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Costco, other retailers offering financial services like mortgages

File photo of a Costco membership card.

January 28, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
On your way to pick up groceries? Alongside eggs, milk and bread, you might be able to add a mortgage to your shopping list.

With today's consumer feeling more comfortable shopping for financial products outside of a traditional bank, an increasing amount of retailers are offering financial services.

Think of it as the next generation of one-stop shopping. Some retailers - including Costco, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and Home Depot - are going beyond the basic store credit card to offer exclusive deals on several financial services. That includes mortgages, home equity loans, home improvement loans, life insurance, home insurance and even auto insurance.

With nearly 10 million U.S. households without bank accounts and credit from conventional lenders tight, these retail services may offer a sense of comfort, said Tom Feltner of the Consumer Federation of America.

"Consumers are drawn to the simplicity of a transaction that in previous products there was much more of a barrier to entry," Feltner said.

At Sam's Club, the company's small business loan program is devoted to customers who do not qualify for traditional bank loans.

Catherine Corley of Sam's Club says that since 2010, "we've had over 1,000 members qualify. The average loan size is around $11,000, so that's putting over $11 million into the hands of small businesses that otherwise would not have had."

At Home Depot, personal project loans are offered up to $40,000.

"We have a lot of people that come in and want to do kitchen remodels, need a new roof, need a new bathroom," said Brandon Hayes of Home Depot. "The project loan allows them the opportunity to finance that project."

Wal-Mart is testing out pre-paid MetLife insurance cards.

No matter which store you choose, Feltner says there's something important to remember.

"They're targeting customers who are looking to complete transactions very quickly and at the point of sale, and I think in many ways that puts the onus on consumers to make sure that they're getting the best deal," he said.

Shop around, read all terms and conditions carefully and don't forget to compare things like premiums, interest rates, closing costs and general fees.