Walletcards
Retailers hoping to offset fees they pay to Visa and MasterCard may soon be able to charge shoppers for paying with plastic instead of cash. - 

Kai Ryssdal: You've heard this question before at the grocery store, I'm sure: Paper or plastic? Not much of a difference cost-wise at the Safeway.

Perhaps quite a big difference when the question is whether you're paying with cash or credit. Stores can't charge you more when you use a credit card, even though they have to pay Visa and MasterCard a fee when you swipe your card.

Depending on how an upcoming court case in New York turns out, though, stores may soon be able to charge a fee of their own to you for choosing plastic over paper. Marketplace's Stacey Vanek Smith explains.


Stacey Vanek Smith: It may pay to Discover, but soon you may have to pay to Visa or MasterCard. Merchants like Payless Shoes and Safeway are suing to be able to charge consumers a fee to offset the expense of taking the cards. A settlement is expected this summer.

Bert Ely: Consumers should not panic. 

Banking consultant Bert Ely says even if so-called surcharging is allowed, most business will be careful about adding on fees.   

Ely: I just don’t think we will see an explosion across the board of surcharging. Instead, I think we’ll see some experimentation and kind of a question of what will the market bear.

The U.S. wouldn’t be the first country to let businesses charge customers for plastic privileges. Marc Abbey is a managing partner at First Annapolis, a payments industry consulting firm.

Marc Abbey: The big test case has been Australia, where several years ago surcharging became permitted.  

Abbey says businesses have been all over the map in terms of what they’re charging.

Abbey: It can be $5 to $10. In some cases higher, often lower. But a lot of variation, mostly driven by competition between merchants.

Australia did have to place limits on surcharges after a some businesses went a little fee crazy. Qantas Airlines started charging a $30 card use fee for international bookings. One cab company charged a 10 percent fee. How have Aussie consumers reacted?

Abbey: There hasn’t been a obvious change in consumer payment behavior. 

Abbey says card companies aren’t too concerned because, at least down under, the convenience of a card seems to have trumped any outrage over fees.

In New York, I’m Stacey Vanek Smith for Marketplace.

Follow Stacey Vanek Smith at @svaneksmith