Durbin Amendment Back In the News

January 24, 2012

The Official Merchant Services Blog returns to a topic that it covered thoroughly throughout 2011: The Durbin Amendment. With the Stop Online Piracy Act getting most of the headlines lately, Durbin Amendment’s continued impact on the payment processing industry has gone into stealth mode. Until today that is. Stick with us as we offer a whirlwind roundup of all things Durbin related.

Bank of America Took a Beating

We’ll start off our tour Durbin tidbits with this article by ABC News. Apparently Bank of America took a substantial hit from their plan to charge $5 per month to use debit cards. According to the article: “Bank of America’s failed plan to impose a $5 monthly debit card fee led to a 20 percent increase in closed accounts in the last three months of 2011 and a public relations headache.”

The article quotes Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan as saying, “yes, we had some impact from the $5 debit fee. That’s why we made a decision to reverse it.”

It wasn’t all bad news for Bank of America though, as the bank reported earnings of $2 billion in the last three months of 2011, up from a net loss of $1.2 billion in the same period a year ago, boosted in part from a one-time gain on the sale of China Construction Bank.

Small Lenders Strike it Big

The next little bit of Durbin aftermath comes from this article by NACS online. As was seen in the Host Merchant Services in-depth analysis of the legislation, The Durbin Amendment only applies to lending institutions with assets over $10 billion. Smaller banks and credit unions are exempt from the Durbin Amendment. As a result of being exempt, a Wall Street Journal report cited by the NACS article states that these institutions have been “collecting fees that are often three times those imposed on cards by large banks.” 

For comparison, the article says: “The WSJ notes that a $100 sweater purchased with a debit card would incur a fee of 95 cents on a card issued by a smaller bank and only 26 cents for those issued by big banks. “

The article also suggests that banks face further uncertainty by April 1, 2012, when “all U.S. banks and credit unions must offer retailers more choices of companies used to process debit card transactions, a move that is expected to lower interchange fees further.”

New Target: Credit Card Swipe Fees

Time Magazine Online Feature Moneyland reports something that Host Merchant Services has already touched on before in The Official Merchant Services Blog — that Credit Card Swipe Fees may be the next target of legislators and financial reform. From the Time article: “There’s another interchange fee fight in the offing — this time over credit cards. According to CNBC, equity analysts who cover the financial sector have expressed worry that ongoing litigation involving several major banks could lead to a cap of 0.5% on credit interchange fees — one-fourth of what’s currently charged — potentially dragging down bank earnings. If that happens, consumers who are used to generous credit card rewards programs complete with double miles, accelerated earnings, and big sign-up bonuses might get a rude awakening.”

The Official Merchant Services Blog on December 13, 2011 covered the topic of a Credit Card Swipe Fee. In that blog we wrote: “the plan would end up working much like the Durbin Amendment has worked. Where the idea of reform would get overshadowed by how banks and credit card companies reacted to the law. There would be some shifting, so in that sense the reform would cause change. But that eventually the burden for paying for any losses that banks and credit card companies get forced into through reform would end up squarely on the shoulders of the consumers.”

The Time article notes something that Host Merchant Services already pointed out regarding a Credit Card version of the Durbin Amendment — Banks would take another huge hit because Durbin has language that freed up banks and merchants to market and promote options to the consumer directly. In short, Durbin’s language freed merchants up to promote credit over debit. And because of that, a lot of merchants did just that as Banks offered new programs to make credit the more attractive choice. Subsequent changes that would now penalize Banks for doing that would create a lot of negative momentum for Banks and added onus for consumers who get stuck with no good choices overall.

New Hampshire Law

This article from credit.com reveals that one state legislature is already making moves to see a Credit Card Swipe Fee Cap become reality. As the article states: “A piece of legislation introduced in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, House Bill 1319, has drawn some attention for the way in which it would drastically alter the credit card landscape between businesses and payment processors. The law will limit the amount banks chartered within the state are able to charge businesses for processing credit card transactions to just 1 percent of the total purchase value.”

The article goes on to state that many businesses pay costs that range from 0.67 percent of the transaction’s value to 4.76 percent and that a MasterCard spokesperson told the Nashua Telegraph that the average 1.75 percent.

Cash Still Rules Everything Around Me

Our last news brief on the topic of the Durbin Amendment and swipe fee caps is a little different. This article from the Huffington Post shows a study that reveals cash is still king. The gist of the article: “More than three-quarters, or 79 percent, of consumers said they made a cash purchase in the last seven days, according to a report released on Tuesday from Javelin Strategy & Research, a market research group for financial services. Compare that to about 65 percent of credit and debit cardholders who say they swiped their plastic in the last week.”

The article suggests that this is a consumer reaction to card swipe fees. The article states that consumers are choosing to pay for items with cash to avoid fees on small, everyday purchases. The convenience of plastic gets overrun by the savings consumers perceive they get from going back to cold, hard cash. The study indicates that cash is replacing debit for small purchases, and credit is replacing debit for big purchases and the Durbin Amendment’s lasting legacy may simply be that it pushes Debit out of the consumer’s arsenal of payment options.

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