WASHINGTON, DC — Updated June 29, 2006 — The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) commends Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) for scheduling a full Judiciary Committee hearing that will help inform consumers about the most costly credit card fee they pay but know virtually nothing about — the interchange fee.

The hearing is titled “Credit Card Interchange Rates: Antitrust Concerns?” Originally scheduled for June 28, the hearing was postponed to July; the committee has not yet issued an exact date.

“The public has a right to know they are paying hidden interchange fees on virtually every transaction — fees that are anti-competitive and fixed in secret by Visa, MasterCard and the banks that issue their credit cards,” said FMI President and CEO Tim Hammonds.

“Very few consumers are aware of the interchange fees that cost them tens of billions of dollars a year,” he said. “Credit card companies prohibit retailers from disclosing the fees on receipts, monthly statements or other written records.”

Interchange fees are assessed on every credit and debit card transaction, averaging close to 2 percent. Retailers are forced to build them into the cost of all transactions because card company rules prohibit surcharges on plastic payments and effectively prevent retailers from offering discounts to consumers who pay by cash or check.

American consumers pay among the highest interchange fees in the world. Investigations by central banks and competition commissions in the European Union, United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere found that the fees far exceed the actual costs of payment services. These findings are prompting governments around the world to order that the fees be disclosed to consumers and reflect reasonable transaction costs.

As a leading member of the Merchants Payments Coalition, FMI is seeking transparent, cost-based interchange fees in the U.S. The coalition is composed of 20 trade associations representing 2.7 million retail stores and 50 million employees.