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US retailers get option to add credit card surcharge

30 January 2013  |  6217 views  |  6 Woman shopping with credit card

Shoppers in 40 US states could see a surcharge of up to four per cent added to their credit card purchases from this week.

The new checkout fees are part of a multi-billion dollar class action settlement between retailers and Visa and MasterCard over credit card interchange fees.

The deal gives merchants the option to pass on the fee they are charged to process credit card payments to the consumer. The typical charge will be between 1.5% and three per cent of the purchase, with a four per cent cap.

Retailers who decide to add the charge are required to provide "clear disclosure" or signs in the store entrance, at the point of sale, on their Web site if it is an online purchase and on receipts.

The fees do not apply to debit cards and have also been deemed illegal in 10 states, including California and New York.

Even in states where the fees are legal, merchants are understood to be cautious about implementing them. The National Retail Federation - which was not part of the legal settlement - told NBC News that "not a single merchant we have spoken to plans to surcharge".

Acting on behalf of the financial services industry, the Electronic Payments Coalition has set up a Web page devoted to the issue, which urges consumers to post messages on Twitter and Facebook decrying the move. A sample tweet helpfully provided by the EPC reads: WHAT?! Retailers can now charge a fee when we use credit cards! http://bit.ly/SorYVm #checkoutfees.

Comments: (6)

Alexander Peschkoff
Alexander Peschkoff - TEDIPAY - London | 30 January, 2013, 10:51 I wonder whether MCX "founding fathers" feel a bit awkward now...
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A Finextra member
A Finextra member | 30 January, 2013, 14:20

There are stores in my neighborhood that give a 5% discount if you use a debit card or pay cash.  In a sense, it's the same thing.  I charge everywhere else BUT there. If this becomes the norm, not even points will entice me to use the VISA.  Could be a big game changer if any of the large retailers adopt the surcharge.

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John Candido
John Candido - Black Cabs - Melbourne | 31 January, 2013, 05:51

Credit card surcharges are an abomination.  It used to be the case that under a legal
contract, all retailers were to absorb the cost of the surcharge in the cash
price.  There was also a clause stating
that the cash price must not be less than the credit card price.  All of these legal conditions were to the
convenience and advantage of all credit card holders.  The tables are completely reversed with
credit card holders picking up the tab of credit card surcharges.  This is outrageous! 

It cannot escape my notice that businesses are now twice
advantaged with the current arrangements. 
Credit card use is discouraged in favour of cash.  Cash is synonymous with tax avoidance and the
cost of accepting a card shifting from businesses to consumers.  How fair is this set of arrangements?  Hardly fair at all! 

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Jan-Olof Brunila
Jan-Olof Brunila - Swedbank - Stockholm | 31 January, 2013, 07:39

Dear John Candido

In a competitive market there should be retailers that do not want to surcharge to attract customers and they should post a sign on that! The innovative card acquirer could provide acceptance decals with the clear message "no surcharge applied" and even a smiley next to the card acceptance lable, to be posted by merchants that do not want to surcharge. This is what happened in Sweden some 15 years ago when the surcharging issue was a topic. The majority of merchants decided not to surcharge and posted such decals after price negotiations with their acquirers. Only a small number of die hard merchants that were looking for cash payments remained in surcharging until 2010, when parliament introduced a ban on surcharging in order to foster transfer from cash to electronic payments. Today people pay more than 75% of everything sold over the counter in Sweden with a Mastercard or a Visa card and the surcharge ban has not affected card acceptance adversely. Card payments have many positive elements over cash from the government (and society) point of view one of these is being tax control on merchant turnover in order to safeguard the important VAT revenues. Today our card holders pay at point of sale with MasterCard and Visa cards more than 200 times per annum on average for the population. The average 40 year old would pay more than 400 times. Obviously there needs to be a balance between merchant pricing and benefits provided and this is best achieved by a competitive market on both the demand and supply side.


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John Candido
John Candido - Black Cabs - Melbourne | 31 January, 2013, 08:35

Thank you for your reply Jan-Olof! 

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Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune | 01 February, 2013, 12:07

Having just been released from the shackles of the decades-old "no surcharge" rule, many merchants in the USA are likely to levy surcharge for credit card payments sooner or later. When that happens, I'll go back to cash, like @BridgetM. This is another reason why the movement from cash to noncash MOPs won't be a one-way street, as I'd predicted here.

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