WASHINGTON—Senator Peter Welch (D-VT), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Senators Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-KS), and J.D. Vance (R-OH) today introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Credit Card Competition Act of 2023, legislation that would enhance competition and choice in the credit card network market which is currently dominated by the Visa-Mastercard duopoly. Building on debit card competition reforms enacted by Congress in 2010, the bill would direct the Federal Reserve to ensure that large credit card-issuing banks offer a choice of at least two networks over which an electronic credit transaction may be processed. Companion legislation was introduced in the House by Representatives Lance Gooden (R-TX-05) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-18).
“Interchange fees put a brutal strain on our small businesses, but because of the Visa-Mastercard duopoly in the credit card network market, Main Street businesses have no choice but to pay these crushing fees or risk going under,” said Welch. “The Credit Card Competition Act will restore choice and competition in the credit card network market, helping to bring down costs for small businesses and making it easier for these essential businesses to thrive.”
“Credit card swipe fees inflate the prices that consumers pay for everyday purchases like groceries and gas. It’s time to inject real competition into the credit card network market, which is dominated by the Visa-Mastercard duopoly,” said Durbin. “This legislation, which builds upon pro-competition reforms Congress enacted in 2010, would give small businesses a meaningful choice when it comes to card networks, and it would enable innovators to gain a foothold in the credit card market. Bringing real competition to credit card networks will help reduce swipe fees and hold down costs for Main Street merchants and their customers.”
“When it comes to Main Street vs. Wall Street, I’ll stand with Main Street businesses, who are the backbone of our economy, every single time,” said Marshall. “At a time of economic uncertainty and skyrocketing inflation, these credit card companies are increasing their hidden swipe fees and price gouging small businesses and consumers. Our legislation would rein in the big banks and the credit card industry, drive down costs for convenience stores, gas stations, and other small businesses, and ultimately pass those savings down to consumers. This legislation is the right thing to do, and I am proud to reintroduce it with bicameral and bipartisan support.”
“Due to a lack of competition, credit card companies have been able to exponentially increase hidden processing fees over the last decade. These fees are most retailers’ highest business expense after labor and rent. By requiring more than one network option on credit cards, the Credit Card Competition Act would foster competition and transparency in the credit card market so that card networks would have to compete for business on fees and terms – just as we compete for our customers’ business,” Leslie G. Sarasin, President and CEO, FMI – The Food Industry Association.
There are currently four U.S. credit card networks: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover. Visa and Mastercard are known as “four-party” networks; they act as agents for thousands of card-issuing banks and mandate the fees and terms that the banks receive from merchants for each transaction. Merchants have limited leverage to negotiate fee rates and terms in four-party network systems, because they cannot risk losing access to the consumers served by Visa’s and Mastercard’s member banks.
The market power and network structure of the Visa-Mastercard duopoly has enabled them to impose fees on U.S. merchants that are among the world’s highest, charging a total of $93 billion in U.S. merchant credit card fees in 2022. These fees include interchange or swipe fees which Visa and Mastercard require merchants to pay to issuing banks, as well as network fees that Visa and Mastercard require merchants to pay directly to them. Consumers ultimately pay for these fees in the price of the goods and services they buy.
Under the Credit Card Competition Act, the Federal Reserve would issue regulations, to ensure that banks in four-party card systems that have assets of over $100 billion cannot restrict the number of networks on which an electronic credit transaction may be processed to less than two unaffiliated networks, at least one of which must be outside of the top two largest networks. This would inject real competition into the credit card market—opening the door for new market entrants such as current debit-only networks, encouraging innovation and enhanced security, creating backup options if a network crashes, and exerting competitive constraints on Visa and Mastercard’s fee rates.
The Credit Card Competition Act is supported by organizations including the American Beverage Licensees, Armed Forces Marketing Council, Energy Marketers of America, FMI, Hispanic Leadership Fund, International Franchise Association, National Association of College Stores, National Association of Convenience Stores, National Association of Theater Owners, National Grocers Association, National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation, NATSO, NFIB, Retail Industry Leaders Association, SIGMA, U.S. PIRG, and over 200 state and regional business associations.
A one-pager of the bill can be found here.