Bankers Whine Over New Cap On Unlimited Debit Card Fees


You know, fellas, we do remember how to use cash. It's bad enough that we let you guys charge us for the automatic cash machines that first allowed you to lay off thousands of bank tellers when you first came up with the idea. But now you want to just keep upping the charges for using the debit cards you gave us -- again, yet another device that let you cut labor costs? You bankers really have no shame:

WASHINGTON — It seemed a good idea last year, when the financial crisis had turned banks into Public Enemy No. 1 and lawmakers were looking for ways to reward consumers still bitter about billion-dollar bailouts and executive bonuses.

Without much warning or debate, the Senate passed an amendment directing the Federal Reserve to reduce the hidden “swipe fees” that banks collect from retailers each time a customer makes a purchase with a debit card.

Merchants, who had complained that the $20.5 billion in annual fees were biting into their profits, were elated. Banks were stunned. Their lobbyists tried to reverse the move, but when the overhaul of the nation’s financial regulation was passed by Congress last July, the debit card cut survived.

Now, as the Fed faces a deadline in April to write the rules for the lower fees, banks and debit card companies are engaged in an all-out assault on Capitol Hill, enlisting a growing cadre of lawmakers and lobbyists to push for changes, delay or outright repeal. Banks contend the proposed cut in fees — to 12 cents per transaction from an average of 44 cents — will leave many of them unable to afford to issue debit cards to customers or will force them to raise other consumer banking charges to cover the costs. They also claim retailers will reap unfair profits.

A coalition of banks and card companies have plastered subway cars and Internet sites with ads warning, “Bureaucrats want to take away your debit card!”

“I am appalled that our members will shoulder tremendous financial burden and still be on the hook for fraud loss while large retailers receive a giant windfall at the hands of the government,” John P. Buckley Jr., the president of Gerber Federal Credit Union of Fremont, Mich., told a House of Representatives subcommittee last week.


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