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Look Out For Higher Credit Card Charges

For now, big retailers and service providers say they won't add credit card surcharges to purchases, including big-name U.S. brands such as McDonald's (MCD - Get Report), Target (TGT - Get Report) and Wal-Mart (WMT - Get Report).

In addition, 10 U.S. states -- California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma and Texas -- don't allow retailers to impose credit card surcharges on consumer purchases. The NRF says the deal between merchants and credit card carriers mandates that all stores in a chain must charge extra for credit card purchases, so retailers may not be able to put surcharges in place because if they're banned in the 10 states that bar them.

Other industry groups, including the Electronic Payments Coalition, say the deal is evolving and there is, or will soon be, no reason why a store in Baton Rouge, La., won't add those surcharges even if a store in the same chain can't charge them in Boston.

There is some history here, and it doesn't favor consumers.

A similar surcharge ruling in Australia in 2003 showed consumers have reason to worry. While few retailers chose to add card charges shortly after the Aussie rule was handed down, data show that more than 30% are now charging consumers more to use credit cards.

What can consumers do to fight back, or at least avoid new fees?

For one, vote with your feet. It might be worth sending a note to retailers who charge such a fee (you can tell by looking at your receipt, where the card charge is a separate line item cost from your purchase) to say you're taking your business to a non-surcharging retailer. If enough consumers take a stand, retailers may back off.

Otherwise, use a debit card or cash for purchase and avoid any fees altogether.

In reality, the smoke is just starting to clear from the legal settlement between card providers and U.S. merchants. As the situation evolves, consumers will see which retailers charge the credit card fee and which will not. With potentially 4% of the total purchase price on the line, it's well worth keeping an eye on the issue
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