As Led Zeppelin once said, “The song remains the same,” and it should be added that the tune usually plays out like this: It’s a hot day and our throat is parched. We have no cash on us (when do we ever?), but duck into the nearest 7/11 anyway for sustenance. Even though we feel somewhat ridiculous for using our trusty Visa to pay for a $2 bottle of water, we stop mid-slide when we realize the stained sticky note posted under our poised hand. The note reads “Minimum card purchase: $6.” We frantically scramble around, grabbing at caloric candy bars to add to the sole reason we came in the first place, for our coveted bottle of water. Thanks to a minimum charge (or special fee), we get to leave feeling refreshed but ripped-off…and a little peeved at the entire situation.
Guess what? Technically stores can’t add fees, surcharges or require a minimum on your card purchases. If only I had known this a decade ago. Adding fees and other charges to a credit card purchase is in violation of credit card issuer practices, according to American Express, MasterCard and Visa merchant agreements.
While some storeowners break these rules to make money or cover their merchant fees with your ignorance, many owners probably aren’t even aware that it’s in violation of their contracts. Taking into consideration that merchant fees are about $2 of every $100 spent on credit cards, it’s no wonder that many storeowners are scrambling to recoup fees — but it’s still no excuse.
"To clarify Visa's rules, merchants are not permitted to charge cardholders an additional fee for using a Visa card,” a Visa spokesperson tells CreditCards.com.
An American Express rep tells the site that its merchants pay for the service of accepting American Express from their customers, and that "if a customer suspects he or she has been treated unethically, they should contact us.” If, like me, you’re a part of the Visa family, Visa says that "if cardholders have any questions about Visa's rules, they should call the number on the back of their card or visit our Web site for more information."
Bottom line, if you feel you’ve been unfairly swindled with a fee, surcharge, or minimum charge requirement, report the violation to your credit card company. If I choose to spend $2 on a bottle of water (hey, I was dying of thirst!), then I should have to pay no more than $2, Visa card or not.
For much more information, and a fabulous little table defining credit card practice that are and are not allowed, swing on over to CreditCards.com.
Am I selling books or cornflakes? - Lynn Michell
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