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Credit Cards: Rising Interchange Fees Have Increased Costs for Merchants, but Options for Reducing Fees Pose Challenges

GAO-10-45 Published: Nov 19, 2009. Publicly Released: Nov 19, 2009.
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When a consumer uses a credit card to make a purchase, the merchant does not receive the full purchase amount because a certain portion of the sale is deducted to compensate the merchant's bank, the bank that issued the card, and the card network that processes the transaction. The level and growth of these rates have become increasingly controversial. The 2009 Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act directed GAO to review (1) how the fees merchants pay have changed over time and the factors affecting the competitiveness of the credit card market, (2) how credit card competition has affected consumers, (3) the benefits and costs to merchants of accepting cards and their ability to negotiate those costs, and (4) the potential impact of various options intended to lower merchant costs. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed and analyzed relevant studies, literature, and data on the card payment market and interviewed industry participants, including large and small card issuers (including community banks and credit unions), card processors, card networks, large merchants representing a significant proportion of retail sales, and small merchants from a variety of industries, and academic experts. GAO provided a draft of this report to the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and federal banking regulators, and we incorporated their technical comments where appropriate.

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CompetitionConsumer protectionCost analysisCreditCredit salesFeesFinancial managementInterest ratesNational banksPaymentsPrices and pricingProfitsSalesPolicies and procedures