paper checks, Costco offers a great deal on them – about 4 cents per check compared to roughly 19 cents per check at Chase.  Walmart had the next best deal at 7 cents per check.

2.      CONSIDER Mortgages. When searching for a mortgage, compare lots of deals – even a difference of a fraction of a percentage point can help save a load of money over time. Check offers from national and local banks, credit unions, and mortgage brokers and consider Costco’s mortgages and refinancing services offered through First Choice Loan Services, a mortgage broker.  Ten lenders vie for a customer’s business, and lender fees are limited to $750 for Gold Star members and $600 for Executive members (other fees still apply).

3.      CONSIDER Auto and Home Insurance.  With deals between BJ’s and Liberty Mutual and Costco with Ameriprise, both BJ’s and Costco offer auto and home insurance coverage. In ShopSmart’s latest surveys, Liberty Mutual rated very well in its handling of both auto and home insurance claims (there was insufficient data to rate Ameriprise). Auto and home insurance markets are competitive, so it pays to shop around.

4.      SKIP Credit Cards. The rewards programs of the no-annual-fee credit cards from BJ’s, Costco, and Walmart offer are okay, but their annual interest rates are higher than expected.  According to Bankrate.com, the national average credit-card rate is about 16 percent.  The BJ’s Visa, issued by Barclays Bank, has variable interest rates from 14 to 25 percent depending on the cardholder’s credit rating, and Costco’s True Earnings card from American Express has a 15.24 percent variable rate.  Walmart has the worst deal – a Discover-branded card issued by GE Capital Retail Bank with a variable rate of 23 percent.

For more information visit:  www.shopsmartmag.com

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