Senate imposes debit swipe fee limits

A man holds up some credit and debit cards

BOB MOON: Now -- we told you yesterday about the fight over those fees merchants have to pay every time we consumers swipe our debit cards. Banks were fighting hard to hold off a cap on those fees. But the Senate has now decided the Federal Reserve can go ahead and impose such a fee limit. Does this signal trouble ahead for the banks in their fight over other parts of the new financial crackdown?

Let's ask Greg McBride at Bankrate.com. Good morning.

GREG MCBRIDE: Thanks for having me.

MOON: So I know you usually cover consumer issues, but it seems to me this is one of the biggest consumer angles and that is how powerful does this tell us the bank lobby really is?

MCBRIDE: Well the banks were going up against a pretty powerful foe in the form of the merchants. And merchants had spent a lot of money lobbying for this change because it works to reduce their costs.

MOON: So where does this leave us? What's next? I know that the Federal Reserve will now be deciding this cap. Where is it going to go do you think?

MCBRIDE: All signs seem to point toward this taking effect in July as scheduled. Look, the consumer's going to get stuck with the bill on this. We're already seeing that when you see things like decline in the availability of free checking, the debit rewards programs being scaled back or being eliminated all together. So this could easily be a $200, or $250 swing for some households.

MOON: Hold on though, the merchants were selling this to us as this being a hidden tax and it's going to save us money?

MCBRIDE: Well, we'll see. You know, let me ask this -- I mean would merchants have spent millions of dollars lobbying for the change if they intended to pass along every nickel in savings to the consumer? No way. You know, let's put it this way, there were a whole lot of merchants that were offering lower prices for cash transactions before this. So you know the idea that they're going to suddenly be able to lower prices across the board because of this, you know the jury's still out.

MOON: Greg McBride at Bankrate.com. Thanks for joining us.

MCBRIDE: Thank you.

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