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TRENTON – A consumer advocacy bill sponsored by Senators Jim Whelan, Bob Gordon and Nia H. Gill that would prohibit retailers from passing on credit card transaction fees to customers was approved today by the Senate Commerce Committee. The bill is in response to a recent nationwide change to Visa and MasterCard regulations that allows retailers to impose additional surcharges at the point of sale.
“As families across the state are already struggling to make ends meet in this tough economy, the last thing they need is another fee added at the check out line,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “Credit card processing fees of up to four percent -- on top of the already high cost of living in the Garden State -- may stretch many New Jersey families beyond their budgets. While many retailers are saying that they are not planning to pass these transaction fees on to their customers, this bill will ensure that consumers are protected in the future.”
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 subject to a penalty up to $10,000 for the first offense and up to $20,000 for each additional offense.
Previously, Visa and MasterCard had prohibited retailers from passing on the one to four percent fees – depending upon the individual credit card – to the consumer. This rule-reversal, which went into effect on January 27, 2013, 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.
“In these trying economic times, many New Jersey families are dealing with challenging financial situations that could result in them putting essential items – such as food or clothes – onto credit cards to pay back at a later date,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This common-sense legislation will protect working families who are trying to get back on stable financial footing, in order to ensure that the price of these necessities does not increase for them.”
Similar changes 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.
“We have started to see gains in the economy here in New Jersey and across the country. Consumer confidence is beginning to rise and New Jersey residents are starting to spend again,” said Senator Gill (D-Essex/Passaic). “We should be encouraging policies that spur consumer spending and contribute to the economy. Instead, these changes to regulation essentially raise the already high costs of goods and put less money in the hands of New Jersey middle class families.”
If passed, this legislation would make New Jersey the eleventh state to outlaw credit card surcharges. Such surcharges 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.
Many New Jersey retailers have stated that they have no intention of instituting the fees, but, according to Senators Whelan, Gordon and Gill, this legislation will protect consumers in perpetuity.
The bill was amended in committee to allow fuel merchants to sell gas at different prices to cash and credit customers, in accordance with an already existing statute. The bill was approved by the Commerce Committee with a vote of 4-2. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
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