The Battle Over Debit Card Swipe Fees

A battle is raging over the cost of swipe fees charged to retailers every time a consumer uses a debit card to pay. Big banks and big retailers are arguing over regulations, costs, and losses, but it’s the consumer, they say, who will pay the real price no matter who wins.

The federal government passed a financial regulatory law last year that will regulate the swipe fees that banks charged to retailers for the privilege of allowing consumers to pay with debit cards. The proposed cap on the fees is 7 to 12 cents per swipe, a considerable reduction from the current average of 44 cents per swipe.

The banking industry claims that the reduction would cost them about $16 million per year. According to Richard Hunt, president of Consumer Bankers Association, if the regulation is passed, banks will compensate with new fees in other areas like checking or online accounts. Hunt stated that the reduction would not help consumers, since retailers would be saving on an entire purchase, not on each individual item.

Groups like Public Citizen and the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) say that the banks they will charge whatever they can get away with regardless of what happens. According to Mallory Duncan of the National Retail Federation, the lower fees would benefit retailers and consumers by causing retailers to reduce prices due to better competition.

Both sides will likely be affected by the regulation, says senior consultant with Anderson Economic Group Scott Watkins. According to Watkins, consumers will probably not see any significant change in the prices regardless of the outcome of the regulation.

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