So there’s some important legislation being considered in Washington: interchange fees.  That’s the small cost whenever we use a debit card to pay for something.  Right now, the retailers pay these fees, but the legislation is seeking to change that (putting the cost on the banks and credit card companies and in the process wind up “costing” them some $12 billion dollars a year in lost revenue).

That’s a lot of dough.

Both sides are lobbying their case with Congress right now, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.  And both sides claim they’re on the side of us, whom they call the “little guy.”

Yet if the banks/credit card companies lose, they claim they might have to forgo giving out debit cards or slash their rewards programs.  If the retailers lose, they might have to pass the costs (which they’ve been eating thus far) along to us, the consumers.  Neither of these options sound like either of the opponents are, in fact, on “our” side.

This is another perfect example of those in power (i.e. those with the money) are battling for control over our material lives and view us merely as collateral damage.  They pay lip service to wanting to protect us, but all they want is more money.

Let’s take a closer look at what’s actually going on.  The section of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in question deals with determining if these interchange fees are “reasonable and proportional” to the costs of each transaction.   It provided 9 months for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System to investigate the matter and produce its findings, which it did.  In a short and abbreviated nutshell, it found that the average transaction cost was about 12 cents.  The Board also found that the average charge for these same transactions was 44 cents.  That’s a 366% mark up for profit.  That seems far from “reasonable and proportional” to me.  The Board then offered a couple of alternatives to adjust the current system involving caps on how much the issuers (banks/credit card companies) can charge for these interchange fees.

The real kicker? “Small issuers” are exempt from any caps proposed by the Board.  Who qualifies as being “small?” Issuers with less than $10 billion in assets.  Yeah, with a “B.”

With markups and shenanigans like these, is it any wonder why the top 5 banks alone posted over $60 billion in profit in 2010?  Nor is it clear from these documents how or why the changes would wind up costing us (the consumers) more money, which is what both sides are claiming.  Either we remain in the status quo (and the retailers continue to eat the costs as they’ve done for years) or the banks/credit card companies will simply have their costs covered and make no or little profit from these fees.  Neither of these outcomes justify the lobbyists’ fear campaigns about how we’ll suffer if the “other side” wins.

Isn’t it amazing what one can learn when we read the actual documents instead of letting lobbyists try and bullshit us?

Update 5/11:

My favorite quote from the retailers’ campaign is when the clerk at a Starbucks tells the guy who wants to pay with his debit card to take the coffee because the bank will make more money off the transaction than the barista will.  Yeah, that 44 cents on a $4 cup of coffee really sinks your profit.

On the flip side, the banks/credit card companies claim that Congress gave retailers a $12 billion payday.  It’s not a payday because they’re not charging that fee to the customer!