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Merchants May Get Credit Card Surcharge Rights

After a year of litigation, merchants may finally get the green light to apply surcharges to customers paying with credit-card.
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Every time a customer pays with plastic, the business pays for the privilege to swipe the card. But that soon could change. 

According The Wall Street Jounal, a number of merchant-filed lawsuits against the credit card companies Visa and Mastercard may result in a settlment that will allow businesses to impose a surcharge on customers paying with cards.

Currently, both Visa and MasterCard have prohibited merchants from applying a customer surcharge. But this surcharge, the merchants argue, is important because it could cover the transaction fee they must pay to the card companies for every swipe.

"We continue to believe that a settlement is the likeliest outcome as neither side wants a drawn-out legal battle and the defendants don't want to risk having to pay treble damages if they lose," Sanjay Sakhrani, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, wrote in a research note last month. Over the last year, the parties have held settlement discussions.

The outcome of the suit, which was filed by larger merchants like Payless ShoeSource and Safeway, Inc., will have implications for all merchants that accept credit cards in the U.S. Both Visa and MasterCard are expected to pay the defendants between $8 and $12 billion and reduce interchange fees, reported The Journal.

While American Express and Discover aren’t listed on the suit, both companies have rules allowing a surcharge as long as other credit card companies allowed it. Since Visa and MasterCard won't allow it, merchants that accept all cards couldn't benefit from those rules.

According The Journal, 10 states (including California and New York), have laws prohibiting credit card surcharges, so it is unclear how the settlement will affect these states.

Either way, a former Wal-Mart executive is certain these surcharges will benefit both merchant and consumer.

"If there were surcharges in the marketplace… the networks, who are primarily responsible for establishing prices for acceptance, would bring their product costs down," Mark Horwedel told The Journal.

IMAGE: Flickr/roujo
Last updated: Jul 10, 2012




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