Debit Interchange Fee Study Act: A Few Good Senators Try to Stop the Madness

| By:

Originally published on March 17, 2011.

What started as a citizen revolt against Wall Street to both punish them for the previous recession and prevent another one, has now morphed and devolved into a personal battle that threatens to eliminate the use of money altogether.

JPMorgan Chase, one of the largest card issuers in the world recently stated the legislation may force them to limit the amount a consumer can spend in a single debit card transaction to as low as $50. Need a full tank of gas? You better bring cash!

The Durbin Amendment of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act will instate a flat 12 cent cap on Debit Card “interchange fees” effective as of July, 2011. The media communicated this cap as a “flat swipe fee”, a term used in such incorrect context that it has even confused executives of major card processors. How can public opinion be formed or swayed when the media and quite possibly the Senators and Congressman that passed the law fail to understand what “interchange fees” actually are and who they are paid to?

The original 176 page study and law can be downloaded here. It outlines on page 7 what they believe to be a 5 party system. It actually refers to it as a 4 party system and then corrects itself in the footnotes.

  • Party #1 – The Cardholder/Customer
  • Party #2 – The Card Issuing Bank (The bank that gave the customer the card. aka Wells Fargo, Bank of America, etc.)
  • Party #3 – The Business/Merchant That is Accepting the Card as Payment
  • Party #4 – The Acquiring Bank (The bank that allows the merchant to accept a credit card and services their account)
  • Party #5 – The Payment Network (Visa or MasterCard or whichever brand’s logo is indicated on the card or used to transfer information from the merchant’s Acquiring Bank over to the customer’s Card Issuing Bank.)

Party #4 consists of multiple layers including companies that do all or just one of: marketing and underwriting the risk of the debit card accounts, processing the payments, receiving and providing settlement for the transactions, and maintaining the reports while offering support to the merchant.

Add that to the fact that the Federal Reserve at times seems to misuse “interchange fees.” Interchange fees are associated only with Party #2, the Card Issuing bank. The bulk of the report does indeed seem to limit the scope of the 12 cent cap to Card Issuing Banks. That implies and makes evident that the overall swipe fee that merchants pay will not have any such cap at all, but party #2 will be greatly affected. Since the Acquiring Banks are not clearly defined as subject to inclusion in the cap (it’s mentioned vaguely in a few paragraphs and footnotes), then the media frenzied reporting of a “12 cent swipe fee” would not be true at all. The Acquiring Banks and all the layers within them could fill the gap and keep the overall swipe fee that a merchant pays, the same. D’oh!

But Card Issuing banks are up in arms because the cap is impossible to sustain and it is even acknowledged in the report. The report quotes, “An issuer with costs above the cap would not receive interchange fees to cover those higher costs. As a result, a high-cost issuer would have an incentive to reduce its costs in order to avoid a penalty.” With millions of people in the industry, does the Federal Reserve really think that banks have at no point considered how to reduce costs already?

Too Rich?

As hard working Americans, we so badly want “Wall Street” and the “Big Banks” to simply be a handful of arrogant individuals in overpriced suits, drinking fine wines, while chatting about their new private jets and weekend trips to Paris. But instead the financial services industry employs millions of individuals, many who make less than $35,000/ year.

How many administrative assistants, customer support reps, technical support reps, risk analysts, underwriters, fraud prevention managers, internal IT & systems support reps, compliance officers, bookkeepers, internal auditors, salesmen, marketers, lawyers, and handlers of human resources do you think are employed in the electronic payments industry?

If these jobs were lost or affected, consider the consequences to the businesses that support them. How many supply companies sell them paper, business cards, printer ink, pens, and staplers? How many accountants do their books? How many IT companies sell them computer hardware and technology? These millions of workers do not starve to death, but rather eat breakfast and lunches at restaurants and cafes near their offices. How many restaurants and cafes depend on their business? How many cleaning services have contracts to maintain their offices? How many dealerships sell these workers cars? 

How many of these people are doing the job just to support their families? We are not using the face of the hard working middle class to support our argument, but they will certainly become unwitting victims. While the contributors to our site are involved in the electronic payments industry, we are not executives, higher ups, or even rich. The site’s core message is to guide business owners to get the best deal in an industry that is already highly competitive and tough to understand.

Let us state this: Some banks have excessive profits and some executives in the payment industry are just a little too rich for comfort. But cutting what many experts are saying is $14 Billion dollars worth of revenue as of the result of this legislation isn’t going to affect the big guys, it’s going to clamp down on the little ones.

Didn’t the Article Title Mention Something about Senators?

Some may consider our message to be astroturfing but we’re just explaining the other side of the story. Before we regulate ourselves into a world without debit cards and the loss of a few milliion jobs, we applaud a few good Senators for introducing the Debit Interchange Fee Study Act of 2011. It aims to delay the Durbin Amendment for 2 years until a better system can be created. We like to think of it as taking a deep breath, composing ourselves, and then really trying to tackle the issue.

The sponsors of the Act are:

  • Jon Tester D-Montana
  • Bob Corker R-Tennessee
  • John Kyl R-Arizona
  • Ben Nelson D-Nebraska
  • Tom Carper D-Delaware
  • Chris Coons D-Delaware (What would Christine O’Donnell have done?)
  • Pat Roberts R-Kansas
  • Mike Lee R-Utah
  • Pat Toomey R-Pennsylvania

Everyone wants lower costs but let’s do it right.

– deBanked

Last modified: February 27, 2013
Sean Murray

Category: Debit Cards, Merchant Processing, MPR Authored

Home Debit Cards, Merchant Processing, MPR Authored › Debit Interchange Fee Study Act: A Few Good Senators Try to Stop the Madness