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Feb 152013
 February 15, 2013  Posted by  Credit Cards, Hot Deals, Money, Shopping
A recent court decision allows retailers to add a surcharge of up to 4% to credit card purchases to cover their costs to process the purchase. The new rule applies to purchases made with Visa and MasterCard, and it means we have to pay more attention to avoid paying the surcharge.

Big-box retailers including Walmart, Target, Sears and Home Depot already have announced publicly they will not add the surcharge.  In part, that’s because they can’t advertise as having the lowest prices and then slap on a credit-card fee, but complicated rules by both MasterCard and Visa require retailers to handle credit cards the same way in all their locations in the United States.

Ten states ban surcharges outright – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma and Texas. That means a brick-and-mortar retailer with a store in any one of those states or an online merchant that sells in those states cannot add a surcharge in any other state, according to Kiplinger.

Your are less likely to face these fees with big, national sellers than with smaller, independent retailers with one or just a few locations.

My father owned a small, neighborhood store in New York City when I was growing up, so I know and respect how hard shop owners work, how much they care about their customers, and how small their profit margins are. But the rent has to be paid, and passing on the cost of the credit card “swipe” could mean the difference between raising prices or not.

Here’s how to avoid credit card surcharges, also called check-out fees:

  •  Look for a sign at the store entrance or at the register telling you the merchant is charging a fee for using Visa or MasterCard.  That’s required under the new surcharge rule.
  • Pay with cash.
  • Use a debit card or an American Express card. Surcharges are prohibited on these cards.
  • Check your receipt.  It must disclose the amount of the fee and state that it is equal to what the retailer is being charged. According to Consumer Action, different types of cards, such as rewards and premium cards, have different fees.
  • If you object to a surcharge, let the manager or owner know, and hope he or she has the authority to remove the charge to keep your future business.

Competition means it is unlikely these surcharges will be widespread. Still, it’s better to know how to avoid the extra fees than to pay them.

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Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn Kanter is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting on good deals and warning about bad ones, for longer than she cares to admit publicly. A native and lifelong New Yorker, she was the first consumer reporter for CBS News and for WABC TV “Eyewitness News” and helped launch the “Sales and Bargains” column in New York Magazine. Evelyn is the author or editor of more than a dozen travel guidebooks and apps, including Peaceful Places New York City, and owns and operates NYC On The Cheap and EcoXplorer. A long-time tree-hugger, Evelyn also writes about green travel, green cars and saving the green in your wallet for national and regional publications, including a column syndicated by Motor Matters and for, AAA magazines and airline inflights.

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