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    Quick Chek Collects Anti-Card Signatures

    Petition drive urges lawmakers to curtail interchange fees.

    WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. -- Quick Chek recently ended a grassroots campaign to collect customer signatures urging lawmakers to rein in credit-card companies and their interchange fees, reported the Asbury Park Press.

    "We accept credit cards because it's a convenience for our customers," said John Schaninger, vice president of sales and merchandising at Quick Chek. "We have no ability to shop around because there's 10,000 banks that charge the same fees, and there's nothing that can be done about it."

    The use of plastic to pay for merchandise has soared in recent years. Debit card use, in particular, has increased from 8.3 billion transactions in 2000 to 25.3 billion transactions in 2006, overtaking credit cards in frequency, according to a report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

    Convenience stores said two-thirds of their customers pay by plastic, with debit card use rising fast. A survey last February by NACS -- the Association for Convenience and Petroleum Retailing, found 27 percent of consumers paid for gasoline with a debit card, up from 21 percent in 2007.

    The association said it has given banks a windfall; banks in 2008 took in $48 billion in fees, three times more than 2001. It forces them to raise the prices on their merchandise. And it is such a hefty fee that it can be their biggest expense other than labor.

    "Every other cost is negotiable," said NACS spokesman Jeff Lenard in the report. "You can figure out rent, labor expenses, utilities costs. But this is a fee that keeps growing and is nonnegotiable."

    Quick Chek's petition drive comes a year after 7-Eleven delivered more than 1 million signatures from customers who urged Congress to curtail the rising interchange fees, Lenard said.

    Congress has introduced at least one bill that would regulate interchange fees more heavily. But banking advocates said negotiating an interchange fee agreement with each of the 16,000 credit card issuers isn't reasonable. And the campaign by convenience stores is simply an attempt to shift the transaction's cost to consumers.

    "These fees exist for a reason," said Trish Wexler, spokeswoman for the Electronic Payments Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group representing financial services companies. "It's a matter of who should pay for these fees. Should merchants pay for these fees or should customers? The merchant receives lots of benefits."

    At Quick Chek, Schaninger said the industry is so competitive that his company would pass any savings from lower interchange fees to customers. For now, all he can do is hope customers to the company's convenience stores pay for their items with cash.

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