Some convenience store owners in Idaho want the federal government to intervene in a fight between their companies and credit card companies to review certain fees stores pay to process credit cards. Store owners, will be meeting with Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo to deliver a petition signed by more than 24,000 Idahoans who want credit card fee reform. But they made their wishes known in a press conference Thursday in Boise.
A representative from Sen. Crapo's office attended the meeting, but left before reporters were able to get a response from him.
John Eichberger, vice president or the National Association of Convenience Stores, said that large credit card companies are becoming increasingly wealthy through fees that store owners are forced to pay when their customers use debit or credit cards as a form of payment. He explained that of the approximately 140,000 convenience stores in the U.S., 60 percent are locally-owned stores that take significant losses for accepting credit cards as a form of payment. The fee for accepting cards, said Eichberger, is usually a set fee plus a percentage of the total cost of items purchased. Stores are forced to agree to pay the fees, but aren't able to predict the set amount of fees each month because they vary wildly depending on the number of customers during the month and the value of the items purchased by those customers.
Eichberger said that credit card companies, during the past few years, have tried to increase the fees store owners pay. One way, he said, is by encouraging consumers, through incentive programs, to swipe credit cards, which incur higher fees on stores, rather than debit cards, which typically cost less to process. Stores are also prohibited, as a provision of contracts they sign with credit card companies, from charging consumers less for paying with cash.
When asked by IdahoReporter.com what, if anything, could be done at the state level to remedy the problem, Eichberger said that the answer is "very little" because the issue is one of interstate commerce, which is regulated by the federal government.
Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, a small business owner himself, did not attend the meeting Thursday but attended meetings earlier this year in Washington, D.C., to discuss the fees and is familiar with the problem. Palmer said that Eichberger is likely correct in the claim that nothing could be done on the state level, but he added that he holds out hope for a solution. He said he is not in favor of regulating banks because it would violate the Constitution, but he feels there needs to be something done to better educate consumers about the fees they pay. Palmer believes that if consumersknow about the additional costs, they would change their spending habits.
"People will do what is best for the business," said Palmer, whose business pays between $500 and $900 monthly in credit card transaction fees. "If people think they are getting sky miles for free, they're not; they're paying for them," added Palmer. He said that he would like to see banks be more open about the fees so consumers could make more informed choices about how to pay at stores.
Patrick Lewis, owner of the Oasis Stop 'N Go convenience store in Twin Falls, said that he pays more in fees than he earns in profit for his store. He said he and other store owners aren't looking to abolish the fee, but would rather like to be able to negotiate with credit card companies in a transparent manner. Stores are not allowed to inform customers of the fees they incur when they use a credit card rather than a debit card, which leads to higher costs for all consumers. The group estimates that each consumer spends an additional $400 annually in higher store prices as a result of the fee. Eichberger said that credit card companies take in about $48 billion per year from the transaction fee.
Chalie Jones, owner of Stinker stations in Idaho, said that while credit card companies "provide a valuable service, we dispute it's worth $48 billion." According to Jones, his company's two highest costs are labor and then credit cards fees. He added that he is not typically one who looks to the federal government for help with issues, but he and other small businessmen need help fighting the fee, which he called a "wild animal that's broken loose." Jones said the federal government should also investigate possible anti-trust violations because credit card companies collude and work together to set fee rates to charge stores.