What’s at Stake in the Interchange Wars (Green Sheet)

Interchange, once a minor fee levied to cover the costs of processing a credit card transaction and the risk assumed by the issuing bank that the credit will not be repaid, has skyrocketed to a flashpoint that industry experts say is certain to change the industry, although opinions are divided on exactly what the fallout may be.

Interchange is also a significant, and growing, expense for merchants. According to the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), credit and debit card fees are the third largest expense convenience stores face after store rent and labor costs.
These fees are anticipated to match the cost of store rent by 2020.

NACS points out that in 2004, credit card issuers earned more profits in interchange fees from the sale of gasoline than gasoline retailers earned off those same sales. “Out-of-control interchange fees for credit card transactions are a $25 billion tax on retail transactions that goes straight into the pockets of the card issuers,” said Mitch Goldstone, lead plaintiff in a merchant class action antitrust lawsuit filed in June against Visa and MasterCard.

Goldstone is also Co-editor of “The Credit Card Interchange Report” ( www.waytoohigh.com.) “We’re not opposed to a cost-based interchange,” he said. “The problem is the banks got greedy and raised the rates just to make more money.”

Merchants point out that interchange fees have declined or are declining in most other countries but are steadily rising in the United States. “If interchange was actually cost based, it would effectively disappear,” Goldstone said. “In Australia it is less than half a percent. And Canada is a great example: Business is thriving even though the interchange rate is zero.”

This complexity is one factor that is fueling the debate. “I know exactly what my cost of goods sold are, what every cost involved with my business is, but I don’t have a clue what my interchange fee is,” Goldstone said.

(Click here to view entire article).

[source: Green Sheet]

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