Stores can now pass along their credit card transaction fees -- typically between 1.5 and 4 percent -- to consumers, thanks to a settlement in a class-action lawsuit brought by retailers, including Safeway.
The suit alleged that banks and credit card companies worked together to keep the transaction fees high, according to a recent story in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
While it is not mandatory for stores to charge the fees, a spokesperson for Consumer Action told Bloomberg that "smaller, independent stores may be more willing to levy the fees because they pay higher charges to banks for credit card transactions and don’t have the bargaining power to negotiate lower ones."
Ten states already have banned the fees, but as of the time of this story, they are legal in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
So how do you know if a retailer will pass along the fees to you? The Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection has a helpful guide to navigating the new law.
The guide suggests looking for posted notices. Stores that do charge the "checkout" or "swipe" fees must post a notice at the entrance to the store and list the exact fees at the checkout, and online retailers are required to disclose the information on the first page that a credit card is mentioned.
However, stores do not have to mention the fees in advertisements, so that low price may not be as low as you think.
There are a number of ways to avoid the fees:
- Pay with cash
- Use a debit or prepaid card - they are not affected by the law
- Shop at stores such as Walmart, Target, Sears, Home Depot and Macy's, as they will continue to absorb the fees, according to Bloomberg's website.
If you have any questions about the new fees, or believe you were unfairly charged a surcharge fee, the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection can be reached at 240-777-3636.