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After Epic Battle, Swipe Fee War Ends in a Draw

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In a down-to-the-wire decision that could affect how much Americans pay for everything from gas to checking accounts, the Federal Reserve announced new rules Wednesday that it will cut the debit card swipe fees that retailers pay in half.

Consumers are unlikely to notice big changes any time soon in the price of things they buy. But over time, the decision could translate into slightly lower costs at the register, and slightly higher costs for bank services like credit cards, checking accounts and prepaid cards.

“Rather than this causing a dramatic change for your checking account or your debit card, I think any changes in fees for those accounts will be gradual,” says Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com’s consumer credit expert. “And it’s not as if the local bagel shop is suddenly going to have all this money in their cash register to pass along to their customers.”

But to all kinds of businesses, large and small, the Fed’s announcement was a very big deal. It could save retailers $500 million a month, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. You might think that would make merchants happy.

[Related Article: What the Debit Card Interchange Rules Mean For Consumers]

It doesn’t. They were hoping the Fed would impose tougher rules on banks, saving retailers twice that—up to $1 billion every month.

“American consumers suffered a major loss today,” the federation’s president, Matthew Shay, said in a press release. “While the rate will provide modest relief, it does not go far enough.”

But then, banks will see their debit card income chopped in half when the new rule takes effect Oct. 1. Which means they’re not too happy about the announcement, either.

“What’s the saying—you know it’s a good compromise when no one is happy?” Trish Wexler, spokeswoman for the Electronic Payments Coalition, which represents banks in the fight, wrote in an email to Credit.com. For banks, “a 50% cut in their revenue will force all card issuers to make some tough decisions—raise fees, cut benefits, or stop issuing cards altogether?”

The decision comes just three weeks before the rules were originally supposed to take effect, and after nearly a year of very expensive lobbying and advertising campaigns by both banks and retailers. Banks pushed hard to get a bill by Rep. Jon Tester (D-MT) passed through Congress that would have delayed implementation of the rule by a year, giving the Fed more time to study the issue.  But they failed to get the 60-vote supermajority needed to pass the bill (not to mention the nearly impossible task of getting President Obama and the Democratically-led Senate to agree to changing a law they still support).

[Related Article: Big Debt Card Changes Coming]

After Epic Battle, Swipe Fee War Ends in a Draw (cont.) »

Image: Marcin Wichary, via Flickr.com

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