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Swipe Fees Continue to Sting for Small Businesses

Stocks in this article: MA V

In other words, the settlement didn't settle anything.

While some retailers have said they will accept the offer, many others did not, including heavyweights such as Wal-Mart (WMT), Home Depot (HD) and the largest retail associations. Though theoretically it would be great to charge customers directly for the fees imposed by credit cards, what retailer wants to add an extra fee onto a customer's receipt in the current economic climate? Doesn't that risk turning off shoppers and driving them away?

The amount of the settlement also becomes less impressive once you look at the other numbers involved. The lawyers' fees alone add up to $750 million, according to the National Retail Federation, nearly 10% of the total. Divide the remaining $6.5 billion by the millions of retailers that accept credit cards and it's hardly a windfall.

One other sticking point is a provision that would bar all retailers -- even those who do not yet exist -- from filing future lawsuits over swipe fees. That has raised fears that the credit card companies and banks would be free to do what they wanted in the future, free of the threat of legal action.

Merchants who objected to the settlement asked for an immediate appeal on legal grounds, which was recently denied, and the settlement got preliminary approval from a New York court. Over the next few months, all retailers that accept major credit cards will have the opportunity to accept the settlement or opt out. It is only after that months-long process is complete that arguments on final approval can be held.

It's encouraging to know that small businesses can take collective action against well-funded, well-entrenched financial corporations. But it's still not clear whether all their demands will be met. We are a nation that runs on payments via plastic, and that's unlikely to change, no matter what the final settlement may be.

This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.
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