Money & Business

Court OKs Swipe-Fee Settlement, but Trade Groups Plan Appeal

By / Dec 16, 2013 (Photodisc/Thinkstock)

A U.S. District judge has approved the $5.7 billion settlement for retailers in the long-running legal fight over credit card interchange fees paid by merchants. But several large retail industry groups plan to appeal.

To say that a long-in-the-works settlement on credit card swipe fees is contentious might be putting it lightly.

The $5.7 billion settlement approved Friday in the class action suit originally filed in 2005 is meant to give retailers relief from the interchange fees charged by Visa and MasterCard. But many retailers feel the settlement doesn’t go far enough.

More details on the situation below:

The crux of the issue: For more than a year before the settlement was approved, numerous industry groups, including the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Grocers Association, opposed the deal, citing the temporary nature of its relief from the fees and that it would prevent future legal action on the issue—a stance which Judge Gleeson disagreed with in his ruling [PDF]. “While we anticipated that a decision of final approval was likely,” NGA President and CEO Peter Larkin said in a statement, “NGA and hundreds of retailers joined in stating their objections to the proposed settlement, and we expect that many of those who opposed the approval, including our organization, will join in appealing this decision.”

A promise to appeal: NGA joins the National Retail Federation and a number of other retail-industry groups who are considering appealing the settlement, according to The Washington Post. “We are very disappointed that this deeply flawed settlement has been approved,” Mallory Duncan, NRF’s general counsel, said in a press release. “It is not supported by the retail industry and would do nothing to reduce swipe fees or keep them from rising in the future.” NRF says the interchange fees cost merchants and customers as much as $30 billion per year, a level it says has tripled in the past decade.

The credit industry’s take: For its part, Visa and MasterCard, which have been the targets of regulatory scrutiny for decades, say the settlement is in the best interests of the overall market. In a statement to Bloomberg, Mastercard said that the settlement does much to “resolve the long-standing legal differences between merchants and the payments industry.” The Electronic Payments Coalition, which represents the credit and banking industry, agreed. “This settlement is in the best interest of all involved parties and that has been proven today with the court’s final approval,” the group said in a statement.

While the settlement also includes some rule changes—such as statutes which allow merchants to pass the cost of interchange fees on directly to consumers—retailers have largely avoided taking advantage of such moves out of fear of consumer backlash.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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