Think before you swipe; credit card use may cost you

Merchants may soon be allowed to charge for credit card use

ORLANDO, Fla. - The secret is in the swipe.

Every time you use your credit card, the merchant pays a fee to the credit card company.  Fees range from two to five percent of your purchase price.  If a multi-billion dollar settlement is approved in an ongoing lawsuit between credit card companies and merchants, swipe fees would be reduced.  However, retailers, for the first time, would be able to impose a surcharge to cover those fees on customers who use credit cards.

You swipe, you pay.  That's enough to make some consumers put away their credit cards.

"I'd probably start using cash," says Scott Gildroy, a shopper in Winter Park.

Cesar Namur, another shopper, agrees.  Namur says a two percent or higher surcharge would make a difference.  "A penny makes a difference.  I wouldn't use credit cards anymore."

The lawsuit was filed by 7 million merchants claiming Visa and MasterCard colluded to fix the swipe fees that merchants must pay for each credit card transaction.   MasterCard, Visa and major banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, agreed to pay more than $6 billion to settle the accusations.  They also agreed to lower swipe fees going further, and to allow merchants to pass along those fees to customers.  That practice had been banned almost entirely.

Mimi Goldman of The Collection Bridal in Winter Park says her business would have to consider the credit card surcharge, but only if it became the norm among small businesses. 

"We pay massive fees to Visa, MasterCard, even more to Amex," she says.  Goldman tells Local 6 that small businesses can't absorb those fees like some of the big box retailers.  She says she has a solution.

"I would love there to be a credit card company out there who would be willing to go into small businesses that have been established and create a credit card for them, like they do for the larger box stores," Goldman says.

She explains that a branded card could have built in incentives for consumers who would be less upset about swipe fees if they were getting something from the business and the banks in return.

"If they could offer six months free financing, or a year free financing, this gives the consumer the opportunity to decide what's best for them," Goldman says.

She had tried, so far to no avail, to negotiate such a deal with credit card companies. Those companies, collectively, earn about $40 billion per year in swipe fees.  The settlement, which is opposed by many big and small businesses, must be submitted to a judge for approval by October 19th.

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