Interchange fee legislation could deal blow to credit card companies

Visa, MasterCard could take a hit from new regulation An amendment to an omnibus financial regulation bill currently being considered in the U.S. Senate – which was recently approved by that chamber with 64 votes – will place strict caps on so-called interchange fees that credit card issuers charge merchants for processing payments made with debit or credit cards.

According to financial news and analysis website The Motley Fool, the caps on interchange fees will not directly harm the bottom lines of companies like Visa and MasterCard. However, the website quotes Visa’s annual report as saying that "if we cannot successfully defend our ability to set default interchange rates to maximize system volume, our payments system may become unattractive to issuers and/or acquirers."

Proponents of the amendment say that it will shift the burden of these interchange fees off of merchants, who say that the fees can seriously harm their profits on low-margin sales.

However, consumers could see a reduction in the number of establishments able to accept debit cards, and experts say that the effect on an already-stretched U.S. consumer base might not be universally positive, making for increased demand for consumer debt counseling.