$5.7B Swipe Fee Settlement Approved: Now What? - Free Enterprise
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$5.7B Swipe Fee Settlement Approved: Now What?

Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc. have received court approval of a $5.7 billion class-action settlement with U.S. merchants over credit-card transaction fees, also known as "swipe fees."

The agreement -- the largest class-action antitrust settlement in U.S. history -- was announced in the summer of 2012 and ends years of litigation over allegations that swipe fees were improperly fixed.

But is this really the end?

Settlement Payout

In addition to giving merchants the right to add a surcharge for customers paying with Visa and MasterCard credit cards, the deal calls for the card firms to pay cash damages to the more than 8 million affected retailers. But the individual payments will be a small fraction of the total swipe fees that retailers have paid over the years, reports Bloomberg Technology.

Visa and MasterCard were slated to pay $7.25 billion to the parties, but that amount is down to $5.7 billion because of retailers who opted out of the class-action settlement.

Future Claims

Around 8,000 merchants opted out of the settlement -- including many retail giants, such as Walmart, Target, and Amazon.com. In part, those businesses opted out because the settlement would require them to sign a very broad release from future lawsuits. By opting out of the settlement, they retained the right to pursue future claims against the credit card companies.

Retailers who agreed to the settlement had to give up their right to sue the credit card companies over rules at issue in this case, or similar ones they may make in the future. Many parties, and the judge himself, are concerned the release goes too far in protecting the card firms from future lawsuits over new payment technologies such as mobile payments, reports Bloomberg.

Appeals Expected

The swipe fee fight is far from over. Scores of major retailers and their trade organizations plan to appeal. Many retailers -- such as Target, Macy's, Staples, Walmart, Amazon.com, 7-Eleven, and Barnes & Noble Inc. -- have already filed notices of their intent to appeal, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association -- whose members include many retail giants such as Target Corp. and Best Buy Co. Inc. -- is considering an appeal.

They're fighting the settlement as doing too little to restrain Visa and MasterCard's unfettered power over the electronics payments market and giving too broad a release from future lawsuits. Essentially, they believe the settlement leaves intact Visa and MasterCard's ability to impose higher and higher swipe fees.

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