Most of us have gotten used to charging purchases, large and small, on a debit or credit card. Just swipe the card and avoid the hassle of carrying cash. Look carefully; you may notice a new fee on your receipt. Retailers are now allowed to pass along to consumers the cost of processing credit cards.
It’s called “merchant surcharging” and it’s permitted in most states. You can be charged up to four percent on each transaction and, similar to sale taxes, merchant surcharging can be automatically added to your bill. After a while, these charges can add up, so consumers may want to reconsider how they pay for goods and services.
Why now? Well, merchants have long been charged a processing fee by the credit card companies when consumers chose to charge their purchases. Previously, the fee could not be passed along to customers. However, as a result of litigation, merchants in the U.S. and its territories can pass that fee along directly to customers using credit cards (but not debit or prepaid cards).
What can consumers do?
- Use cash for smaller purchases; some retailers may offer you a discount if you pay with cash
- Look for notices about merchant surcharges; retailers are required to let you know so you can decide beforehand if you want to pay with a credit card
- If you know and trust the merchant, you might want to consider using a debit card with “bricks and mortar” establishments
- Use a credit card for online purchases when you need the greater protections that credit cards offer
- Get into the habit of monitoring your bank account and credit cards accounts online
Several states have banned merchant surcharges: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma and Texas. In other states, it’s optional, and will vary from store to store.