Should you buy a mortgage at Costco?

Consumer Reports

Noticed anything unusual in your BJ’s, Costco, and Walmart aisles recently? Along with the big bags of Doritos and giant jars of peanut butter, you might spot offers for credit cards, insurance policies, and mortgages. Should you make room for them in your cart?

Our money experts checked out seven financial services offered by these discount retailers to see whether they’re worth it. Here’s what to buy, what you should consider, and what you can skip.

You suddenly realize that if you don’t pay your credit card, mortgage, or auto loan by tomorrow, you could get hit with a late fee of up to $50—and even your bank’s online bill-pay service won’t get it there in time. To avoid the penalty, you can use an expedited payment service for as much as $25 a pop. But Walmart charges only $1.50 for next-day payments and $4 to $12 for same-day payments to affiliated billers, so it may be worth it in a pinch. (Next time, use your bank’s free online bill-pay service to schedule payments at least a few days before their due date.)

Always compare lots of deals to get the best mortgage rate, because even a difference of a fraction of a percentage point can save you a load of money over time. Check out the offers of national and local banks, as well as credit unions, mortgage brokers, and search services such as Bankrate.com–and yes, Costco, too. Costco provides mortgages and refinancing deals through First Choice Loan Service, a mortgage broker. Ten lenders vie for your business, and lender fees are limited to $750 for Costco Gold Star members and $600 for Executive members (other fees still apply).

The rewards programs of the no-annual-fee credit cards offered by BJ’s, Costco, and Walmart are OK, but their annual interest rates are higher than what you might expect. The BJ’s Visa, issued by Barclays Bank, has variable interest rates recently ranging from 14 to 25 percent, depending on your credit rating. 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. Recently the national average credit-card rate was about 15 percent, according to Bankrate.com.

To find the best credit card for you, see our Credit card buying guide.

If you’re among the half of all consumers who still write paper checks, Costco offers a great deal on them: 500 for $11.34 for Executive members and $14.18 for Gold Star members, which, with trackable shipping, works out to about 4 cents per check. Checks ordered through Chase, for comparison, can run you $75.80 for 480 checks (plus trackable shipping), or 19 cents per check (Chase check prices vary by type of account). We compared Costco’s price with four other printers with low-price reputations, and the closest deal was at Walmart–7 cents per check ($17.88 for 450 checks plus $12 for trackable shipping).

Tired of the fees you pay on banking products? Here's one way to get a better deal.

Costco contracts with Ameriprise and BJ’s has a deal with Liberty Mutual to offer this coverage. Liberty Mutual rated very well in our latest surveys of how well carriers handled auto and home loss claims, but not as well as standout companies like Amica and USAA (We lacked sufficient data to rate Ameriprise for homeowners). Auto and home insurance are competitive markets, so it pays to shop around. Get quotes from an independent insurance agent or multicompany comparison websites like InsuranceQuotes.com and Insure.com.

For more ways to save, check out our Auto insurance buying guide and our Homeowners insurance buying guide (subscribers can also check out our Ratings of auto insurance and our Ratings of homeowners insurance.

Walmart, in partnership with American Express, offers something called Bluebird, “your checking and debit alternative.” It’s a prepaid card with online bill pay and mobile access. We generally don’t recommend prepaid cards because they often offer fewer consumer protections, and some have hidden fees. For example, if you want to load cash onto Bluebird and you’re not at a Walmart store where that’s free, you must buy a “Vanilla Reload Pack” from a third party, which will cost you about $4. If you want to use the card to make an in-store purchase, you might pay a transaction fee, which could run around $1. Multiply that amount by all the times you use your debit card at the checkout every month and it could really add up.

Learn the ins and outs of prepaid credit cards in our buying guide; we also found three prepaid cards worth considering.

OK, a Gucci handbag isn’t a financial service, but you could argue it’s an investment! We recently found 11 types of Gucci handbags at Costco selling for $250 to $400. That’s about 40 percent off regular retail prices. Costco is often a good place to score bargain prices on lots of, uh, investments, like luxury watches and diamonds.

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

View Comments