McKone: Congress must pass credit card act to ease fees

In the world of sponsorships, VIP seats, and lavish executive privileges, credit card giants like Visa and Mastercard, along with every major bank, have perfected the art of selling their products. From top sponsorships at everything from the Olympics to the World Cup, you can’t turn on the TV without getting inundated with credit card marketing. Yet, behind them lies a startling truth: these ads are being bankrolled by excessive credit card swipe fees charged to your local businesses and, inevitably, you.

American businesses pay the highest swipe fees in the industrialized world. While these fees remain hidden from consumers, their impact is far-reaching. Last year alone, U.S. merchants paid over $126 billion in credit card processing fees, a staggering increase of more than 20% from just a year earlier. Such an exponential rise has severe implications for businesses, especially small enterprises, struggling to recover from the economic aftermath of the pandemic.

Yet Visa and Mastercard just announced they will raise these fees again to further pad their bottom line. The credit card giants are preparing to heap additional financial burdens on merchants with fee hikes that could cost merchants an extra $502 million annually.

These costs aren’t absorbed solely by businesses; because when profit margins are tight, merchants have no choice but to pass these fees on to consumers, leading to higher prices across the board. Estimates show the average American family pays an additional $1,000 a year in higher priced goods as a result of these swipe fees.

The impending fee hikes set to be imposed by Visa and Mastercard in the coming months signal more than just a financial blow to merchants and consumers alike. It underscores a systemic issue where money spent in your local community is subtly siphoned away to Wall Street, only to reappear in the form of extravagant sponsorships and VIP privileges sponsored by the credit card giants.

Currently, Visa and Mastercard set the swipe fees merchants pay. While network fees directly benefit the card companies, the big banks issuing the cards get a portion of those fees, which incentivizes them to oppose any effort to lower fees for merchants. With a substantial rise in fees on the horizon, Congress must address this clear market collusion.

Thankfully, there is a solution. The Credit Card Competition Act (CCCA) aims to alleviate the burden put on businesses by allowing merchants to choose between multiple transaction routing options when processing a credit card. This step, though seemingly minor, can have a profound impact by fostering a more competitive payment processing market, leading to a reduction in swipe fees and the cost of goods overall.

Opponents on Wall Street often raise concerns that heightened competition might jeopardize the availability of credit card rewards points. However, new reporting shows that is not the case. If not clear by how much money the credit card giants spend on flashy advertising, Visa maintains incredibly high profit margins of over 50%, with Mastercard trailing closely with almost 45%.

A competitive payment landscape would compel credit card companies to enhance their offerings to stay relevant. Heightened competition need not dampen credit card rewards; it can serve as a catalyst for innovation.

Visa and Mastercard’s opulent displays might be captivating, but it’s essential to see beyond the glitter. Behind the scenes, small businesses in your community are being stifled by these ever-rising fees, and you are paying more every time you check out.

Hopefully, Congress will put Main Street before Wall Street.

Kelly McKone is Executive Vice President of Real Estate for 1784 Capital Holdings, a nationwide leader in self-storage development./InsideSources 

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