So long to credit card surcharges?

By , CardRatings contributor
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In 2012, retailers settled a lawsuit and won the right to recoup merchant fees by applying a surcharge to Visa and MasterCard purchases. So how many times have you had to pay this fee so far?

Chances are, the answer is zero.

"We have discussed the settlement with many of our members and other merchants, and not a single one has said they will surcharge," said Mallory Duncan, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the National Retail Federation, in a January news release.

Which is ironic since retailers apparently sued for the right to charge these fees. And now that they have won, no one wants to be the bad guy and actually charge customers extra for paying with plastic.

Big names such as Walmart, Target and Sears are some of the companies that told NBC News they wouldn't be applying the charge, also known as a checkout fee, to credit card purchases. Meanwhile, small retailers -- who could likely benefit the most from charging the fee -- say there are too many restrictions and hoops to make the surcharge worthwhile. Plus, nickel and diming your customers doesn't necessarily make for good customer service.

States putting the kibosh on surcharges

However, retailers aren't the only ones feeling ambivalent about credit card surcharges. Many states are also taking a closer look at the issue.

Already, ten states prohibit credit card surcharge fees: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma and Texas. Another 13 states are considering whether they too want to outlaw checkout fees.

However, the National Retail Federation isn't too impressed with these efforts. Duncan was quoted in a recent NBC News article as saying the bills prohibiting surcharges are a 'waste of the legislative process.' Instead the federation thinks lawmakers should go after the practice of price fixing the swipe fees paid by merchants for credit card transactions.

Bottom line: you won't be paying fees

Between retailer hesitance to charge checkout fees and legislative attempts to squash them, you can almost guarantee you won't be paying many surcharges any time soon.

But in the event you do come across a merchant brave enough to charge extra for credit card transactions, here's what is allowed and what is required under the terms of the settlement.

  • Checkout fees must be disclosed on signage at the store entrance, at the point of sale and on the receipt.
  • Checkout fees can only cover the actual cost of what the retailer pays to accept a credit card. In most cases, the fee will be between 1.5-3 percent of the transaction total, and checkout fees are capped at 4 percent.
  • The settlement only applies to Visa and MasterCard credit card transactions. It does not apply to American Express, Discover or debit cards.
  • In the states where surcharges are illegal, businesses may be allowed to offer a discount for cash purchases instead.

And there you have: everything you need to know about the fees you'll probably never pay.

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