Judge strikes Federal Reserve's cap on debit card 'swipe' fees
WASHINGTON — A federal judge has struck down a rule setting a cap on the fees that banks can charge merchants for handling debit card purchases. He said the Federal Reserve lacks the authority to set the limit the way it did in 2011, improperly including data that made the cap too high.
The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon on Wednesday handed a victory to a coalition of retail groups — which are seeking a lower cap — and a setback to banks. The retail groups had sued the Fed over its setting the cap at an average of about 24 cents per debit-card transaction.
The previously unregulated “swipe” fee averaged 44 cents. The Fed initially proposed a 12-cent cap, and the retailers had argued that the Fed buckled under pressure from bank lobbyists when it set the cap at double that level.
The Fed must craft a new rule. The current one will remain in effect in the meantime.
“We are reviewing the judge's opinion,” Fed spokeswoman Barbara Hagenbaugh said.
The cap is the first limit on debit card fees. Before it took effect in October 2011, banks had negotiated such fees with merchants. A big chain like Starbucks would likely get a better rate than a local coffee shop because it handles more customers. The fees were typically based on a percentage of the purchase price.
The Fed rule was called for by the 2010 financial overhaul law, which was enacted in response to the 2008 crisis. But Leon said in his ruling that the Fed disregarded Congress' intent in passing the law by “inappropriately inflating all debit-card transaction fees by billions of dollars and failing to provide merchants with multiple unaffiliated networks for each debit card transaction.”
The retailers' lawsuit maintained that the cap is an “unreasonable interpretation” that exceeds the authority given to the Fed by the 2010 law. It asserted that the Fed wrongly interpreted a provision of the law that requires that merchants have a choice of which bank network handles their transactions.
Leon agreed with the retailers' complaint that the Fed had deviated from the law's intent by factoring banks' expenses into the cap that the law did not allow. He noted in the ruling that the Fed changed its earlier view that the only costs that should be considered were those involved in the authorization, clearing and settlement of a transaction. Instead, the ruling said, the Fed added costs such as losses from fraud that were outside the scope of the law.
Including costs for losses from fraud was for the Fed “a blatant act of policymaking that runs counter to Congress' will,” Leon wrote.
The Fed in June 2011 formally set the cap for what banks can charge merchants at 21 cents for each debit-card transaction, plus an additional 0.05 percent of the purchase price to cover the cost of fraud protection.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., author of the provision of the 2010 law mandating a cap on swipe fees, called Leon's ruling a “victory for consumers and small business around the country (that) will lead to lower interchange rates for billions of debit card transactions each year.”
Durbin, who is the assistant majority leader in the Senate, had filed a legal brief supporting the retail groups' suit.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Stocks rise broadly on earnings; Amazon sinks
- First Niagara sets aside $45 million
- Education Management removes itself from Nasdaq listing
- PUC approves Columbia Gas pipeline extensions program for homeowners
- Rule to close coal royalty loophole
- EQT Corp. boosts profits despite lower gas prices
- Hackers rip into heart of open-source software
- Highmark seeks double-digit increase for more benefits, heavy use
- World’s 1st carbon capture power plant switches on in Canada
- Natrona Bottling Co. keeps soda pop operation focused on craft, taste
- Chevron puts $20M into educating, training Appalachian workers