Why the Durbin Amendment Got it Right

October 3, 2011

The people in Washington aren’t exactly popular these days, and mostly for good reason.  Unemployment is high, the so-called economic recovery is weak, and small businesses are hurting.  However, another round of stimulus is on its way, and this time it might just work.  Even better, this stimulus comes at the expense of banks that got us into this mess to begin with. To be fair, there is plenty of blame to spread around but that is a topic for another day.  The Durbin Amendment went into effect October 1st, and many businesses will see a significant reduction in their monthly debit card processing fees.  This isn’t just for pin-based transactions, but applies to all Visa and Mastercard logo signature debit cards, as well as card-not-present debit card transactions via Internet and phone order.  On average, fees will be reduced by over 1% per transaction, resulting in a windfall for small business.

There are a lot of arguments against the Durbin Amendement.  I’ll outline and debunk the major ones here:

  1. The savings will not get passed along to the merchants.  True, your merchant services company is not required to pass the savings along to you.  If you are on tiered pricing instead of Interchange plus, you aren’t going to receive the benefits.  But this is also creating a huge opportunity for merchant services companies like us to introduce customers to the benefits of our pricing model and to save them a very significant amount of money.  In short, if you’re merchant services company isn’t passing the savings along to you, it’s time to find a new merchant services company.
  2. Merchants will not pass the savings along to their consumers.  Again, true, but not necessarily the point.  In a free market, any time you create margin, you create opportunity.  Businesses all over the country are getting a little relief in their margins.  Some will choose to use that margin to compete on price.  Some will pocket the profits.  Many will use that extra profit to reinvest and grow their businesses through hiring and infrastructure enhancements.  No matter how you slice it, this is money directly to small business and that is great for the economy.
  3. Banks will charge fees to offset the lost revenue.  Sure, this is happening at some high profile institutions like Bank of America.  But other banks are also using it as an opportunity to lure you away.  Banks are limited by competition in terms of how much of the fee they can pass along to you before you bolt to a competitor.  That is the free market working the way it should.  When you take monopolistic fees like Interchange that are unavoidable to merchants and move them to the front of the transaction, consumers and small businesses ultimately win.  You now have the ability to shop for the best deal, where transaction costs were previously hidden and passed along in other ways.

 

Overall, the Durbin Amendment should provide a multi-billion dollar boost to small businesses everywhere, and the government didn’t have to shell out taxpayer dollars to make it happen.  Sure, it may be somewhat arbitrary, and too much regulation is never a good thing, but the card associations that impose Interchange fees operate as a cartel with monopolistic powers, so the government has a valuable role to play in the process.  We should all celebrate the Durbin Amendment and the tremendous benefits to small business.  If you’re not setup to take advantage of the savings, what are you waiting for?  Apply now!

 

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