Retailers score as judge rules debit card fees are too high

Your local mom-and-pop convenience store and your local mega-big box discount store just scored a victory in federal court. A judge has ruled the fees banks have been charging retailers for each and every debit-card transaction are too high. Banks are crying foul and promise to appeal.

Under the Dodd-Frank financial reform, these debit card fees have been capped by the Federal Reserve. Still, the court says the Fed has been letting banks collect too much.

Nice news for retailers, says analyst Karen Shaw Petrou.

“In any transaction, it’s a critical part of the sometimes very small profit margin that the retailer has. So they want the cards to essentially be cash -- something that costs them nothing to accept.”

If the ruling is upheld, fees would fall—by pennies per transaction. And retailers would probably pocket that, says analyst Bert Ely.

“It’s highly unlikely that customers of retailers would see lower prices.”

Some retailers shun plastic altogether to spare themselves the fees -- but not Hathaway's Coffee Shop in Cincinnatti. Bill Harvey, the general manager, says any way you want to pay is fine with him. 

“You know, money is money, plastic is plastic."

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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