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Dodd-Frank Reform and Consumer Protection Act – What it means to business!

The Dodd-Frank Reform and Consumer Protection Act, signed by President Obama in July 2010, is now law. Included in the act is theDurbin Amendment, a provision in the bill dealing with debit card Interchange fees and other issues related to payment processing.  Many merchants and friends have asked me what effect, if any,  this will have on small business.  While many things remain unclear, let me attempt to explain my understandings as most interpret them.

First and foremost on the minds of most small merchants is:  Are my credit card processing fees going to increase?  My guess would be probably not significantly if at all, , but your guess is as good as mine.  Still to be decided by the Feds are the specific rules and means by which the new law will be enforced and implemented, which I believe should be written in approximately nine months more-or-less.  This means that merchants (and processors) may expect new Interchange rates probably in early to mid 2011.  What that means, up or down, remains to be seen.  The good news is, the authors of the law appear to have taken steps to ensure that processors do not circumvent rules by simply substituting increased network fees (per item fees) for decreased Interchange rates. Beyond that, all we can do is wait and see.

Other interesting tidbits of interest to Merchants:

Merchants are now free to set minimum (or maximum for that matter) amounts for credit card transactions. which technically has always been a no-no in the past.  This new rule does NOT apply to debit card transactions, regardless of pin or signature type.  Further, merchants may not differentiate between card issuers or payment card networks.  My take on this issue remains unchanged from what it has always been:  Setting a minimum credit card amount is almost always a short-sighted and silly thing for almost any merchant to do, because the LAST thing any merchant wants to do is hassle or argue with a valued customer for any reason, particularly one like this that probably amounts to nothing more than a few pennies anyway.  The fact that this practice is now permitted does not make it any less foolish for any merchant to consider.

Merchants are now permitted to offer a discount for any specific payment type, say pin debit for example.  Again, the merchant may not differentiate on the basis of card issuer or payment card network.  The discount must be applied to the advertised price of the service or item.  In other words, a merchant can offer a discount off the advertised price, but may NOT add a ‘card price” surcharge to the regular price.

The new regulations only apply to the ‘big’ guys, meaning banks and processors.  The asset cap is $10 billion per issuer, along with affiliates.  That means many most Regional and Community US banks will be exempt.  Also, our government has seen fit to exempt themselves from Interchange debit card fee regulations, obviously in deference to the impact on government card programs.

Over time  the Durbin bill will evolve and we will know exactly how it impact business and the payments industry. Stay Tuned!

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