NRF Ads Ask Congress to Keep Swipe Fee Amendment in Financial Reform

WASHINGTON -- The National Retail Federation (NRF) launched a radio campaign urging the House and Senate to keep an amendment seeking reasonable swipe fees for debit card transactions in the financial services reform legislation expected to be finalized next week.

"With big banks and the credit card industry pushing hard to strip this important consumer protection out of the financial services reform bill, we want to make sure that members of Congress realize how angry small businesses and their customers are about these fees," said NRF Senior Vice President for Government Relations Steve Pfister. "These fees are driving up costs for consumers at a time when our economy is still recovering."

He added: "Taxpayers have already paid for one bailout of the banking industry. Consumers shouldn't be asked to bail out the banks and the card industry again, but that's what would happen if this amendment is killed."

The 60-second spots are running in the home districts of key members of the House-Senate conference committee negotiating a final version of the Restoring American Financial Stability Act. The panel is expected to complete its work next week, followed by final votes in the House and Senate the following week, sending the bill to President Obama's desk by July 4.

The radio ads open with a husband and wife reading a newspaper article about another bailout of the banking industry, noting swipe fees cost consumers more than $400 a year.

Husband: "A swipe fee for using my bank debit card? I thought it was like using a check or cash." Wife: "Using a debit card costs 43 times more than using a check." Husband: "They're taking billions. And nobody is doing a thing about it."

An announcer adds: "Congress is trying to do something about unfair hidden swipe fees. But big banks and credit card CEOs are doing everything they can to keep collecting their swipe fees."

The commercial urges listeners to contact their members of Congress and urge them to "fix the debit card swipe fee" and "stop the bailout."

Swipe fees -- officially known as interchange fees -- are a percentage of the transaction charged by card company banks each time a card is swiped to pay for a transaction. The fees average between 1 percent and 2 percent for debit cards and 2 percent or more for credit cards. Overall swipe fees charged to retailers and other business by Visa and MasterCard banks totaled $48 billion in 2008 and resulted in higher prices estimated at $427 for the average household. Debit swipe fees alone amount to approximately $20 billion of the annual total.

The Senate version of the financial services reform bill includes an amendment sponsored by Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), that would require the Federal Reserve to set regulations that would result in "reasonable and proportional" swipe fees for debit cards that take into account banks' actual costs for processing the transactions and the fact paper checks drawn on the same accounts are paid at face value. The amendment would also make it easier for merchants to offer discounts or other benefits for customers who don't use credit cards and to set minimum purchase amounts for credit cards.

NRF's global membership includes retailers of all sizes, formats and channels of distribution, as well as chain restaurants and industry partners from the United States and more than 45 countries abroad.

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