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September 10th, 2009:

Fighting back against credit card minimums

Credit Card Minimum[Updated 9/15/09]

They often get a bad rap, but the prevalence of credit cards in America makes life simpler and better for consumers.

  • They free us from the hassle of carrying cash.
  • They protect us from defective products and dishonest merchants.
  • They relieve us from the stealth-tax of lost-change.
  • They help us earn rewards and easily track expenses.
  • They enable us to buy things we cannot really afford, and what is more American than that!

But our right to swipe is under attack.

More and more unscrupulous merchants are imposing European-style transaction fees and minimum purchase amounts on consumers who exercise their right to pay with plastic. Not only are such practices a violation of the merchants’ contract with VISA and MasterCard, but they are also an assault on us, the American consumers.

But you can fight back. Here is what to do when you encounter transaction fees or minimum purchase requirements.

Stand up for your rights: Merchants who impose such fees are in the wrong, and they know it. Simply tell the merchant that you will not be buying that extra candy bar to meet the minimum purchase requirement and that they cannot legally impose it. You might have to argue the point, but in my experience, the merchant always backs down. Non-Toxic Reviews has a handy wallet-ready summery of the VISA and MasterCard contracts that you can cite if needed.

Call your bank or VISA if needed: If a merchant is particularly intransigent, pull out your cell phone and threaten to call VISA or your bank. You can find the 1-800 numbers on the back of your credit card. Usually the threat is enough to make the merchant back down. If you need to file a report, do it. MasterCard and American Express will even let you do it online.

Write your credit card company and bank: VISA, MasterCard and the bank that issued your credit card should be enforcing the rules. But the fact that merchants brazenly ignore their contracts means that the credit card industry isn’t doing its job—and that hurts all of us. Write VISA, MasterCard and your bank and tell them it is time to step up enforcement  like I did. You can find the appropriate address on Consumerist.com.

[Updated 9/15/09]

Scream “YOU LIE!”: Politicians may love scenes—they raise money after all—but shopkeepers hate them. In a crowded shop or restaurant, screaming “YOU LIE” when confronted with a minimum purchase amount will not only get the merchant’s attention, but it will also draw the gaze of everyone else in ear-shot. Now is your chance to quickly outline your case. The merchant will either quickly back down or throw you out on the street. Either way, everyone will remember what you said. [end update]

Join the resistance (not recommended): A small resistance outfit called merchantfraud.org is distributing stickers that identify merchants who break the rules as fraudsters. They are encouraging people to sticker these businesses as an act of public awareness vandalism. While I don’t recommend this, I understand the frustration that is breeding it. [update] Merchantfraud seems to have taken its website down. Perhaps they’ve gone underground. You can see what the stickers look like here.

Standing up to merchants who break the rules might seem like a jack-ass thing to do, but when you do it you’re not only saving yourself money, you’re defending America.

The Founding Fathers stood up to a surcharge on tea, now its your turn.

Life, Liberty and the Right to Swipe!

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

#6. Chargebacks and Credit Cards

€5. Different sized banknotes

An open letter to VISA

What is more America, Big Gulps or Credit Cards?

ACTION ALERT: Senators aim to introduce European-style Credit Card fees

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