Credit Card Checkout Fees By MSN Money partner
Beginning Sunday, merchants will be allowed to charge a fee for accepting MasterCard and Visa. It remains to be seen if they will.
Here's why I'm asking the question. Last summer, there was an antitrust settlement between merchants and Visa, MasterCard and big banks about credit card interchange fees. These are the "swipe" fees merchants pay to the networks (like Visa) to process your payments when you use your card.
The settlement called for merchants to receive $7.2 billion in cash and temporary reductions in interchange fees. This settlement also gave merchants the legal right to add a "checkout fee" when you use a credit card to pay for purchases. These fees could start popping up as soon as Sunday.
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How to know if a checkout fee will be charged
Merchants can't sneak in the fee without telling you upfront. They have to disclose that you'll pay more for using a credit card. So if you're in a store, look for notification at the entrance or at the register. When buying an item online, look for the checkout fee to be disclosed on the homepage of the business.
Retailers are allowed to charge a fee that's the equivalent of what they pay for the interchange fee, which is between 1.5% and 4%. I was kind of surprised to find out that merchants can add a surcharge of up to 4%. You know, that's a lot.
Competition is your friend
OK, so the settlement gave merchants the right to ask customers to pay a surcharge if they use a credit card. So they have the right to do it, but does it make business sense for retailers to charge a checkout fee?
I say no, it doesn't. I'm pretty sure a minority will try it out and see how it goes. If you use your credit card to pay for a $200 purchase, you could pay up to $8 just for the privilege of using a credit card. And if you're using a rewards card, paying an extra fee lowers the value of the rewards.
At the end of the day, we're all smart enough to do the math and choose the retailer that gives us the best deal. So I think competition is one of the reasons we won't see widespread checkout fees, at least not right away.
Also, other than price, customer service is often the best way for competitors to differentiate themselves. Retailers that don't charge their customers a checkout fee will look more consumer-oriented.
If you think about it, the only retailer that can probably get away with it easily is a store that offers something so unique that there's limited competition. Maybe if that were the case, you wouldn't even care because, for whatever reason, you really needed that specific, unique product.
Will credit card rewards be an endangered species?
Rewards credit cards tend to have the highest interchange fees, so there's speculation that credit card issuers might devalue rewards programs to save money. I doubt this will happen because this doesn't make sense in terms of profits.
Banks make a lot of money from rewards cards. Sure, they give cash back or help you earn free airfare, and that costs the issuer some dough. But rewards cards also have higher interest rates and many consumers routinely carry a balance. If banks decrease rewards, cardholders will lose the incentive to use them. If that happens, banks will lose revenue.
Now, banks don't normally sit around and accept their financial fate. So we could see annual fees inch up or interest rates on rewards cards go up a tad. But I don't think any changes will happen right away.
Also, this isn't a done deal, so trying to predict what will happen with any accuracy isn't possible at this point. There's more legal wrangling ahead.
Reasons why this isn't over
The agreement between merchants and the different payment networks is inconsistent (I almost used "convoluted," which also seems accurate). Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express all have rules that merchants have to follow.
Even though merchants can now charge a checkout fee for Visa and MasterCard credit cards, there's a problem if they also take American Express cards. American Express' agreement does not allow merchants to add a checkout fee, and they aren't part of the settlement. The irony is that American Express cards have the highest interchange fees of all.
Another reason it's way too soon to predict the future is because the merchants themselves aren't happy with the settlement. Big-time retailers such as Target and Home Depot aren't on board with the settlement. There are many details to the agreement that go way beyond the interchange fees, and this is why the outcome could remain up in the air for a while.
Just say no to checkout fees
The credit card checkout fee is actually banned in these 10 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma and Texas. If you're not in one of these states, keep an eye out for this fee when you buy something. And if you're faced with a checkout fee, simply vote with your wallet. Spend your money with a vendor that isn't charging this fee.
And keep in mind that, according to Consumer Action, checkout fees are only allowed for credit cards and charge cards. You cannot be asked to pay a checkout fee for using a debit card. LINK
COMMENTS ON CREDIT CARD FEES FROM OTHER READERS ADDED HERE:
YOTA 691: As a business owner..Let me tell you my story on accepting Credit Cards with the Rewards Program..
I had a student from the local college needing a transmission..This Transmission was very expense used, let alone the cost of new one..so the mom agreed to the price of the job.. $1700 installed..out the door..and want to use a Credit card (CC)..No problem..
I stated to the mom that the use of the (CC) was going to cost me right at $70 buck to use her (CC) i ask her if she had any problem to covering half the cost the banks charge me to use the (CC)..No Problem..
I finish the Job accept the (CC) went about my business..The following month my bank statement has the $70 fee on it..and a another fee of $156.00..So I just thought it was a error and took my statement up to the bank looking for answer on the $156.00..
So after about 20 minutes with the bank lady, she states that one of my customer had a Rewards Program on a (CC)..I said what does that have to do with me.
The Lady from my bank states...any time a customer use a (CC) with a Reward Program the Merchant pays the Rewards Program..it total out to be $226.00 on my end, for the lady to use her (CC)..Needless to say I don't take (CC) anymore..
DJGABRIELI: Boy do they ever have this confused. I remember when and why you had a credit card in the first place. It was a way for the consumer to shop at a store and get time to pay. Such as a Sears, Gas cards, etc. It provided a merchant a way to give loyal customers a "Thank You" for shopping at their Store.
As soon as a particular store or business adds this additional swipe charge, I will no longer shop at that store or will use cash. I will also let the business know why they have lost their edge to the business down the street. I will also be archiving the credit cards.
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