By Jim Kuhnhenn, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Limits on the fees banks charge merchants who accept debit cards would not apply to government-issued cards, under a tentative House-Senate deal aimed at easing worries raised by state treasurers.
The agreement announced Monday softens a Senate provision in a broad financial regulation bill that requires the Federal Reserve to limit the amount banks collect from merchants for every debit card transaction.
Separately, House negotiators tentatively agreed to accept a Senate proposal to set up a consumer financial protection bureau as an independent agency inside the Federal Reserve. The House and the Obama administration had wanted a stand alone agency.
The debit card provision, approved by the Senate last month 64-33, aimed to save retailers billions of dollars in debit card fees. Merchants said the charges resulted in inflated costs to consumers.
Under the tentative deal, the limits would not cover debit cards issued by the federal or state governments, which use the cards for programs such as unemployment or child support payments. Several state treasurers argued that restricting fees paid by merchants could force banks to increase charges for the cards to states.
Merchants typically pay between 1% and 2% of a debit card transaction to banks and the credit card networks, mainly Visa and MasterCard. Most of the money goes to the banks.
The agreement requires the Federal Reserve to set limits on those fees, based on what it considers "reasonable and proportional" to the cost to banks. The agreement allows the Fed, in determining the fee amount, to consider the banks' costs of protecting against debit card fraud.
The deal was struck by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., lead sponsor of the debit card proposal, and members of a House-Senate panel working out differences between the two chambers' financial regulation bills. The original House legislation did not contain restrictions on debit card fees.