The National Association of Convenience Stores and the National Retail Federation were among those that applauded today’s reintroduction of the “Credit Card Fair Fee Act” which seeks to address the more than $48 billion that Americans pay annually in credit card swipe fees. The legislation was introduced by House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.).
Similar to legislation introduced last year by Conyers, the bill (H.R. 2695) would give retailers a seat at the negotiating table with banks to determine the fees assessed for every sale made by credit card, and likely reduce the costs of everyday goods for consumers.
“Between the momentum built up since this bill passed the Judiciary Committee last year, the intense scrutiny of the financial services industry seen during the current economic crisis, and the credit card reform law signed last month, we think the perfect storm exists for Congress to do something about these unjustified hidden fees,” said Mallory Duncan, NRF senior vice president and general counsel.
Credit card swipe fees, known as interchange fees, are a percentage of each transaction that Visa, MasterCard and their member banks collect from retailers every time a credit card or debit card is used. These fees average about 2 percent in the United States.
Credit card fees last year cost U.S. convenience stores $8.4 billion, compared to just $5.2 billion in store profits, according to NACS data. Almost all of these credit card fees are attributable to credit card swipe fees, NACS officials said. The average U.S. household paid about $427 in interchange fees, according to NRF estimates.
Currently, interchange fees are set in secret by the banks and hidden from view. By raising the fees, Visa and MasterCard can encourage banks to issue more credit and debit cards, NACS said. Together, the two giants control more than 80 percent of the U.S. credit card market.
“We are delighted that Congress is taking a closer look at these outrageous fees on the heels of its reform of the credit card industry’s abusive lending practices,” said NACS Chairman Sonja Hubbard, CEO of Texarkana, Texas-based E-Z Mart Stores. “Now it’s time to address the rest of the credit card industry’s abusive practices.
“Right now swipe fees are fixed by the banks, hidden from the public and forced on retailers in a take-it-or-leave-it offer,” Hubbard continued. “The Credit Card Fair Fee Act would allow retailers and the card associations to negotiate on equal footing, and we applaud this bipartisan effort to make it happen.”
Over the last several years, the public, consumer groups, the Federal Reserve and Congress have scrutinized unfair credit card practices, policies and fees. Swipe fees have been the subject of multiple hearings in the House and Senate under both Republican and Democratic Congresses, with the banking industry intensely lobbying against any reform.
“It is simply outrageous that the banking industry — which received hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded bailout money — continues to spread fear and misinformation in their lobbying efforts,” Hubbard said. “The bottom line is that unless Congress fully addresses how credit card swipe fees are determined, and why they are set in secret and hidden from consumers, the banking industry will have free reign to establish higher rates and create new hidden fees that continue to punish Americans.”
The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, signed into law May 22 by President Obama, includes a provision requiring the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study of how interchange drives up retail prices, why the card industry refuses to disclose the fees to consumers and how card companies keep retailers from offering cash discounts, among other issues, the NRF reported.
“We expect the GAO to do a serious study that will reveal the negative impact of interchange on the U.S. economy,” Duncan said. “The debate over interchange that occurred as Congress considered the credit card reform bill helped shine a spotlight on this issue and make more members of Congress and the public aware of how much the card industry is making off these fees. Congress can’t claim to have fixed credit cards without addressing interchange, but they are clearly on the path to finishing the job.”