Some seven million merchants nationwide may receive damages in the sum total of more than $6 billion and will see “swipe” fee reductions totaling more than $1 billion over the next year should the U.S. District Court approve this week’s $7 billion-plus proposed settlement by Visa, MasterCard and the nation’s biggest banks. The proposal marks the end of what now has been a seven-year-long dispute over the amount that millions of businesses pay each year in the form of credit card transaction, or “swipe” fees.
Typically ranging from 1.5 to 3 percent of any credit card transaction, swipe fees are among the largest costs of running a typical retail business and usually run a close third to the costs of labor and rent. Unfortunately, these fees have been escalating with each passing year, especially as consumers rely more and more heavily on magic plastic and less on cash, imposing an oftentimes profit-crushing burden on smaller businesses in particular.
While many small business owners are encouraged that the topic of swipe fees is grabbing headlines, a great majority of them see the proposed settlement as a temporary fix to a much larger problem. First, the reduction in fees is only good for eight months. Second, the amount of money that will be paid out in damages is negligible when you consider the number of merchants involved. Third, although merchants will now be allowed to disclose how much more it costs them to accept credit cards and charge an appropriate surcharge for the luxury of using plastic, many will be reluctant to do so. From a public relations standpoint, outwardly charging more for plastic than cash when plastic is all the rage will not be well received by consumers.
Chances are businesses will simply go on as they always have, burying the cost of credit card use by their customers in what they charge for their goods and services and offering discounts to those who pay cash. In essence, many small business owners fear, nothing much will change.
The one bright spot? The settlement does allow merchants to join forces in negotiating better terms when it comes to swipe fees. The hope is that merchant-organized buying groups will exert unprecedented pressure on Visa and MasterCard so that they will limit or reduce the fees paid between banks for the acceptance of credit card transactions.
For a closer look at the credit card swipe fee settlement proposal and its anticipated effects on small business owners and retailers, we recommend the following:
The Wall Street Journal
National Public Radio