Watch out! Credit card surcharges are being added to some customers' receipts. And in most states, they're perfectly legal.
That's because as of Jan. 27, 2013, merchants are free to stick you with a surcharge when you pay by credit card, under the terms of a $7.2 billion settlement between credit card companies and merchants, reports ABC News.
What does this mean? Nobody really knows. Just because merchants now have the ability to impose up to a 4 percent surcharge, it doesn't mean that they will, according to Time.
The credit card surcharge is part of one of the largest antitrust settlements in U.S. history. It came about after the card issuers were sued for their "interchange fees" -- fees that merchants had to pay for the privilege of taking credit card payments from customers.
The thing is that credit card processing fees can really add up for small merchants. For many business owners, it's tough to pass these costs down to the consumer indirectly.
Under the settlement's terms, any merchant that imposes a credit card surcharge must:
Online merchants must notify customers about credit card surcharges as well.
But these new surcharges won't take effect in every state. Because of existing state laws, you won't be seeing these added surcharges in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma, or Texas.
And American Express users won't be seeing these surcharges, either, as they go against AmEx's own rules for merchants. Nor will debit card users, as the settlement applies only to credit cards.
Furthermore, many large retailers have indicated no plans to take advantage of these new rules. According to the New York Daily News, Walmart, Target, Sears and Home Depot have indicated that they have no plans to add the surcharge.
But it's easy for them to say. They have millions of customers and vast inventory, allowing them to spread the cost of credit card fees without having to impose any formal credit card surcharge.
As for the little guy, critics of the credit card surcharge will say that he loses once again.