The Fed’s cap on debit-card interchange fees goes into effect tomorrow. It’s certainly no coincident that some banks should begin to charge new fees to try to make up for the revenue this cap is going to cost them. Here is a piece in today’s Washington Post about a new $5 per month fee Bank of America plans to charge its debit card customers.
This cap represents politics at its worst, and Sen. Richard Durbin is the man behind it. Two important points need to be made about this. The first point is that debit card interchange fees had absolutely nothing to do with the financial crisis of 2008, and should not have been part of the Dodd-Frank Act debate. This bill was big enough without adding completely unrelated, pet provisions.
Second, this legislation has absolutely nothing to do with consumers and everything to do with Wal-mart and other large retailers. The cap will not save any consumer even a single penny. The retailers, which will save considerable money, aren’t going to pass along any of the savings. I would be willing to be proven wrong on this point. If there are retailers who start to pass along savings to customers, I hope someone will send me a note about it. But I don’t expect this to happen. Sen. Durbin clearly has some kind of special relationship with the big retailers. His name-sake amendment will simply shift a legitimate cost from one industry (retailers) to another (banks).
In the long run, the Durbin price cap doesn’t just ignore consumers, it actually harms them. There are many services that banks have offered at low or no cost that they will no longer offer. Consumers will now have to pay for those services. So the cost to the consumer goes up. But that absolutely will not be made up on the retail side with corresponding price reductions at Wal-Mart and other big box outlets.