Swipe Fee Delay Could Cost Retailers $30B


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — In 2010, Congress made it a priority to put “swipe fee” language into the Financial Reform Act, but the card industry's lobbying efforts to delay such reform could cost retailers up to $1 billion per month.

Swipe fees, also known as bank interchange fees, are the costs retailers incur by accepting debit cards from customers. Big card companies like MasterCard (Stock Quote: MA) and Visa (Stock Quote: V) and the banks that offer the cards collect those swipe fees from retailers on every debit card transaction. The fees average about 2% of the total cost of the transaction, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores.

The Federal Reserve's proposal in December would cap debit card swipe fees at no more than 12 cents per transaction.

The language on swipe fees was originally inserted into the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill that passed last June. The so-called “Durbin Amendment” directed the Federal Reserve to make sure debit card swipe fees were reasonable and proportional to the operating costs incurred by financial services companies. The bill was aimed at large banks only – financial institutions with under $10 billion in assets were exempt.

Now, some retail industry groups worry that card issuers' lobbying efforts may result in Congress delaying the implementation of swipe fee limits, which they argue could cost retailers over $1 billion per month. Lobbying groups are purportedly targeting the U.S. House Financial Services Committee’s subcommittee on financial institutions, which is meeting this week to review debit card swipe fee regulations. The committee could hold off on the swipe fee reforms, or even produce new legislation that could delay reform for up to two years, the NRF claims.

“Congress recognized last year that the credit card companies and big banks have been extracting monopoly-like fees from merchants and their customers for far too long,” says Mallory Duncan, general counsel for the National Retail Federation. “Now that reform is about to go into effect, the card industry is asking for a do-over they don’t deserve. Every month they can push back reform is another billion dollars taken out of consumers’ pockets. We would rather use that savings to cut prices, provide more retail workers with health insurance or put more Americans to work.”

A two-year delay would really hurt retailers, the NRF says. It estimates that the proposed cap on swipe fees would reduce them by about 70% - approximately $1.2 billion a month, meaning a two-year delay could ultimately cost retailers about $30 billion.

The Federal Reserve proposal is expected to wind its way through the approval process by this summer. The U.S. House subcommittee may use that time to table reform until the final Federal Reserve rules are ratified.

In the meantime, expect more jockeying for position by card company lobbyists and groups like the National Retail Federation. With $30 billion potentially on the table, the elbows should be razor sharp.

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