While Democrats work to zero in on the source of skyrocketing inflation ahead of the 2022 midterms, our representatives should focus on the real profiteers as prices soar across all industries: Credit card companies.
Hidden behind every tap, swipe, and insert of a credit card are charges known as swipe fees that are relatively unfamiliar to most consumers but are one of the largest financial burdens for merchants. These fees tack on an extra 1.5 to 3.5 percent to every payment transaction, which means the banks and credit card companies that levy swipe fees are seeing huge additional returns as inflation surges to a record 7.9 percent.
Visa and Mastercard already dominate nearly 80 percent of the credit card market share. Spending on their payment networks jumped over 20 percent in the final months of last year amounting to trillions of dollars in sales. Despite all that spending, Americans are getting fewer goods and services due to higher prices, while both companies rake in windfall profits.
Rather than being satisfied with massive gains in revenue as swipe fee percentages pull in more from larger purchase transactions, Visa and Mastercard have chosen to yet again increase their fees. Two years ago, a similar proposal faced immense pressure from the public and members of Congress pushing both companies to forgo some of their increases. But a month later they still quietly enacted a majority of their plan. Even worse, their supposed “postponement” was used to justify a new swath of swipe fee increases in April.
Congress recently called on the executives of Visa and Mastercard to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about this latest increase. While that marked a positive step toward targeting a source of inflationary concerns and price gouging, lawmakers should move to introduce legislation to mitigate these fees through competition.
Even the United States Federal Reserve would likely call current swipe fee percentages unnecessary. At the start of the year, the Fed released a report referencing how much cheaper, convenient, and widely accessible our payment network has become. Through the advent of instant digital payments and new services like FedNow, the argument for continuing to raise swipe fees is dwindling.
Unfortunately, the major credit card companies have an iron grip on the payments industry and wield monopolistic power dictating swipe fees that are then disseminated by banks who have no choice given their use of these card services. New competition in the industry is needed to help boost market forces that would drive down swipe fees and force these companies to compete for the opportunity to provide payment services.
Additionally, in New Jersey, we have seen this impact take on a new approach that has a multiplier effect on consumers as some restaurants are now imposing credit card surcharges of nearly 4 percent as a direct result of the fees being imposed on them by credit card companies. I’ve been working on legislation on a state level to address these issues and we certainly need Congress to take action to prevent this increasing burden on consumers.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for the high prices currently plaguing our economy, but there’s no doubt major credit card companies have added to these problems and are planning to make them worse. As merchants and retailers struggle to shield consumers from the cost of inflation, these additional fees are destined to hit everyday Americans. Members of Congress must advocate for solutions that bring competition to the payments marketplace. While all of us are paying more at the pump and at the store, the credit card industry is profiting not only from spiked gas prices but from everything we buy.