Note: Check in with me tomorrow when the actual hearing takes place. If I can I will provide updates in a subsequent diary.
The credit card associations and the banks that support them have gotten away for too long without answering serious questions about their practices, and at long last, tomorrow there will be a hearing on Capitol Hill to consider the Credit Card Fair Fee Act - HR 5546. It hasn’t had the same press as the Credit Card Bill of Rights but it is no less important, and I say that not just because I work with the merchant group that has done tons of work over the last couple years to bring the issue to this point.
One co-sponsor of the bill who speaking up on the issue is Vermont's Peter Welch, one of the best progressives we have in the House. Comments from Welch and more details via the Rutland Herald below:
With every swipe of the card, retail businesses in Vermont and the rest of the nation pay companies like VISA or MasterCard a transaction fee. Those fees, industry analysts say, can add as much as 2 percent to the costs of goods and services in the state.
"Credit cards are very tough on our small businesses," Rep. Peter Welch said at a news conference Monday. "Any charges our small business owners have, they have to pass on to customers. And one of their biggest costs is credit card fees."
Welch said credit card companies — namely VISA and MasterCard, which control 85 percent of the market — operate behind a veil of secrecy allowing them to raise fees at will and without explanation. The Democrat Congressman said he'll introduce a bill later this week that would impose new disclosure rules aimed at bringing transparency to the industry. The legislation also would direct the Federal Trade Commission to open an investigation into possible collusion by credit card companies.
"It's a near monopoly they have," Welch said of VISA and MasterCard. "And, as is often the case with monopoly power, it's abused."
He's dead on about the situation, although if I had to differ at all, I might say the "near" is questionable. What's most sinister about the interchange fee (that's the merchant fee in question) is that it's not immediately obvious that it's of concern to average consumers. But one of the areas where it certainly starts pinching everyone's wallet is at the gas pump these days, and
Peter Annis owns the Black River Quick Stop in Springfield, a gas station and convenience store on River Street. On Monday, in the parking lot of Kurrle's Fuels, a gas station in Montpelier, Annis said he's paying more than $800 a week in credit card fees.
"It's exorbitant," Annis said. "And it continues to grow and grow and grow as more people use credit cards."
Annis said credit card fees at the gasoline pump have erased his profit margins. He sold about 4,000 gallons of gasoline last week. At a profit of five cents per gallon, Annis said, he should have made about $211. But credit card fees charged to him on those gas transactions totaled more than $258.
"That's a net loss of $47 for pumping gas all day long," Annis said. "Sooner or later, this has to stop."
Will it stop? That may come down to the Credit Card Fair Fee Act. I'll have more to say about it tomorrow, and if I can find a way to live-blog it or otherwise generate updates about what's being said, I definitely will do so.