SPEAK-OUT: LOWER DEBIT CARD SWIPE FEES FIZZLE
Under the Wall Street reforms signed into law in 2010, the debit card transaction fees that banks charge merchants became the purview of the Federal Reserve Board. Banks could no longer set excessive "swipe fees," which had increased 300 percent over the past decade. The Federal Reserve's new "reasonable and proportional" swipe fees were to take effect July 21 under the Durbin Amendment. The central bank had proposed capping the fees at 12 cents, down from the 44 cents on average the big banks have been charging retailers every time a consumer swipes a debit card.
In the end, the Fed caved to pressure from the big banks and credit card companies and pushed out the effective date for reduced fees until Oct. 1, and raised its swipe fee cap to 21 cents. What's more, if a financial institution complies with established fraud prevention rules, the Fed will grant them permission to charge up to 24 cents per transaction. The Fed's decision is a $6 billion annual windfall for the banks compared to the revenue they would have received from a 12-cent cap.
This decision will continue to have a large impact. Increasingly, consumers are relying on debit cards. In 2009, the usage of debit cards exceeded that of credit cards for the first time. Experts believe the trend will continue; debit cards appeal to consumers who want to be sure to live within their means.
This windfall for the banks is not what millions of small business owners campaigned for and it's certainly not what our elected representatives voted for. Unfortunately, a board of unelected individuals has seen fit to ignore the democratic process and undermine these common-sense reforms.