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Durbin Rule Takes From Consumers in the Store and the Bank

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With all eyes on Washington, D.C., this week, it's not exactly a surprise to Americans that, once again, the nation's politicians just can't get their act together.

But if you need another reminder that the political elite is in over its head, consider the debit card interchange fee resulting from the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.

The fee legislation part of Dodd-Frank, also known as the Durbin Amendment, established government price controls on the fees bank and credit card companies could charge on debit cards. During the debate on the Durbin provision, major retailers who testified on Capital Hill in favor of the fee caps promised that any savings culled from the legislation would be passed on to customers.

Those "savings" weren't exactly chicken feed. The Electronic Payments Association estimates that U.S. retailers have earned $8 billion from the fee caps in the first two years since the Durbin rule was enacted.

Upon the two-year anniversary of the amendment, though, little if any of that $8 billion has actually been passed on to consumers in the form of lower retail prices.

The Washington, D.C.-based association says 81% of all U.S. retailers have kept the savings earned from lower debit card fees, either raising prices or keeping them the same. Retail customers have paid, on average, 4.3% more for such things as milk, blue jeans and motor oil.

"As part of their lobbying tactics, giant retailers promised to lower prices for their customers if Congress passed the Durbin Amendment," says Sam Fabens, spokesman for the Electronic Payments Coalition, also based in Washington, D.C. "Two years after implementation, retailers have taken home an $8 billion annual windfall while their customers still aren't seeing a discount for using debit."

The association cites price hikes from some of the nation's largest retailers to make its case. Here's a sample:

  • Milk prices at Walgreens (WAG) have risen 30 cents in the past year.
  • A jar of peanut butter at 7-Eleven has risen by 20 cents in the past year.
  • The cost of a hammer at Home Depot (HD) has risen $4.98 in the two years since the Durbin rule went into effect.

Sure, inflation has something to do with rising prices -- it stands at 1.5% these days.

That said, the association says its evidence of higher prices shows that retailers have gone back on their word and not passed any savings from debit card fee cuts along to consumers.

It's also a double-whammy for consumers, as banks have stepped up their fee rates to compensate for a separate $8 billion lost in revenue fees from the Durbin Amendment. A study from the University of Chicago shows that consumer banking fees have risen 25% since the Durbin rule was enacted.

So there you have it.

Not only do U.S. consumers see no savings from the federal government's billions in gifts to the retail industry, in the form of debit card fee reform; they're also seeing higher bank fees as a result of the legislation.

The message from Americans to Washington? Thanks for nothing -- as usual.

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