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Question of the day

Tuesday, Feb 5, 2013

* The setup

A proposal before the state legislature could keep shoppers from having to pay more when using credit cards. Chris Slaby reports.

The plan would prohibit Illinois retailers from adding an extra fee to purchases made with credit cards. It comes after a federal settlement gave businesses the go-ahead to charge up to four-percent extra on credit card transactions, unless states prohibit them from doing so.

So far, ten states have banned the surcharge. […]

David Vite is president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. He says Illinois consumers have nothing to worry about, because Illinois stores will not implement the surcharge.

VITE: “Their interest is in lowering prices to their customer, not increasing costs to the customer.”

Consumer groups, though, say they’re concerned retailers will wait for things to cool down before implementing the fees.

* The Question: Despite the assurances from IRMA, should Illinois ban retailer credit card surcharges? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please.


survey service

- Posted by Rich Miller        

48 Comments
  1. - BleugrassBoy - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 11:53 am:

    I would expect that businesses who want to attract customers will find a way to absorb as much of the CC surcharges as possible.

    I would hate to see IL pass a “let us tell you how to run your business” law. It just sends the wrong message to small business.


  2. - Small Town Liberal - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 11:54 am:

    I say yes. The swipe fees were reduced significantly thanks to Senator Durbin, and more and more people are using credit cards because of the convenience and protection provided.

    Also, lots of smaller shops I go to in Chicago currently charge credit card fees, so I’m not sure I believe Mr. Vite.


  3. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 11:56 am:

    No. An expense is an expense. Just because it isn’t on your bill doesn’t mean you aren’t paying. If it’s on your bill, at least you know what you’re paying for.


  4. - mongo - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 12:07 pm:

    Why should we believe IRMA? I voted yes.

    I am private sector myself, if fees are rolled in, it is difficult to tell.


  5. - Skeeter - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 12:08 pm:

    As long as the retailer makes it obvious that the fee is being charged, it is really none of the government’s business.

    Hiding that charge, or any other, would be a problem. If it not hidden, keep government out of it.


  6. - dupage dan - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 12:11 pm:

    I’m with Skeeter. We are going to be charged the fee one way or the other - cost of business.


  7. - Norseman - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 12:17 pm:

    With Skeeter on this one.


  8. - so... - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 12:22 pm:

    I voted no.

    I, personally, will never patronize a store that tacks on that fee. And I have every confidence that the stores that do tack on the fee will be well-known.

    I think the free market is more than able to take care of this.


  9. - Irish - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 12:24 pm:

    No ban.

    This is what drives me crazy about our leaders. There have been discussions about closing business loopholes to generate more money. There have have been proposals to make big business disclose the taxes they pay to make sure they are paying their fair share. The opposition says we should not place restrictions on business if we want them to stay in Illinois. This issue has not been resolved and I believe it is important to generating more revenue, something the state needs badly. The lawmakers need to find a place in the middle where we are not over restricting business but where they are paying their fair share. But that discussion and resolution is going to be hard. So we aren’t really working on it.
    But wait, look a kitty! Here is something that is not going to make a huge impact and solving it may be easy. Let’s NOT allow this to work itself out, let’s look like we are doing something and make this an issue!

    The bottomline is people are going to shop where things are cheaper. So if a store owner can pass the surcharge along and still do a good business they should be allowed to. If they can’t and want to eat the surcharge to keep their customers they should be able to. The GA does not need to “fix” this.

    A perfect example of what will happen has been going on for years. It is known that American Express has one of the highest surcharges to the vendor of most major cards. A lot of places won’t take that card for that reason. While it is probably my favorite card I am used to not be able to use it everywhere. So I carry another card. No big deal. The vendors that don’t honor the card seem to be doing fine and so do the ones who do. I don’t need a law to fix this for me.

    So the GA needs to lay off the businesses when they can. And regulate them when it is beneficial, like closing loopholes.


  10. - Dirty Red - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 12:35 pm:

    This will be enforced like the rule against store owners setting minimum purchase prices before they accept a credit transaction.

    I think Skeeter has a good idea, but even with a requirement like that in place the store owner could find another way to get their fee.


  11. - lincolnlover - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 12:38 pm:

    Many consumers are unaware that small retailers pay a much higher percentage of the transaction than do large retailers. A Mom and Pop might be charged 4% for their charge card transactions while a large retailer like Macy’s might be charge 1/2%. Its unfair to the small guy to ban the addition of fees. They have a hard enough time making it anyway.


  12. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 12:44 pm:

    Let’s ask Durbin. I’m sure he could come up with a way of really screwing this up!


  13. - Mouthy - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 12:47 pm:

    Yes, if they can they will in a matter of time.


  14. - Meaningless - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 12:49 pm:

    The use of credit cards has become a conditioned-response action for the majority of consumers to purshase goods and services on a daily basis. Credit card companies make tremendous profits on the interest of monthly unpaid balances. I realize that businesses have an extra charge when a consumer makes a purchase using a credit card, but that’s the way the credit card system works and should already be factored into the pricing. I know that I wouldn’t make purchases on a regular basis at a business that charges me extra for using my credit card. I’ve already taken my business elsewhere at some gas stations that have a higher price for charges. Business has to be careful. If people have to carry more cash around with them it could very well lower overall consumer spending. I know it’s alot more painful for me to pull out the “green paper” than it is to pull out the plastic. There’s a psychological factor involved here.


  15. - Miss Marie - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 12:51 pm:

    I voted no. Most chain stores are absorbing the costs, and I’m only seeing it at small businesses. I’m not sure, but I think it’s required by law that stores have to post a notice by registers if they’re going to charge you a fee for using your credit card. As long as they’re required to post that notice, I’m fine with it (because then I know to pay cash).

    Passing legislation on this will most likely hurt small businesses, which is always a shame.


  16. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 12:51 pm:

    –David Vite is president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. He says Illinois consumers have nothing to worry about, because Illinois stores will not implement the surcharge.

    VITE: “Their interest is in lowering prices to their customer, not increasing costs to the customer.”–

    That’s a relief. And a strange business model.

    –I’m with Skeeter. We are going to be charged the fee one way or the other - cost of business. –

    What cost would that be?

    Don’t be chumps.

    While we all go about our busy days actually producing something, an army of hucksters and con men sit around and think of ways to nickel-and-dime us to death — on credit cards, utility bills, bank fees, etc.

    Unless you want to spend every waking moment for the rest of your life reading the fine print on everything, be thankful for the consumer watchdogs that do.


  17. - Cook County Commoner - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 12:54 pm:

    No. Those who use cash are penalized with the cost of the credit card company fees. Let those who use cards pay the freight. As a benficial by-product, it may get them to stop and think how much credit is costing them and consider a more frugal lifestyle.
    Or, require a discount for cash.


  18. - Other - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 1:02 pm:

    I’m torn. Part of me says those customers who choose to pay by credit card should be responsible for the added fees associated with that type of payment. (I pay most by credit card currently.)

    However, if a retailer has the surcharge, they are motivating people to pay with cash, and the retailer could keep two sets off books… (I imagine its harder to do this when the majority of your transactions are credit card.) And I don’t mean imply that most businesses so this. A small minority do, and by charging the fee, they could increase the amount of sales that they under report.


  19. - Let the people decide - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 1:12 pm:

    No. Of all the issues the legislature needs to take up, this is not one of them.

    1) using a credit card/debit card increases the retailer’s costs. (As do cash and checks in different ways)

    2) The retailer can decide if they want to charge separately for those costs, or roll them into the purchase price. Some will include them, some will tack on a surcharge.

    3) Customers can vote with their wallets.

    The market should be able to handle this one. (Not always, but in this case.)


  20. - Moderate REpub - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 1:33 pm:

    I’m torn. On one hand I have great respect for IRMA but they only represent a fraction of all retailers.

    On the other, as long as its not a “hidden fee” let the market work it out. I imagine many people will take their business elsewhere if they see a “surcharge” on their receipt.


  21. - reformer - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 2:00 pm:

    Memo to Mr. Vite:
    If retailers won’t implement the surcharge anyway, then what harm is there in banning it?
    I saw a gas station today on Irving Park Road in Roselle advertising a cash discount of 4 cents a gallon for regular. That means customers who use a credit card pay 4 cents more.


  22. - Robert the Bruce - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 2:22 pm:

    I’m with skeeter as well. Don’t ban them, but do require postings of the fee.

    Also - consider a really high tax on this fee to help the state budget.


  23. - D.P. Gumby - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 2:35 pm:

    This is a classic case of unequal bargaining. If I have any confidence that merchants would provide prior notice that they would be charging the fee, then I would be more than willing to let them charge it. But that doesn’t happen. it will get added on at check out and the consumer will have not choice. So the only way to protect the consumer is to ban the charge.


  24. - walkinfool - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 2:37 pm:

    Yes. This would just maintain the status quo ante. Prior to the recent court ruling, the credit card companies prohibited most merchants from any surcharge for using their cards, via their bilateral contracts.


  25. - Nick Kruse - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 3:18 pm:

    No ban. First of all, the government shouldn’t be telling retailers what fees to charge. But more importantly, credit card debt was a major cause of the economic problems we are coming out of. If credit card fees encourage more people to pay with cash, that’s a good thing.


  26. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 3:20 pm:

    –But more importantly, credit card debt was a major cause of the economic problems we are coming out of–

    Say what?


  27. - Nick Kruse - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 3:22 pm:

    Wordslinger, I didn’t say it was the only factor of the bad economy, but it definitely was one of many factors.


  28. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 3:35 pm:

    Nick, I can’t see how it was a factor at all, much less a “major” factor.


  29. - Louis Howe - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 3:35 pm:

    I am with Wordslinger…consumer groups generally have the best answers to consumer issues. Business groups like to hide additional charges in the fine print, then nickel and dime you to death. If you believe in any form of market discipline, businesses don’t pass on costs but rather compete on services, perceived value (i.e. branding), and lastly price, to capture consumer purchases. Finally, if nothing else works, businesses try to make up the increased costs with volume.


  30. - OldSmoky2 - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 4:06 pm:

    No. Why should people who rarely use credit cards or don’t use them at all pay higher prices to subsidize others’ use of credit cards? And the idea that retailers are going to absorb a 4-percent fee on purchases without increasing their prices is laughable. When retailers’ costs go up, so do their prices. That’s high school economics, not rocket science.


  31. - Observing - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 4:12 pm:

    Unless I missed it, nobody has mentioned what the heck this surcharge is for, other than state that the surcharge is allowable (up to 4%) because of a federal settlement. What was the settlement and what justifies the surcharge?


  32. - Louis Howe - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 4:20 pm:

    OldSmoky2….Try college economics…When was the last time you received a lower price for paying cash at the check-out….Today, never.


  33. - Blowback - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 4:22 pm:

    @OBserving - I believe it is to recoup expenses from small businesses who have to pay exhorbitant fees to processing companies. For a mom-and-pop having to pay a buck or two for every swipe by a customer can add up.

    Large retailers pay fractions of a cent to processors because of volume.

    I had an experience last week that upset me at first, but when the store owner explained I understood completely. I bought a drink and a snack and the total was about $2.50. He wouldn’t take my card because he had a “$5 minimum”. I was outraged, but then having dealt with processor fees before I understood. I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t take a dollar hit to sell two bucks of merchandise.

    I’d rather see this type of policy than a 4% added fee.


  34. - Jeeper - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 4:26 pm:

    No ban… Businesses and consumers will arrive at an understanding. People will do business where they get sufficient value, surcharge for credit cards or not.

    It is the credit customers that push up the costs; where do you think the cost of your “bonus points” gets paid? The merchant pays it…


  35. - Anyone Remember? - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 4:45 pm:

    Yes. Remember when ATMs were introduced - the savings related to reduced personnel costs meant that the ATMS would be “free of fees” forever. We saw how long forever was. The first group(s) to impose the fees will be the oligopolies related to business travel - hotels, airlines, gas stations (particularly if you pay at the pump and don’t go inside to buy anything else), etc. And it will spread from there.


  36. - Demoralized - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 4:49 pm:

    I voted yes. The government should do all it can to regulate the ridiculous fees that financial institutions charge.

    And for those of you referring to credit cards as if it’s simply “credit,” remember that debit cards are used by a lot of people. Debit cards are the same as cash to the consumer. I shouldn’t have to pay a fee to use the equivalent of my own cash.

    Financial institutions charge far too much money for the priviledge of holding onto our money. Charge me for online banking. Charge me for checks. Charge me interest to borrow money. Aside from that, keep your grubby little hands off of my money.


  37. - Nick Kruse - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 5:02 pm:

    ” I shouldn’t have to pay a fee to use the equivalent of my own cash”

    The fee doesn’t apply to debit cards; only to credit cards.


  38. - david vite - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 5:16 pm:

    Just a a matter of onformation to all of your readers following are some of the requirements to which retailers would be subjected if they choose to surcharge.

    In addition retailers for many years have been able to give discounts for cash, it is not the same as a surcharge.

    Hope this sheds some new light on the issue.•

    Merchants would be required to go through a number of complicated steps in order to surcharge, including giving Visa and MasterCard detailed plans at least 30 days in advance, posting extensive signage in stores, and spending significant amounts to reprogram or replace cash register systems. Ironically, merchants might also have to pay swipe fees on the amount of the surcharge


  39. - Small Town Home Owner - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 5:20 pm:

    When there is no fee for use of a credit card it means in effect that a cash buyer of goods and services is paying too much. The cash buyer is paying part of the cost of the credit card and receives no goods or services. The use of the credit card cost the seller something and so the buyer should pay for the cost of using the credit card rather than ask that someone else pay part of the fee.


  40. - Anyone Remember? - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 5:23 pm:

    Nick Kruse -

    Some places (particularly gas pumps) run all debit cards as credit cards. And some places automatically run debit card charges below a certain amount ($5 - $10) as credit cards, no consumer choice offered.


  41. - Louis Howe - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 5:57 pm:

    David Vite….When was the last time you actually received a cash discount for paying cash at a check-out counter??? Really, do you believe consumer are that stupid?


  42. - Responsa - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 6:23 pm:

    Louis– not all mercahants are Dominicks or Best Buy or Macy’s. Many smaller places, or family owned businesses, especially if they know you and know that your check will be good, are happy to offer a small cash discount to avoid cc fees. You have to ask though. The larger the purchase amount the more that discount for cash benefits both of you.


  43. - Louis Howe - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 6:46 pm:

    Responsa….As a former small businessman for nearly 20 years, I understand the “cash offer.” Cash off the books is always a strong incentive. However, as a general rule, the box stores which pushed many small retail businesses out of business, don’t provide cash payment incentives. Mr. Vite understands that reality.

    Actually, the big box store kickbacks against the credit cards fees could keep the credit card companies charges under control. Individual retail consumers don’t have comparable bargaining power. That’s why we need government consumer protection.


  44. - Responsa - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 7:20 pm:

    Louis–maybe I am misreading you, but you seem to suggest that a merchant who gives a good customer a small discount for cash will also then be very prone to keep the entire transaction off-the books– thereby falsifying his accounting and possibly engaging in income tax fraud. I’m sure that occurs accasionally, but with customers needing receipts, warranties, etc. and employees selling for commissions, targets, etc., I can’t believe “off the books” would be as widespread as you fear. I even remember as a child, before the explosion of credit cards, when all retail transactions were in cash. I am pretty sure the merchants then were not all tax evaders.


  45. - drew - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 8:01 pm:

    I voted no, businesses should not be prohibited from passing on credit card fees to those who choose to use them. I’m baffled that anyone would think that such a ban would somehow “regulate the ridiculous fees that financial institutions charge.” Either way, the banks and the credit card processors are going to get their cut of every card purchase. The question is whether all consumers should be paying for these fees in the form of higher prices at stores, or whether the cost of the services provided by Visa, MasterCard, Bank of America, Chase, et al. should be paid by the users of those services. If these charges were transparent to and paid by consumers, they would be better able to make an informed decision about whether the convenience of paying with plastic is valuable enough to them to warrant the additional cost.


  46. - just asking - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 8:51 pm:

    if you don’t like the charge do you have to pay it? or shop at a place that charges?


  47. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 9:23 pm:

    I voted no. Retailers should have the right to pass along the charge…and I have the right not to shop there. They have always offset that charge somewhere (as part of their overall overhead like rent, insurance, etc.). I do think it’s funny that they are driving customers back to paper checks. If you want to charge me for a credit card, then lets all write paper checks (which cost them money to process to and are a hassle).


  48. - Confused - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 8:32 am:

    As a business owner, I’m amused. I really don’t care either way. My prices reflect my mission: make enough profit to pay my mortgage and send my kids to college. For those unaware, Profit = gross revenue - expenses. That gross revenue line has to stay the same regardless of the status of a swipe law. I will cover the expense of the merchant services by either a) charging card users the swipe fee or b) charging everyone. Even without a law I probably wouldn’t charge a swipe fee because people take it personally when they see an additional fee. I’d rather just keep my prices a tad higher for everyone. Weirdly, that even makes the cash customers happier in the end because the cost is hidden. But believe me, either way I’m not going to be “absorbing” the cost. And neither will any other business owner - you will. As you should and must.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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