Consumers have mixed views about the debit interchange amendment attached to the regulatory reform bill.
The convenience store chain Speedway SuperAmerica LLC said last week that 1.7 million customers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota had signed a petition favoring interchange reform.
The National Association of Convenience Stores, which is sponsoring the petition drive, says it has collected a total of 5.5 million signatures nationwide. It plans to present the petition to Congress in support of the debit interchange amendment, which would give retailers the option to set minimum amounts for accepting credit or debit cards.
"These fees are hidden, nonnegotiable and inflate the prices consumers pay for everyday goods and needs," Tony Kenney, Speedway's president, said in a June 3 press release.
However, the results of a consumer survey released June 4 by Lightspeed Research Inc. contradict the association's contention that customers are backing the amendment. The Cambridge, Mass., company polled 4,898 consumers online between May 27 and June 1, and found that 68% of respondents oppose the interchange proposal.
Most consumers would shop less often at merchants that put restrictions on their payment options, the survey found. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they would shop at other stores, and 53% said they would stop shopping as often at stores that limited the use of debit or credit cards. Lightspeed used a $10 minimum purchase price as an example.
Under their current rules, Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc. can fine acquirers if their merchant clients impose such minimums.
Lightspeed said that large retailers such as McDonald's Corp., Starbucks Corp., Walgreen Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are among the leaders in accepting cards for transactions that are $10 or less.
"Consumers want everything," said David Gordon, Lightspeed's senior vice president of business development. "They don't want to be limited, and they don't want to pay for it either."
Consumers over the past three years have showed an increased preference for using debit cards to purchase low-ticket items, according to the Lightspeed report. The percentage of all debit card transactions used for purchases of less than $20 has increased steadily during the past few years, to 56% of all transactions today from about 50% in 2007.
The results of the Lightspeed survey potentially could put a dent in the argument for interchange reform, Gordon said. "It's a situation where consumers enjoy the luxury of using plastic, and they don't want there to be limitations on it," he said. "They've become accustomed to [using plastic]. They enjoy the flexibility of it. It would be tough" to change.
Other people are weighing in as well. Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons sent a letter last week to Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., opposing the interchange amendment, arguing that it would have an adverse effect on unbanked and underbanked consumers who use general purpose, reloadable prepaid cards.
Simmons, who founded the prepaid card provider UniRush LLC in 2003, said in his June 3 letter that interchange regulation could have unintended consequences. "I am extremely concerned about the potential impact of the amendment, if left unmodified, on the ability of community banks, credit unions or specialist providers to the underbanked to provide card services at affordable rates," Simmons wrote.
That, in turn, would hurt the poor and the financially underserved because those financial services providers would raise fees and limit the availability of prepaid cards, he said.
Though financial companies with less than $10 billion of assets are exempt from the amendment, the credit union lobby has said the provision would cause havoc in the market and result in credit unions' cards being less attractive to consumers.
Simmons urged Durbin to prevent that from happening or scrap the amendment altogether.
It remains unclear whether consumers would benefit from lower prices if the amendment stays and the reconciled bill is signed into law.
Last week, a report from the banking research firm Celent LLC concluded it was a long shot that consumers would benefit from the changes.