Tens of millions of Americans will hit the road this Memorial Day weekend, and their banks will be right there with them – with the banks’ hands in their pockets – every time motorists stop to buy gas or a Coke and chips.
Through outrageous “swipe” fees the banks charge every time a customer uses a card to buy gas – or anything else, for that matter – the banks pocket a hefty chunk, often more than the retailer earns in profits.
That means higher prices on gas, groceries, clothes, drinks – anything you can buy with a credit card. It costs banks only a few pennies to process a credit-card transaction. For this, banks gouge retailers from 2 to 4 percent of the purchase price, or as much as $4 on a $100 purchase.
That’s a far better profit margin – as much as 10,000 percent – than any merchant sees.
Americans will travel more this Memorial Day than they have since the recession, says AAA, and it will be the second-largest Memorial Day odyssey since 2000. Almost 32 million of those people will go by car.
Gas is about $3.65 a gallon right now, says AAA. That means that at, say, 2 percent, swipe fees can add more than seven cents a gallon at the pump.
And swipe fees are growing faster than gas prices. In fact, according to a study by NACS, the trade association for convenience stores, credit-card fees exceeded profits over most of the last decade by billions of dollars nationally at convenience stores selling gas – $11 billion paid in fees just last year versus $7 billion in profits.
For many retailers, who operate on skimpy profit margins, swipe fees are now their second-highest operating cost after labor, higher than rent and utilities.
The reason? Visa and MasterCard fix the prices that all their banks charge. This price-fixing ensures there is no competition among banks on profits and nothing to constrain these outrageous fees.
Consider this 2012 NACS study, “Hidden Bank Fees Siphon Money from Customers and Merchants at the Pump,” which said: “Since the 1990s, swipe fees have been growing out of control. Retailers have no ability to comparison shop because all the banks within a card network (Visa or MasterCard) charge the same fees. And the networks are so big they won’t negotiate lower rates. It is take-it-or-leave-it. For merchants to accept any Visa cards or any MasterCard cards, which most merchants in most markets must, they are stuck paying the swipe fees set by the networks.
“The networks have no incentive to decrease swipe fee rates; the networks ‘compete’ to make their fees higher, not lower.”
In short, that is the opposite of how our free-market system is supposed to operate, on Memorial Day and every other day of the year.
For more information about unfair credit-card swipe fees, go to the Merchants Payments Coalition website: http://www.unfaircreditcardfees.com/The Merchants Payments Coalition – UnfairCreditCardFees.com – is a group of retailers, supermarkets, drug stores, convenience stores, fuel stations, on-line merchants and other businesses who are fighting against unfair credit card fees and fighting for a more competitive and transparent card system that works better for consumers and merchants alike. The coalition’s member associations collectively represent about 2.7 million stores with approximately 50 million employees.