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Consumers silent in swipe fee debate

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Earlier this month retailers had a chance to vent their frustration about the high fees they incur when their customers pay for their purchases with a credit or debit card.

The occasion was a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing called “Excessive Swipe Fees and Barriers to Competition in the Credit and Debit Card Systems.” Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) convened the panel after Visa and Mastercard increased their swipe fees by an estimated $1.2 billion in late April.

“This hearing will focus a spotlight on constantly rising fees and unfair practices that show clear disregard for small businesses and American families,” National Retail Federation (NRF) vice president for government relations, banking and financial services Leon Buck said before the hearing. “Visa and Mastercard have price-fixed swipe fees for years and have repeatedly moved to block any innovation or fair play that threatens their hold on the payments market. Their fees have more than doubled in the past decade, and just last week they pushed through another billion-dollar increase that will make inflation even worse. Lack of competition is why swipe fees keep skyrocketing, and it’s good to see Congress demanding answers that will lay the groundwork for a solution.”

Giant Eagle Inc. executive chair, president and chief executive officer Laura Karet, who is on the board of FMI – The Food Industry Association, said that because of the unilateral fee increases Visa and Mastercard announced on April 22, her company and her customers would be “paying an additional $1.3 million just to use their cards.”

The committee also heard from the National Grocers Association, the NRF and the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

Retailers and their trade associations said the fee hikes add to inflation. But the real challenge they face is that consumers don’t directly pay the fees themselves, so they don’t necessarily appreciate the problem.

That left space for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) to argue that there are “passionate voices on both sides” of the issue.

He said at the outset that he looked forward to hearing from all the witnesses. Retailers need to figure out a way to get their customers into the room.


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