Posted by Tamela Adamson-McMullen
Credit card companies have been under attack in recent weeks and months for the fees and rules they impose on retailers.
One of the latest to join the battle is Vermont. The Vermont Legislature recently approved a bill that would make it easier for merchants to give discounts to customers who pay by cash, check or debit card rather than by credit card. The bill initially passed the Senate with a vote of 30-0 on March 31, cleared the House 139-0 on April 29 and is heading to Gov. Jim Douglas for his signature.
If signed into law, the bill would allow Vermont retailers to set a minimum credit card purchase of up to $10 without interference from Visa and MasterCard, which currently bar minimum purchase amounts. Card companies would be prohibited from dictating how merchants price items and from blocking merchant discounts for cash, checks or debit cards. Visa and MasterCard additionally could not force retailers with multiple stores to accept cards at all of their store locations.
At the federal level, Vermont also is at the forefront of another piece of legislation aimed at credit card companies. Introduced by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), the Credit Card Interchange Fees Act would give the Federal Trade Commission authority over the rules governing credit-card swipe fees.
The bill also would direct the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System to give the public complete information on the fees charged by every electronic payment system network. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Financial Services.
Swipe fees, which average about 2 percent of the purchase price, are charged to merchants by Visa and MasterCard banks each time one of their cards is swiped to pay for a purchase. Swipe-fee collections in 2008 totaled a whopping $48 billion nationwide.