SEMA eNews Vol. 13, No. 17, April 29, 2010

SEMA Urges U.S. Senate to Reform Credit Card Swipe Fees

SEMA and 54 other trade associations called on Congress to limit the amount credit card companies can charge merchants when processing payments. Under the current system, the merchant pays a transaction fee every time a card is used, whether for credit or debit. The "swipe" fees amounted to $63 billion in 2008. The fees can average 2%–4% for businesses that accept debit/credit cards and are automatically divided between the merchant's bank, the cardholder's bank and the network that processes the transactions. The merchant may not know how much money has been withheld until receiving a monthly statement since there are a number of transaction variables.

In a joint letter to the U.S. Senate, the trade associations asked that swipe fee reform be included within the financial regulatory reform legislation currently being debated. The trade associations specifically asked that the Federal Reserve be given the authority to treat debit card transactions like paper checks since they are equivalent. In both instances, the funds are drawn directly from the consumer's checking account and neither transaction extends credit. In 1914, the Federal Reserve required all banks to clear paper checks at par (no exchange fees).

The trade associations also urged lawmakers to give the Federal Trade Commission (or some other federal agency) the authority to review rules and regulations associated with electronic transactions and provide businesses with the ability to steer customers towards less expensive forms of payment (i.e. cash, checks, PIN debit cards). For example, under some credit-card agreements it is illegal for merchants to set credit-card minimums, offer discounts for cash payments, or pass along the swipe fees to the consumers.

For additional information, contact Stuart Gosswein at stuartg@sema.org.

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