Despite legal challenges mounted by Wal-Mart and The Limited and recently joined by the National Retail Federation, the nation's retailers probably won't be able to successfully modify Visa and MasterCard's "Take one, take all" policy, according to J. William Bowen, managing vp of First Manhattan Consulting Group, based in New York. "I'd put my money on the card associations and not the retailers on this one," he says. "It's no business of Wal-Mart how the credit charge gets paid; and the retailers agreed to accept (Visa and MasterCard products); these are Visa cards and MasterCard (cards)."

Of course, the retailers' point is that the off-line debit cards in question have higher fees attached to them and that they should be able to decide whether or not to accept them for payment. Since fees for credit card payments are around 35 cents per transaction and off-line debit cards cost retailers about one percent of the purchase price, it could be argued that they have some substance to their objections.

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