GAO to Investigate Merchant Interchange Fees

According to The Washington Post, The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act that President Obama recently signed into law includes a provision to investigate the fees that businesses pay to allow their customers to use credit.

The The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is supposed to report its findings to Congress in six months, along with any recommendations for legislation. The agency is charged with examining whether merchants are restricted from revealing the fees to customers and to what extent merchants are permitted to discount for cash purchases.  It will investigate the ability of merchants of varying sizes to negotiate interchange fees and exactly what costs are incorporated into the fees.

The GAO issued a report last year on the impact that interchange fees have on the federal government. Consumers increasingly use credit and debit cards to make payments to federal, state and local governments for such things as park admission fees, driver's licenses and income taxes. The investigative arm of Congress found that by accepting credit card payments, federal agencies realized some significant benefits despite having to pay interchange fees. The benefits included fewer bad checks and cash thefts.

The GAO also said that when it examined data from other countries where authorities have successfully rolled back interchange fees to less than 1 percent of transactions, consumers didn't necessarily reap the benefits. "No conclusive evidence exists that lower interchange fees led merchants to reduce retail prices for goods," the GAO reported. "Further, some costs for card users, such as annual and other fees, have increased."

Reader comments suggest that consumers understand the value that merchants provide by accepting their credit card:(http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/27/AR2009052703245_Comments.html).

 

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