TRENTON – Spurred by a recent nationwide change to Visa and MasterCard regulations that allows retailers to impose credit card processing fees on customers, Senators Jim Whelan, Bob Gordon and Nia H. Gill yesterday introduced a consumer advocacy bill that would protect New Jersey residents from point-of-purchase surcharges for using their credit cards.
“Nationally we are starting to see gains in the economy, as we slowly pull out of the recession,” said Whelan (D-Atlantic.) “Yet once again, New Jersey residents are hit with fees and charges at the check-out line that could have a real impact on families’ and residents’ budgets. Nearly a quarter of all purchases made in the US are made using a credit card and with the additional imposition of up to four percent in charges, this could negatively affect New Jersey’s growing consumer confidence.”
The bill, S-2533, would prohibit retailers – including grocery stores, restaurants and retail outlets – from imposing a surcharge on consumers for the use of a credit card. Under the bill, a retailer who imposes a surcharge would be punishable with a penalty up to $10,000 for the first offense and up to $20,000 for each additional offense.
The legislation is in response to recent changes made by Visa and MasterCard that now allow retailers to pass on credit card transaction fees directly to the customer, anywhere from one to four percent of the purchase, depending upon the individual credit card. This rule-reversal, which went into effect this past Sunday, is part of a settlement between Visa and MasterCard and a group of approximately seven million retailers in an antitrust suit that was decided in November of 2012.
“Retailers have already built the cost of credit card fees into their prices,” said Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This change in regulation is in essence allowing retailers to double-dip into their customers’ pockets – customers who are already paying interest fees to the credit card companies for their purchases. Since New Jersey already has one of the highest costs of living in the United States, residents simply cannot afford to see products – from food to clothes to other necessities – go up in price.”
Similar charges were made to credit card regulations in Australia in 2003, and now about one-third of retailers impose a surcharge on their customers for using a credit card, according to ConsumerWorld.org.
“Many of our residents are struggling to remain afloat in this tough economy and, unfortunately, have been forced to use credit cards for many of their basic expenses,” said Gill (D-Essex/Passaic). “To have a fee added to the already high cost of goods would be an undue burden on New Jersey families. We cannot allow consumers to bear the brunt of credit card processing fees that have long been considered a normal cost of doing business.”
If passed, this legislation would make New Jersey the eleventh state to outlaw credit card surcharges. They are already banned in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma and Texas. The Senators note that since New York has already banned credit card surcharges, New Jersey shoppers may be inclined to shop in New York when making large purchases.
The bill has been referenced to the Senate Commerce Committee and will be heard during the Feb. 4 meeting of the Committee.
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