Lawmakers Push Back on Swipe Fee Increase

Letter cites pandemic as chief concern
Swipe fees, credit cards
Photograph: Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, D.C. A letter written by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)and Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.)calls on Visa and Mastercard to cancel a nearly $1.2 billion increase in credit card processing fees scheduled to take effect in April. An increase in processing fees could be especially hard for convenience stores now that cash has become a less popular payment option with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These increases would come at the worst possible time,” said Doug Kantor, counsel for the Merchants Payments Coalition. “Merchants have been struggling for a full year to survive the economic impact of the pandemic and cannot afford an unnecessary and avoidable cost increase. U.S. credit card swipe fees are already among the highest in the world, and now is not the time to increase them.”

“Just as increased vaccination efforts start to give our Main Street business hope for a summer reopening, your companies propose slamming struggling merchants, and by extension consumers, with fee increases,” Durbin and Welch said in the letter. “Raising your fees would undermine efforts to help the economy recover and further reduce Americans’ purchasing power.”

Visa and Mastercard are reportedly set to implement a wide-ranging restructuring of the swipe fees banks charge merchants to process credit card transactions beginning in April. While the matrix of fees is complex, the net impact is estimated at increases of $768 million a year for Visa and $383 million for Mastercard, or a total of $1.15 billion, according to analysis by global payments consulting firm CMSPI. Increases are expected for Visa and Mastercard’s most prominent credit card programs, and for online transactions, which have grown sharply during the pandemic and already carry higher fees than in-store transactions.

Swipe fees vary widely according to type of card, type of transaction and size of merchant, but average out to 2.25% of the transaction amount for Visa and Mastercard credit cards, according to the Nilson report, a trade newsletter that follows the card industry. The fees have increased dramatically in recent years, more than doubling from $25.6 billion a year in 2009 to $67.6 billion in 2019 for Visa and Mastercard credit cards alone, according to credit card research firm Nilson. Overall processing fees paid by U.S. merchants to accept all card payments totaled $116.4 billion in 2019, up 88% over the previous decade, it said. 

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