9 Ethical Credit Cards for Sustainable & Socially Just Swiping
You may be keeping tabs on those rewards and annual fees, but have you considered ethical credit cards?
A good credit card—in all meanings of the word—can have far more perks (for far more people) than a low interest rate and killer air miles program.
With a new focus on ethical finance and impact investing, many are now considering the impact their borrowing habits are having on the world.
While credit cards may provide you with “green”, they often aren’t.
For starters, if you’re banking with one of the four big lenders, your monthly interest payments are contributing to the $210 billion pot that’s invested in fossil fuel companies.
Beyond the environmental cost, all major credit card companies have been involved in unethical practices like predatory lending, deceptive fees, intentionally complex financial jargon, and abusive targeting of low-income individuals.
And that’s just the beginning.
If you want to read the fine print on why your choice of credit card matters, jump to the bottom.
But before we dive into green credit cards and socially responsible credit cards, our ‘financial advice’ is this: only apply for a credit card if you can afford the repayments.
Disclaimer done; let’s talk about how each swipe can work for good.
*This post contains affiliate links
QUICK LINKS TO THE MOST ETHICAL CREDIT CARDS
Ethical Credit Cards in the USA
Ethical Credit Cards in the USA
About Aspiration’s Socially Responsible Credit Cards
With Aspiration’s green credit card, you’ll get “One card. Zero carbon footprint.”
For every purchase, they plant a tree. Use it daily and you will plant enough trees to reach personal carbon neutrality.
In other words, you can reduce your carbon footprint by simply shopping, whether that’s at your favorite zero waste online store or somewhere else.
And once you reach net zero emissions each month, you can opt to either receive 1% cashback for further purchases or the opportunity to plant more trees.
Even the card itself is made from 84% corn-based PLA bioplastic.
Qualification for this though is based on your creditworthiness, and the annual fee is $60.
Cash Management Account (CMA) Aspiration isn’t just one of the best green credit card companies.
They’re also one of the best socially responsible banks; but not a traditional bank.
They’re transparent, fair, and committed to a better future.
As members of 15 for the Planet, 10% of customers’ fees are donated to charities helping Americans in need. They’re a Certified B Corp, a Green America Certified Business, and a Project Drawdown partner.
2. GREEN AMERICA
About Green America’s Green Bank Credit Card
Partnering with TCM Bank, N.A—which is a subsidiary of the Independent Community Bankers of America—Green America now offers a socially responsible credit card.
For every purchase you make with it a portion of the proceeds goes toward Green America’s work to champion fair labor, green businesses, and clean energy.
This green Visa credit card offers reward points, competitive terms, and no black-out dates for travel. There’s no annual fee and a 0% introductory APR for 12 months.
About Green America
Green America is the organization behind Green America Certified businesses.
They’re harnessing economic power—business, consumers, investors—to create a sustainable and socially just society.
Their campaigns have for example been instrumental in Amazon’s commitment to 100% renewable energy use by 2025 and CVS to switch to recyclable, non-toxic receipt paper.
Available: Green America
3. BENEFICIAL STATE BANK
About Beneficial State Bank’s Socially Responsible Credit Cards
Beneficial State Bank offers three ethical credit cards to choose from.
With a credit limit of $300-$10,000, the Beneficial Builder is a good choice if you’re building, repairing or new to credit.
The Beneficial Resilience is a middle-of-the-line credit card with up to a $25,000 credit limit.
The Climate Card is their version of a green Visa credit card. It has up to a $50,000 credit line and provides rewards for everyday purchases that include support for climate-related nonprofits.
There’s no security deposit and no annual fee requirements for the Beneficial Resilience and Climate Cards. But with all three, once you get your credit approval, you’ll get a 25-day grace period.
Look out for their business credit cards which are rolling out now.
About Beneficial State Bank
Being CDFI-certified, a Certified B Corp, a member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, and located in the world’s most sustainable commercial building, Beneficial State Bank is putting their money where their mouth is.
They’re committed to reaching under-served people and their lending supports environmental, affordable housing, and social justice projects—no private prisons, fossil fuels, or payday lenders.
Available: Beneficial State Bank
About OneUnited’s Credit Cards that are Socially Responsible
The OneUnited credit card is socially responsible in the sense that it aims to help people take control of and understand their finances; not take advantage of financial illiteracy.
With the UNITY Visa Secured Card, reporting goes to three major credit bureaus, the How to Rebuild Credit Program, and more.
In other words, it’s a good choice if you want to rebuild or strengthen your credit.
Their APRs are far lower than other secured credit cards, and OneUnited’s Financial Education Center also offers courses in understanding credit cards, credit scores and reporting.
As the largest Black-owned bank and certified CDFI, OneUnited’s socially responsible credit cards with low interest rates supports #BlackMoneyMatters.
They exist to improve financial literacy and, in turn, help to close the racial wealth gap through workshops and events in urban communities.
5. SUNRISE BANKS
About Sunrise Banks’ Green Credit Cards
Sunrise Banks may just have the most flexibility with multiple personal and business credit cards.
You can choose between credit cards that are better suited for rewards, cashback on chosen categories, or improving a credit score.
Some come with a 0% APR over 20 billing cycles, while others are designed to support college students in building a strong financial future.
Ultimately, you can pick the pricing and programs that work best for you.
About Sunrise Banks
As a member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, a certified CDFI, and a Certified B Corp, Sunrise Banks is helping to create a more ethical financial industry.
They provide finance for distressed communities, 40 hours of paid volunteer time for employees, and donate 2% of their net income through sponsorships and donations.
They also partner with MoCaFi to offer banking and debit cards specifically designed to close the wealth gap for Black, Latino, and other communities disconnected from the mainstream economy.
Through their services, you can also use free Rent Bill Pay Reporting to improve your credit score.
Available: Sunrise Banks
6. AMALGAMATED BANK
About Amalgamated Bank’s Sustainable Credit Cards
Amalgamated Bank partners with First National Bank of Omaha to offer customers two different credit cards.
The Secured Mastercard with its low annual fee is designed for establishing or improving your credit score.
While the Maximum Rewards World Mastercard has no annual fee and prioritizes rewards and cashback on every purchase.
About Amalgamated Bank
Amalgamated Bank operates on 100% renewable energy and employs a diverse team of 60% women and/or people of color.
For almost a century, they’ve been supporting movements like affordable housing, equal access to banking, LBGTQI rights, workers’ rights, criminal justice, reproductive rights, and gun safety.
The Certified B Corp works side by side with unions, supports progressive political organizations and candidates, and provides funding to environmental organizations like Friends of the Earth.
Available: Amalgamated Bank
Sweden’s Doconomy is committed to using financial tools to educate and drive positive social and environmental change.
Alliances with Ålandsbanken, the UNFCCC, and Mastercard help them rewire the financial system and promote an ethical perspective on the banking industry.
You can get involved with the DO card, which tracks your CO2 emissions and impact.
8. The Co-Operative Bank
Provider of ethical credit cards in the UK, The Co-Operative Bank is a values-based bank who donates to thousands of organizations, and is beyond carbon neutral.
They have a few credit card options to choose from, including one for Co-Operative members, which gives cashback for purchases at co-op food stores and more.
9. Bank Australia
As a customer-owned bank, Bank Australia doesn’t have to answer to shareholders. It avoids supporting unethical fossil fuel, arms, and live animal export industries.
The Climate Active member and Certified B Corp also operates on 100% renewables and donates 4% of after-tax profits to social and environmental causes.
Their credit card range offers entry-level low rate cards, flexible 55-day interest-free green Visa credit cards, and platinum rewards cards with Qantas points on purchases and complimentary travel insurance.
WHY CHOOSE SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE CREDIT CARDS?
Your credit card looks like a simple piece of plastic, but in reality it’s much more than that.
Oftentimes the negative implications of unethical credit card practices fly under the radar.
There’s no shortage of reasons why you should put some serious thought into the next resident of your sustainable wallet.
The problem with traditional credit cards
To a large extent, the financial returns from mega-bank credit cards (think Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America) end up supporting fossil fuel companies.
But they’re not just bad for the environment.
Many have been associated with predatory lending; aggressive sales tactics and abusive terms financially harm those who are already disenfranchised. Between that and hidden charges and fees, each swipe digs that hole a little deeper.
As for credit card success stories—people who get free trips or groceries because they’ve gamed the credit cards reward system—they’re often just a pie in the sky.
Credit card rewards and cashback have to come from somewhere. In most cases, it’s vulnerable folks (like those without the income or credit history) who are taken advantage of by the same financial institutions.
Essentially, retailers raise prices to offset the interchange fees they have to pay on credit card purchases.
Those who pay with cash or a debit card end up paying a premium. Which effectively pays the credit card fee so that eligible premium credit card holders can get their sweet rewards.
While ethical credit cards obviously don’t—and can’t—solve for all the ethical implications of credit cards, they do take steps to boost one’s credit card conscience in other ways.
HOW TO FIND THE BEST ETHICAL CREDIT CARDS
Ethical credit card companies separate themselves from the conventional ones through fair and transparent terms and conditions.
They help you build credit responsibly—and learn about why it’s important in the first place.
To find the most ethical credit cards, keep your eye out for the following:
When shopping for the best socially responsible credit cards, how do you know ethical credit cards are in fact ethical?
This is where certifications come in.
- B Corp Banks who are certified by B Corp must ensure rigorous social and environmental criteria are met.
- Community Development Financial Institution Certified: A designation used for organizations that provide financial services to economically distressed communities and those who lack access to financing.
- Global Alliance for Banking on Values Membership: A network of independent banks working to use finance to support sustainable economic, social, and environmental development.
There is no one-size-fits-all credit card.
Some may have the best no fee socially responsible credit cards while others might offer the best cash back ethical credit cards.
Being realistic with your money and opting for credit cards that can help you grow economically is critical to your financial health.
For this reason, many of these socially responsible credit card companies offer credit cards specifically designed for those building, rebuilding, or improving their credit.
Banking and credit card jargon can be technical and difficult to understand. Breaking down the language barrier is a major step in the right direction.
The more a financial organization is able to share about credit card details, accountability, responsibility, and ethical contributions (tree planting, carbon offsets, community donations, etc.), the better.
Fees should be fair and interest rates should be clearly stated.
Inclusivity and Accessibility:
There are people that have been left out of the world of credit, and on the other end of the spectrum, there are people who have been taken advantage of.
Financial institutions that do their part to ensure their credit card services are accessible to all are as important as those that protect customers by promoting responsible credit streams.
In this case, ethical credit card companies don’t target vulnerable customers or those with poor credit histories. They may also entail security deposits, lower credit lines, and flexible repayment options.
Another alternative for those looking for the best eco friendly credit cards can be found in affinity cards.
These support nonprofits through credit card purchases (much like the Green America credit card). In most cases, about half a penny is donated for every dollar spent.
However, many affinity cards are connected with a Big Bank and may have higher APR fees, so it’s good to do your research before applying.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON ETHICAL CREDIT CARDS
Your credit card choice has an unseen impact on the world.
If you’re thinking of applying for one, consider a sustainable credit card. They offer many of the same incentives as conventional credit cards, but without all the drawbacks.
Ethical credit cards (much like using ethical investing apps or choosing a socially responsible investment firm) aren’t a cure-all for controversial practices in the financial industry, but they are a step in the right direction.
Using your hard-earned dollars to vote for the kind of world you want to live in is one of the most powerful tools of change. And one we can all cast mindfully.