Credit card fees can be charged at checkout

Posted: January 29, 2013

Stores can now ask consumers using credit cards to pay a surcharge or "swipe fee," as a result of a proposed legal settlement.

Experts suggest that small retailers are the most likely to pass along the fees they're charged by Visa and MasterCard.

Any merchant who does is required, under the agreement, to inform shoppers as they enter a store and as they pay, with any such fees noted on receipts.

Debit cards would not be affected.

Ten states - including New York, Florida, Texas and California - forbid such surcharges, but they're legal in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, according to reports.

Walmart, Target, Macy's and Sears will not be adding fees, and other major retailers are likely to also refrain, to remain competitive, according to a Bloomberg News report.

Those chains are also big enough to negotiate reduced fees with charge-card companies.

The Kroger grocery-store chain said last year it might consider surcharges, but recently told Bloomberg only that it's working on using incentives to get customers to use less-costly ways to pay.

The right to levy these checkout surcharges comes from a class-action suit in which retailers, including Kroger's and Safeway, alleged that banks and credit card companies conspired to keep fees high. The tentative settlement was reached in July, but the right to pass along fees didn't take effect until Sunday.

The fee, which could be a percentage of the purchase cost, cannot exceed the fee owed by the retailer to the credit card company.

How American Express and Discover figure into the picture is unclear. One report said that stores accepting American Express would be unable to charge checkout fees for any card, because American Express forbids them.

But the Consumerist, a nonprofit subsidiary of Consumer Reports, has said the door would be open for surcharges on American Express and Discover purchases as well.

Have you already run into such fees? Please contact Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

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