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Credit and Debit Cards: Federal Agencies Benefit from Card Acceptance, but Have Limited Ability to Control Interchange Fee Costs

GAO-10-821T Published: Jun 16, 2010. Publicly Released: Jun 16, 2010.
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Federal entities--agencies, corporations, and others--are growing users of credit and debit cards, as both "merchants" (receiving payments) and purchasers. Federal entities, like other merchants that accept cards, incur fees--called merchant discount fees--to process card transactions. For Visa and MasterCard transactions, a large portion of these fees-- referred to as interchange fees--goes to the card-issuing banks. This statement addresses (1) the amounts of revenue that federal entities have collected using credit and debit cards and the costs of such acceptance, (2) these entities' efforts to reduce their interchange fee costs, including negotiations, and (3) the extent to which card network rules affect these entities and other card accepters' ability to reduce interchange fee costs. The information for this statement was drawn from Credit and Debit Cards: Federal Entities Are Taking Actions to Limit Their Interchange Fees, but Additional Revenue Collection Cost Savings May Exist (GAO-08-558) and Credit Cards: Rising Interchange Fees Have Increased Costs for Merchants, but Options for Reducing Fees Pose Challenges (GAO-10-45). GAO analyzed data on accepting and using cards from the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), Amtrak, the Postal Service, and General Services Administration (GSA); and interviewed non-federal merchants, card networks, banks, academics, and others. GAO also obtained updated 2009 revenues and costs from Treasury, Amtrak, and the Postal Service, and purchases from GSA.

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