It’s fairly common knowledge that when you swipe your credit card at the store, the credit card provider charges the store a small processing fee. However, thanks to a recently settled lawsuit, those fees may be passed on to you and me.
Back in the year 2005, a handful of financial institutions brought up a lawsuit against Visa and MasterCard over these processing fees. These fees, which range from 1.5 to 3.5 percent of the transaction total, have always been charged to the retailer. In fact, it’s always been a part of the agreement between retailer and credit card provider: The retailer has to eat the cost of the processing fees, leaving the customer blissfully unaware. Unfortunately, these fees still hit us in the form of higher prices, meaning nobody wins–nobody but the credit card company, that is. Now that retailers are allowed to charge the processing fees to the consumer, we could see an additional 1.5 to 3.5 percent added on to our purchases. Surely every retailer in town is going to jump at the opportunity, right?
Actually, probably not. In fact, some of the larger retailers such as Walmart and Target have already taken a firm stance against charging credit card fees to their customers, and with several good reasons. For one, customers simply don’t like paying additional fees. When’s the last time you got irritated at a convenience store for charging a cash back fee? Stores that charge the processing fees will be required to notify the customer beforehand, allowing ample time to turn around and head to a different store.
And then there’s American Express. Because AmEx isn’t a part of this settlement, their old “retailer pays the fee” policy remains valid. That alone wouldn’t be an issue, but the settlement requires that the retailers remain completely fair. A store couldn’t eat the cost for Visa and require their customers to pay the MasterCard fee, because it would create an uneven playing field. Likewise, any store that charges its customer fees on Visa and MasterCard purchases is required to charge the same fees on American Express purchases, which they can’t do. This effectively means that stores have to choose: If they want to accept American Express cards, they’ll have to pay the processing fees for all three of the major credit card providers.
Given the difficulties involved in charging these fees to customers, along with the negative response and possible loss of business, don’t expect to see additional charges any time soon. In fact, 10 US states actually ban such fees: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma and Texas are already out of the equation. Several of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit have already objected, meaning the legal fight isn’t over yet. Regardless of the outcome, you probably won’t see much of a difference in your daily life. Personally, I’ll be carrying a debit card just in case.