A while ago we reported on the growing number of

persons who were buying a car through their membership

retailers like Costco. But it’s not just vehicles that are being

offered at those discounters and warehouse stores. As the

New York Times pointed out in a recent article, shoppers

can now get everything from car loans to start-up money

for small businesses to home mortgages at those stores.

Part of the reason that the business

is available to retailers like Costco and

Walmart is that about 10 million U.S.

households do not use a bank at all and

another 24 million households have a

bank account but still use non-bank

financial services like pre-paid cards.

A few years ago, Walmart tried to

open its own bank, but was rebuffed by government

regulators. But pre-paid cards, like the ones Walmart offers

now, are only loosely regulated. That means that customers

who use that service typically pay more than they would to

a bank, but also might not be eligible for those services at a

regulated financial institution.

The Times says Costco began offering mortgages–

from small lenders–about two years ago. It makes little

money from the service, but the idea is to keep consumers

as members, paying membership fees– the retailer’s real

profit center. And Home Depot has become a kind of bank

itself, lending people the money for major renovations. As

in the case of other retailers, its fees are more than might

be charged by a bank, but its standards for lending are less