New Debit Card Law Could Actually Hurt Consumers

By Paula Ebben, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) – Every time a debit card is used to buy something, the retailer is charged a fee.

It might be pennies on a cup of coffee, but it adds up to billions of dollars for the banks.

A law is scheduled to go into effect next month which changes the formula. It is meant to hold down costs for consumers, but there is a fear that it could actually cost us more in the end.

Whether it is for a tank of gas, a snack, or a bag of groceries, just about everyone is reliant on debit cards these days. One woman told us she doesn’t even carry cash anymore.

But, not all forms of payment are equal for retailers.

WBZ-TV’s Paula Ebben reports.

Chuck Jaffe of Marketwatch explained, “You have a three tiered system. Cash is the best for the retailer. Debit would be next. Credit would be the worst.”

When a consumer uses a credit card, the retailer is usually charged 2%-3% of the purchase price by the bank.

Right now, the rate for debit cards is 1%-2%, which averages 44 cents per transaction.

Under the new regulations, that would change to a flat fee, probably 12 cents.

This is supposed to be good news for shoppers who might see a break in prices passed along, but that’s now the way Jaffe sees its. “This is people deciding how they’re going to pick our pockets.”

Jaffe is not confident retailers will pass any savings along to consumers.

“They’re going to tell you ‘We’re going to lower prices’,” he said. But he doesn’t believe they will follow through on that pledge.

The banking industry hates this idea of a flat fee. They collect about $16 billion in debit fees annually. There’s a concern you won’t see any savings from the retailers who will keep that money, but banks will recoup their losses another way.

“They are going to wind up taking away a number of other things. You have already seen some of it. Free checking, forget about it. Just watch those rewards evaporate. Watch things along those lines just change completely,” said Jaffe.

These new regulations are scheduled to go into effect July 21st. The Federal Reserve could still change the exact amount the fees are changed.

In the meantime, financial experts say the best defense is to be aware of the terms of your card so that you know the rules if something does change.

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