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  • IT'S NOW LEGAL FOR THEM TO CHARGE EXTRA, BUT 'WHAT MERCHANT WOULD DO THAT?'

    Rogue Valley merchants leery of 'checkout fee'

    It's now legal for them to charge extra, but 'What merchant would do that?'
  • Although a court settlement now allows merchants in most states, including Oregon, to charge shoppers a "checkout fee" of up to 4 percent on swiped credit cards, Rogue Valley merchants are saying they won't do it.
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  • Although a court settlement now allows merchants in most states, including Oregon, to charge shoppers a "checkout fee" of up to 4 percent on swiped credit cards, Rogue Valley merchants are saying they won't do it.
    "We're not going to do it, and I don't know anyone who is," said Steve Olsrud, vice president of Sherm's Thunderbird and Food 4 Less in Medford.
    Steve Reed, owner of Shop'n Kart in Ashland, called the change "ridiculous."
    "What merchant would do that?" he asked.
    As of Sunday, it became legal in 40 states for merchants to add a surcharge to Visa and MasterCard "swipes," but only enough to cover their processing costs. If they add such fees, they must post a sign on the door or at the checkout stand. The surcharge is banned in 10 states, including California and New York.
    Visa and MasterCard, which previously prohibited merchants from charging such fees, agreed to allow them as part of an antitrust suit brought by retailers.
    Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Ashland pays about 3.5 percent in fees per Visa or MasterCard transaction but will not pass these costs along to shoppers, said owner Renee Hallesy.
    "People would be turned off by it," Hallesy said. "It would be viewed as nickel-and-diming, and we don't do that here.
    "No merchants are adding the fee, but all it takes is for one merchant to say, 'We're charging the fee and we don't care what you think.' Then other merchants will say, 'If they can do it, we're going to.'"
    Nationally, Walmart, Target, Macy's, Gap, JCPenney and others said they won't add the fees, according to CNNMoney. The change is part of a $72 billion settlement last July between Visa, MasterCard, many retailers and several banks. Merchants still are not allowed to add surcharges on debit-card transactions.
    Hal Koerner, owner of Rogue Valley Runners, said he wants to "cater to the needs" of consumers by not charging the fees, although the change reminds consumers how much retailers have to pay for the convenience of swiping credit cards.
    The Ashland Food Cooperative has "absolutely no plans to charge anyone for using credit cards here, and I don't know why any merchant would," said outreach director Annie Hoy.
    To get around its burden of card fees, the co-op offers shoppers gift cards for $100 worth of goods at $97 if they pay with cash or check. Shop'n Kart also offers discounts for people who don't use plastic.
    Shoppers were not pleased to hear of the new rules.
    Rebecca Daneman, shopping at the Ashland Co-op, said if she saw the surcharge sign at the checkout, she would use check or cash and might not shop there again.
    Shopper Sam Vittoria, a financier, said he well understands the merchants who would add the fee, "but who wants to pay the extra money? It would be enough to encourage me to pay with cash, check or a gift card."
    Several merchants noted that credit card fees are part of the cost of doing business and inevitably end up being paid by consumers.
    Cards with air miles and other benefits cost merchants more in fees, said Hallesy, adding that younger shoppers tend to avoid cash and shop mainly with debit cards, which also rack up fees for merchants, though they're much smaller than credit cards.
    Because of fees, she asks (but does not require) shoppers to refrain from using credit cards for items under $5, as the fees are too high compared to the profit.
    Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, said he got his first complaint about the fees Monday and will check with the House Consumer Protection Committee about the possibility of Oregon becoming one of the states that bans the surcharge.
    "I'm pro-consumer and a consumer myself," Buckley noted.
    John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.
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