A court case between millions of businesses and the country's largest financial institutions could end up leading to lower prices and therefore potentially less credit card debt for consumers.
The lawsuit, a private antitrust case between about 5 million merchants large and small against financial giants like Visa, MasterCard and 13 of the biggest banks in the country, is over what businesses say are unfairly high interchange fees charged to them every time they accept a credit card transaction, according to a report from CNBC. And the case could have a far-reaching impact when it comes to those large financial institutions. Some analysts say they may settle – and that it could cost them as much as hundreds of billions of dollars to do so – or that it may come down to the judge making a decision that could lead to lower prices.
Some believe that the judge could institute a fee limit on credit card transactions of as little as 0.5 percent of the purchase's total value, down 75 percent from the current average of roughly 2 percent, the report said. That's equal to the limit imposed in Australia, but still well above the fee cap of just 0.3 percent in the European Union.
For banks, the damage of such a fee could be significant for financial institutions, which is why some expect a settlement instead of letting the case begin as scheduled in September 2012, the report said. Some of the nation's largest banks could stand to lose more than $3 billion annually to such a fee cap.
That limit would be imposed in addition to the similar one implemented for debit card transactions in July of last year, the report said. That restriction, imposed by the Durbin Amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act, cuts the amount a payment processor can charge a business for accepting a debit transaction to just 21 cents per purchase instead of the previous average of 44 cents, based on a percentage of the total value of a purchase.
Merchants say they typically have to charge higher prices because of the interchange fees they pay to lenders. But with these limits being imposed, it could lead to lower prices for the same items, which could help consumers save money and reduce debt.