Visa, Mastercard settlement means more flexibility for merchants

A window sticker advertising Visa and MasterCard credit cards in San Francisco


Kai Ryssdal: You know that triple mileage, cash back platinum rewards card you like to use? The stores where you use it actually don't like it so much. They probably sort of hate it, to be honest. That's because they pay card companies an extra hefty fee every time you whip it out. Those interchange fees, as they're known, were the subject of an anti-trust settlement today between MasterCard and Visa and the Justice Department.

Marketplace's Stacey Vanek Smith reports.

Stacey Vanek Smith: The interchange fees merchants pay every time someone uses a credit card vary a lot, from around 1.5 percent to the total purchase to more than 3 percent. And usually, the fancier the card, the higher the fee.

Credit card commercials: The points don't expire. There's no travel restrictions. Points you can use for over a million rewards...

Those fees now cost merchants nearly $50 billion a year. And credit card companies haven't let merchants charge the triple mileage card user more for milk than the guys with the n-perks card.

Mallory Duncan: And the Department of Justice said you have to allow merchants to offer their customers a discount if they use a cheaper card.

Mallory Duncan is with the National Retail Federation. He says Visa and MasterCard have also agreed to let merchants refuse certain cards. Used to be, if you took one kind of Visa, you took them all.

Duncan: For merchants, it means that they are beginning to push the card companies out of control of the cash register.

Duncan says now store owners can pass savings on to customers who use cards with lower fees.

Andrew Davidson: Call me cynical, but I'm doubtful merchants are really going to be passing on cost savings to consumers.

Andrew Davidson researches credit cards for Mintel Comperemedia. He thinks tiered pricing will be much trouble for stores.

Davidson: In terms of implementation, it's very complicated, because is there going to be some sort of menu when you reach the cash register?

Davidson says people also like using their rewards cards and merchants won't want to do anything to discourage people from spending.

I'm Stacey Vanek Smith for Marketplace.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.
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Menu at the register? How about the tried and true (and questionable) practice of "cash price ... credit price" wherein the product has two price tags, depending on how you pay. You've already seen them at the gas pump....

I actually asked a merchant once, in answer to "charge or debit" when accepting my card, "well, Mr. Merchant, which do you prefer?" He told me honestly that below a certain total, charges were better than debits; above, the debit card worked out better.

I can see merchants offering you a % discount for paying a certain way. Paypal already does it when you send money as a gift.

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