The Mexican Consulate General in the Carolinas announced the expansion to the region of "Direct to Mexico," a secure, affordable money-transfer service.

North Carolina joins 27 other U.S. states where the program is available. The service is offered by Mexico's U.S. consulates and the Institute for Mexicans Abroad.

"The program allows significant savings for migrants by offering low fees and a more favorable exchange rate, but the most important thing is that we can educate our compatriots about the essential and secure" aspects of money transfer, the consul general for the Carolinas, Carlos Flores Vizcarra, told Efe.

Jorge Jimenez, the head of international payments for the U.S. Federal Reserve, explained to Efe that the program arose as part of the bilateral Partnership for Prosperity, launched in 2001.

Mexico's central bank and the Fed agreed to study possibilities to interconnect their payment systems via an efficient mechanism to reduce costs for U.S. retirees living in Mexico.

Since February 2004, customers of U.S. financial institutions that are part of Direct to Mexico can send payments to any bank account in Mexico. The plan expanded last year to include Mexico's Telecomm-Telegrafos.

Attending the launching Tuesday of the program at the Mexican Consulate in Raleigh, North Carolina's capital, were representatives of financial institutions of both countries.

Luis Pastor, the head of the Latino Community Credit Union, an institution that offers the service at 10 of its branches in North Carolina, emphasized that Direct to Mexico is also more convenient for people without bank accounts in Mexico.

"They can receive their money in cash in an easy and secure manner via the Telecomm network. We're also seeking to broaden the (service) to more than 35 countries in the Americas and Europe through the GlobeNow program," Pastor said.

The consul general emphasized the importance of enabling Mexican expats to open accounts at credit unions like LCCU, because when they become members and partners of the institution they can receive financial education, fill out their tax forms and receive mortgage, personal and car loans more easily.

U.S. banks and credit unions affiliated with Direct to Mexico charge fees of $6 or less per transaction, compared with the traditional methods of sending money that exceed $15 and offer a less favorable exchange rate.

The service only takes one business day for the money to become available to the recipients in Mexico and they can access those funds at an ATM and make purchases with debit cards.

For now, the Direct to Mexico service in North Carolina is available at the branches of the Latino Community Credit Union and 13 other branches of the First National Bank and one branch of the State Employees Credit Union and Lion's Share Credit Union.