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    NRF: Credit Card Cos. Using Surcharging as 'Propaganda'

    The National Retail Federation (NRF) is not holding back in criticizing major credit card companies that agreed to a rule change in retail surcharges. As of Jan. 27, merchants who accept credit cards issued by Visa and Mastercard are allowed to add a service charge to the purchase price.

    Credit card companies had previously prohibited merchants from applying a surcharge, but Visa and Mastercard agreed to the change, in addition to a $7.2-billion payment, as part of the swipe fee settlement proposed in July 2012. The settlement was a result of a 2005 antitrust suit that retailers brought against credit card companies. One of the major plaintiffs was NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing.

    According to NACS Online, however, it is not likely retailers will surcharge and the NRF, which was not involved in the class-action lawsuit, is confident they will refrain.

    "Merchants have no desire to surcharge and no plans to surcharge," J. Craig Shearman, a vice president of the National Retail Federation, told The Record. "The concept of widespread surcharging is purely card industry propaganda."

    NBC News reached out to retail giants Wal-Mart Inc., Target Corp., Sears Holdings and The Home Depot, who all said they have no plans to add a credit-card surcharge. Meanwhile, convenience store retailer Hy-Vee took to Facebook to inform shoppers that they would not be charged a service fee when paying for goods with Visa or MasterCard credit cards.

    Ed Mierzwinski, director of consumer programs at U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) agreed that retailers will likely shun credit card surcharges.

    "In the brick-and-mortar world, no one who does any sort of volume business is going to want to surcharge because it will drive their customer crazy and slow down transactions," Mierzwinski said, according to CNBC.

    Currently, 10 states that represent 40 percent of the market have laws that ban surcharging. These states are California, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma and Texas.

    But ConsumerWorld.org's Edgar Dworsky told CNBC he is worried that surcharges are here to stay. He pointed out that when stores price merchandise, they factor in the cost of processing credit cards. He doesn't anticipate stores will roll back prices to account for an added charge.

    "There's no one standing up for consumers and saying that this is really bad," added Dworsky.

    As CSNews Online previously reported, a surcharge fee must not exceed the processing cost of the transaction or 4 percent, whichever is less. In addition, Visa allows surcharging on credit cards only. Surcharging on other card types such as PIN debit and check cards is prohibited.

    Merchants need full disclosure when applying a surcharge, and signage must be posted at the point of entry as well as a line item on the point-of-sale receipt.

    In addition, the rules require merchants to give 30 days' notice to Visa and MasterCard before surcharging, and retailers who surcharge for Visa or MasterCard transactions also must surcharge for American Express transactions if the card is accepted.

    This rule creates a conflict, however, since American Express requires retailers to surcharge all card types, including debit, if they choose to surcharge. Therefore, debit reform would be undercut and merchants would be pressured to drop American Express.

    The new rules could also require software changes. Point-of-sale manufacturers will need to complete a software certification in order to support the surcharge requirements. New software certified to process a surcharge are expected to be available starting mid-2013.

    The court has yet to issue a final ruling in the swipe fee settlement case, which has been delayed.

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