Though banks didn't succeed in pawning their Dodd-Frank burdens off to consumers with a $5 monthly debit charge, credit card companies are charging businesses more for handling small transactions which is being passed along to customers. Credit card companies too look to lose with that debit-fee cap the scared banks into the monthly surcharge, since they issue these cards and get money with every swipe. The Fed tried to regulate how much banks and credit card companies could charge for use, capping the "interchange" fee at 21 cents, about 20 cents lower than average. Unwilling to absorb the loss themselves, credit card companies have instead eliminated merchant discounts they used to provide for small transactions with debit cards, reports The Wall Street Journal's Robin Sidel. The result: Higher prices for consumers and lost money for retailers.
Banks argued that this specific debit card cap provision would cost the industry a total of $8 billion dollars. And credit card companies don't want anything to do with that loss. "There will be some unhappy parties, as there always is when the government gets in the way of the free-market system," Chris McWilton, president of U.S. markets for MasterCard told Sidel. But the point was for credit card companies and banks to bare the burden -- not for customers and merchants.
Instead, business owners that sell low-priced items are paying higher rates to credit card companies when customers use debit cards, leaving them to raise prices, encourage cash, or drop debit card payments altogether. One coffee shop owner, who estimates 95 percent of his sales are below $15, told Sidel that since the law, debit fees have gone to 4.5% of sales from 3.5% of sales. "It's a killer for me," said Jason Scherr, the cafe owner. Sidel also offers Redbox as an example, which upped its movie rental charge from the smooth sounding dollar rental to a more cumbersome $1.20 charge because of these fees -- a ballsy move for the company considering Netflix had just gotten major backlash for its price hikes. Of course, not all companies have opted to raise prices. Some, like Dairy Queen, have just told franchise owners to offer incentives for cash payments. Even Scherr has contemplated installing an ATM machine. But that's not exactly cheap, either. The losses have to shake out somewhere. The credit card companies (and banks) would prefer.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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