Inside This Issue - News
Retailers, credit card firms reach settlement
July 23rd, 2012
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Visa, MasterCard and several major banks earlier this month agreed to pay more than $7 billion to settle an antitrust case brought on behalf of 7 million retailers that accept the companies’ credit cards.
As part of the proposed deal, credit card companies agreed to reduce for eight months the so-called swipe fees businesses pay credit card companies for card transactions they process.
Stores would be able to charge consumers more if they pay with credit cards under changes to Visa and MasterCard rules in the settlement. These transactions are more expensive for stores to process because they are not subject to the caps on fees imposed by a financial services overhaul law enacted in 2010.
Several retail trade groups say they are not sure how much the agreement will help their members.
"The money is significant, but money is only temporary — it’s here today and spent tomorrow," National Retail Federation senior vice president and general counsel Mallory Duncan said the day the settlement was reached in federal court here.
"What we need are changes in the rules that bring about transparency and competition that would be here for years to come," he said. "The test will be whether the injunctive relief is meaningful. Unless it is, the card market will stay broken and neither merchants nor their customers will achieve a long-term benefit. In that case it would be a missed opportunity."
NRF was not a party to the lawsuit, but an attorney for the retailers involved in the case said he feels that few, if any, stores will charge more for credit card purchases.
For example, co–lead counsel for the plaintiffs Craig Wildfang said, when credit card surcharges are allowed in other countries, retailers seldom slap them on credit card purchases.
Instead, he noted, credit card companies have sometimes agreed to lower the amount they charge per transaction.
NRF’s Duncan says that because retailers do not actually know what they are charged for credit card purchase anyway because fees vary from card to card it will be difficult for stores to pass the costs along.
That, he says, is a central shortcoming of the settlement and does very little to actually fix the problem.
This month’s settlement ends nearly seven years of legal wrangling between the credit card companies and retailers.
Under the terms of the $7.25 billion settlement, the credit card card companies and banks will pay $6.05 billion for their past fees and make an additional payment estimated at $1.2 billion that would represent the value to retailers of a temporary reduction in the level of fees they pay on Visa and MasterCard transactions.
Wildfang said the settlement also calls for significant reforms of Visa and MasterCard rules, including a requirement that they negotiate with merchant-organized buying groups.
He said he expects the changes to enable merchants to pressure Visa and MasterCard to limit or reduce the fees paid between banks for the acceptance of card-based transactions
The retailers expect to file for preliminary approval of the settlement in September, and it could take up to two years before money is distributed.