New developments continue to fuel the conflict between retailers and credit card companies over fees for processing credit card transactions, known as interchange fees. Merchants paid Visa and Mastercard (along with their member banks) more than $36 billion in interchange fees in 2006, according to the Merchants Payment Coalition, an association representing retailers that accept debit and credit cards.
Interchange fees are up 17 percent since 2005, says the MPC. Why? New credit card programs may hold some answers. For instance, Visa USA's new Signature Preferred card, aimed at customers who spend more than $50,000 a year on their cards, is loaded with perks--and will reportedly cost merchants 14 percent more in transaction fees than traditional Visa Signature card purchases.
Congress and state legislators may be stepping in to help lower interchange fees. Several members of Congress have called for a closer examination of credit cards' interchange-related practices and policies. There are 15 pieces of legislation pending in nine states, including proposals to prohibit card-issuing banks from charging interchange fees on the sales tax portion of a retail transaction and laws requiring full disclosure of rules and policies.
Mallory Duncan, chair of the MPC, reports that three congressional hearings have called for a closer look at interchange practices. Says Duncan, "We are pleased about the attention at the state level, and that both the House and Senate are scrutinizing one of the most abusive credit card practices of all."