Retailers Celebrate Swipe Fee Ruling – Federal Reserve Caps Swipe Fees
By Shane Tripcony
It has been an issue of contention for a long time. The so-called swipe, or interchange, fees that retailers are charged every time a customer makes a purchase using a debit card have long been a boon for banks and the bane of retailers who have to pay them.
Most recently, thanks to the Dodd-Frank law that passed in 2010, the Federal Reserve put a cap on those fees at 21 cents per transaction. Although banks screamed that the cap would cost them billions in lost revenue – and force them to eliminate perks and awards programs – retailers were never overly thrilled with the ruling, either, arguing that the fee was still artificially high.
According to a report in Bloomberg, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington ruled on July 31 that the Federal Reserve considered information it shouldn’t have in arriving at its cap of 21 cents. Additionally, Bloomberg reporter Tom Schoenberg writes that Leon’s ruling determined that the Fed did not sufficiently foster competition among the card networks that levy the fees. “The board’s final rule not only fails to carry out Congress’s intention; it effectively countermands it!” wrote Leon in his ruling.
Although the current swipe fee cap will remain in effect, the ruling means that Fed regulators will have to go back to the drawing board and come up with either a new or an interim ruling. Not surprisingly, the reaction to the ruling was split, with retailers cheering the decision and banks claiming it will do harm to banks and their customers. “The price controls enacted as a result of the Durbin Amendment served one purpose – further lining the pockets of our nation’s big-box retailers at their own customers’ expense,” Bloomberg quoted Frank Keating, the president of the American Bankers Association as saying. “It was – and still is – all about trying to help retailers increase profit margins while providing no real benefit to consumers.” By contrast, the National Retail Federation released a statement saying that the “decision is the first step in setting these initial wrongs right and will ensure that swipe fee reform is done correctly.” Although nothing concrete has been announced yet, it’s unlikely that the ruling will not be appealed.