Small Banks Kept Swipe Fees High After Debit Reform
By: Brian O'Connell

NEW YORK (BankingMyWay) — Not only have small banks not been harmed by debit card reform, they’re reaping financial rewards from higher swipe fees, says a report by the Federal Trade Commission.

Loosely defined, an interchange fee is the amount of money, based on a small percentage of a transaction, a retailer pays a bank when a consumer swipes a credit card or a debit card. Under the new rules, debit card swipe fees dropped by about 45% from an average 43 cents.

But debit card swipe fee reform, more formally called the Durbin Amendment, affected only banks and credit card firms with assets of more than $10 billion. That exempted more than 14,000 financial institutions, the FTC said.

There, according to data collected by the Federal Reserve Board and released in May, interchange fees paid to exempt issuers stayed at that 43-cent average.

A recent report by the General Accountability Office also concluded that “community banks and credit unions have not, on average, experienced a significant decline in their debit interchange fees as a result of the Federal Reserve’s implementation of section 1075 of the Dodd-Frank Act.

There are two key takeaways from consumers from the FTC report:

  • Small financial institutions weren’t really hurt by the Durbin Amendment, a charge made by larger banks when the bill was being debated in Congress. According to a Federal Reserve report, the Durbin Amendment has cost big banks $8.06 billion (as of May) and smaller banks only $329 million.
  • There’s no direct evidence consumers are getting a price break from lower debit card fees from merchants, although that was the idea when the reform was passed.

A June study by the Competitive Enterprise Institute for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation says another $7 billion will be lost in direct compliance costs from the Dodd-Frank Act in addition to the Durbin Amendment cost of $8 billion from lower interchange fees. “Contrary to claims of proponents of these price controls, it does not look like much of this retailer windfall has been passed on to consumers," the study says.

—For more ways to save, spend, invest and borrow, visit MainStreet.com.

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