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TheStreet Open House

The 500% Markup Banks Got Since 'Reform'

Partly, it's because big banks got creative with other revenue channels. Prepaid debit cards, which aren't covered under the Durbin Amendment and come with big fees, have exploded since the rules went into effect.

Banks have also cut credit and debit card reward programs, cutting another burden on their bottom lines, while taking away a popular consumer banking service. Plus, banks have instituted "maintenance" fees that have replaced revenues lost from debit card reform.

But all that is gravy compared with what some debit card reform advocates say banks are hauling in from swipe fee "reform." According to the Merchants Payments Coalition, banks and credit card companies are enjoying a 500% mark-up in debit card fees at the expense of retailers and consumers.

The MPC does say that the Durbin Amendment protected smaller banks and credit unions from losing revenue, but "the fees paid to large banks by merchants and their customers are five times the actual cost the banks incur to swipe the card."

The group places the blame for the high mark-ups squarely on the Federal Reserve.

"This report shows that the Fed made a mistake in implementing an effective law. Consumers and merchants should be benefiting more from the reforms," says Jennifer Hatcher, a senior vice president at the Food Marketing Institute and a member of the Merchants Payments Coalition.

"No merchants in a competitive marketplace mark up their products and services by 500%," she adds. "They would be put out of business. It should be the same for banks and credit card companies."

Don't expect the debit card fee landscape to change. The Fed has already said it won't act to tweak or change the card rules. Congress doesn't seem to have any interest on a new debate on swipe fees, either.

That's manna from heaven for banks, but just another day in the economic trenches for U.S. consumers.

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