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U.S. judge hears chorus of complaints over $7.2 billion credit card fees

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge on Thursday heard a diverse parade of objectors seeking to derail a record $7.2 billion class action settlement he is weighing between merchants and credit companies Visa Inc and MasterCard Inc over credit card fees.

U.S. District Judge John Gleeson of Brooklyn reserved final judgment at the conclusion of a roughly 5 1/2-hour hearing, saying he had been presented with "very important and difficult issues." His decision could take several months to deliver.

Were Gleeson to approve the deal, it would be the largest federal antitrust settlement in history.

Merchants first sued Visa and MasterCard in 2005, accusing the two companies of fixing the fees charged to merchants each time their customers used their credit or debit cards. They were accused also of preventing merchants from steering customers to cheaper forms of payments and other anti-competitive behavior.

Visa and MasterCard have denied the allegations.


Canadian Competition Tribunal Rejects Antitrust Suit on Credit Card Surcharging

The Canadian Competition Tribunal yesterday rejected a claim by the Canadian Competition Bureauseeking to require credit card networks to create a right to allow merchants to surcharge consumers who use credit cards for payment.
Canadian consumer groups recognized this as a big win for consumers:
Consumer groups were hailing the decision as a major victory, noting that it means credit card users will be protected from unwanted surprises at the checkout counter, such as surcharges.
The Competition Bureau noted among other points that in other countries where merchants have been given the power to surcharge, they have imposed surcharges opportunistically by surcharging above cost.
In the United States, a recent settlement in a similar antitrust suit gave merchants the power to surcharge credit card transactions in the United States. I criticized that element of the settlement at the time as injurious to consumers for precisely the reason that consumer groups in Canada opposed surcharging–which is that it gives merchants the ability to quote consumers a low price and then ambush them at the checkout counter by forcing them to pay a higher price. Under the cash discount act of 1981, merchants already possess the right to offer cash discounts to consumers (you probably have noticed this at gas stations whenever gas prices rise). So why also demand a right to surcharge? Because merchants know that by quoting a non-transparent price on the front end and then ambushing consumers with a surcharge at the counter many consumers will pay the higher price rather than put the goods back on the shelf, or in the case of services, the consumer will have already accepted the services and so will be forced to pay the surcharge if they have insufficient cash to cover the transaction.

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