SACRAMENTO – Monday afternoon, California Assemblyman Pedro Nava, chair of the Assembly Banking and Finance Committee, held an investigative hearing on the impact of hidden credit card swipe fees on California consumers and small businesses. Californians paid nearly $5 billion in swipe fees in 2008.
Small-business owners and advocates know that these hidden fees — which total more than credit card annual fees, cash advance fees, over-the-limit fees, and late fees combined – are crippling Main Street businesses and hurting their customers at a time when they can least afford it.
This hearing provided a critical opportunity to address the impact of hidden swipe fees and review possible solutions. The hearing is particularly notable both because of the size and impact of the California economy in the United States and because Visa’s headquarters are located in the state.
“This hearing is important, because it shows that Assemblyman Nava is listening to his constituents and that he recognizes, at a time when the economy is already so bad, that we can’t afford to let Visa, MasterCard, and the big banks rake in billions of dollars in hidden fees on the backs of small businesses and consumers,” said Mitch Goldstone, president and CEO of ScanMyPhotos.com, an Irvine, Calif.-based retail and online business that feels the impact of ever-increasing swipe fees every day.
“It’s also important that it’s happening in California. First, because we have such a large economy on our own, and reforms that start here often get picked up across the country. And second, because Visa is headquartered in California, this represents a dramatic signal to them that lawmakers are joining small businesses and our customers in saying ‘enough is enough,’” said Goldstone in a press release.
“Reforms are needed to create a transparent process for businesses to negotiate rates and enhance public awareness of interchange fees, which continue to increase,” testified Liz Garner of the Food Marketing Institute the hearing.
“Card companies and banks collect an interchange fee averaging about 2 percent on every credit and debit card transaction, and can raise the rates at any time by any amount,” she said. “We are working for a more competitive and transparent card system that works better for consumers and merchants alike, and hearings like this one are a critical step in that process.”
Credit card interchange fees squeezed American consumers and businesses to the tune of $48 billion in 2008. These hidden fees are set in secret by the banks and credit card companies and charged to store owners every time they run a customer’s credit card.
Americans pay the highest swipe fee rates in the industrialized world. On average, two dollars of every $100 a consumer spends using a credit card goes directly to the credit card industry. That adds up to $427 a year for every American household. Since 2001, the amount Americans pay in swipe fees has tripled.