Extra credit card fees may not be as widespread as anticipated

Published: Monday, Feb. 4 2013 10:41 a.m. MST

In this Dec. 12 photo, Lana Nguyen, right, holds up a shirt while helping friend Chris Ghiathi, left, shop in an H&M store in Atlanta. Thanks to a recent settlement, using credit cards could cost consumers an extra 4 percent, but one consumer group says it's unlikely merchants will pass on those costs to shoppers.

David Goldman, Associated Press

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A fee of up to 4 percent for using a credit card that businesses could charge consumers starting Jan. 27 likely won't be applied by most merchants, according to Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director of U.S. PIRG, in an article.

“We doubt many merchants will impose extra surcharge fees on their credit card customers because they don’t want to upset their customers and lose sales,” Mierzwinski said in his blog post. “The threat of surcharging, which would lower credit card use (and therefore bank profits, which the banks wouldn't like) may help merchants negotiate lower swipe fees, but we simply don't think many merchants will surcharge their customers."

"Swipe fees" are costs merchants have long had to pay credit card companies when their customers use credit cards. Banks and card issuers earn 1 to 4 percent of the transaction price. Those costs have generally been passed on to all customers in more spread-out ways.

A settlement between businesses and Visa and Mastercard resulted in merchants being allowed to pass the charges on to consumers more directly. Merchants, however, can choose how they want to pass on the costs.

Although U.S. PIRG has sought swipe-fee reform, the consumer group doesn’t support the lawsuit settlement. Mierzwinski said it will allow swipe fees to continue to rise; the settlement to merchants of about $6 billion to $7 billion is only a few months of swipe-fee revenue, and it prevents any similar cases from being brought against Visa and Mastercard in the future.

While businesses in 40 states, including Utah, can now charge a 4 percent fee on a credit card transaction, Mierzwinski pointed out that the 10 states that ban such fees make up 40 percent of the consumer population, lowering the effect of these fees.

States that don’t allow the credit card charge are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma and Texas.

EMAIL: alovell@deseretnews.com

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