Will the Visa/MasterCard Interchange Fee Agreement Hold?

If the proposed settlement in the Payment Card Interchange Fee and Merchant Discount Antitrust Litigation case is approved, merchants will receive billions of dollars, a temporary Interchange rate reduction and the ability to surcharge card payment transactions. In return, the agreement releases Visa and MasterCard from future legal claims regarding Interchange, network rules, merchant fees and related issues by merchants.

Both the National Grocers Association and the National Association of Convenience Stores say they will oppose the agreement on the basis that the agreement does not address how Interchange is set or the complexity of Interchange fee schedules. Target and Wal-Mart are not plaintiffs in this case, but have criticized the proposed settlement for similar reasons and because it would grant Visa and MasterCard releases from future legal claims, even by merchants who aren’t part of the settling class.

Over the next few months, the judge will make a decision to approve or reject the proposed settlement. The next step is a “fairness hearing” in Brooklyn federal court. Despite some objections, most analysts don't expect enough merchants will opt out of the settlement deal to derail it. One reason is that without a settlement, it will take many more years and cost a lot more money to take the case all the way to trial. Another may be that the largest retailers have secured a collective bargaining provision to negotiate lower Interchange rates directly with the payment networks. It has been reported that 15 of the top 100 retailers representing 80% of Visa and MasterCard credit-card volume have already agreed to a separate settlement with the card networks. And while merchants give up their right to sue the networks and credit-card issuers over similar issues, lobbying efforts at both the federal and state levels are expected to continue for merchant rate Interchange reductions and simplification.

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