Buyer beware: Credit card surcharges kick in Sunday

Starting Sunday, the things you buy will be more expensive if you use a credit card.

For years credit companies have been charging stores a processing fee, so store owners fought back filing a lawsuit against those card companies.

A settlement going into effect Sunday allows stores to pass those fees directly onto you. The cost depends on the store's contract with the credit card companies - but could be up to 4 percent of your purchase. So that $5 latte may get a 20-cent bump.

Stores will have to tell you ahead of time if they are hitting you with the surcharge, and retail experts says small businesses will be more likely to charge the fee. Big stores are less likely to do so.

And shoppers who pay cash may pay less - since they won't have a fee compared to customers using credit.

The surcharge may come as a shock to consumers who are used to swiping their card without giving it much thought.

"Arguably, customers are already paying for this. So the fact that retailers will now be able to turn around and charge their customers additional on top of that ... I think is a little bit outrageous," says Trish Wexler of the Electronic Payments Coalition.

But Mallory Duncan of the National Retail Federation says stores have an incentive not to pile on the surcharges.

"Because most merchants compete by lowering prices - being cheaper than the next guy," he says. "You're much more likely to see merchants giving discounts."

The charge will not apply to debit cards or American Express cards.

And of course you can avoid any fees by paying with old-fashioned greenbacks.

The new rules from Visa and MasterCard require retailers who apply a credit card surcharge to post a notice at the store's entrance, but the exact percentage of the surcharge does not need to be disclosed until the point of sale. The customer receipt must list the amount of the surcharge.

Online stores with a surcharge will not be required to have a notice on the home page. They only need to alert shoppers about this when they reach the page where credit cards are first mentioned. In most cases, that means the final step of checkout when the purchase is being completed.

While we need to get ready to pay more here in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, the new fees will not go into effect in 10 states that outlaw credit card surcharges.


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