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Canadians strongly oppose credit-card surcharges, survey finds

Valentyn Volkov/Getty Images/Hemera

Fewer than 5 per cent of Canadians believe retailers should be able to charge credit-card holders extra for using plastic, a survey released Thursday by a consumer group suggests.

But the survey for the Consumers Association of Canada also indicates few Canadians are aware that the federal competition watchdog is pushing to have consumers pay a usage surcharge that is currently being paid for by retailers.

The Competition Bureau is challenging rules made by credit-card companies that charge retailers between 1.5 per cent and 3 per cent per credit-card transaction – but prevent them from jacking up prices to offset the extra amount.

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Retailers have applauded the bureau's move, saying that those who accept credit cards are punished with higher costs. But consumer groups argue removing the rules would allow individual businesses to impose unfair charges.

In the survey, the consumers association told respondents: "Canadian merchants currently pay approximately $5-billion per year as part of their overhead for services provided by credit card companies. If successful, an initiative from the Competition Bureau would transfer the responsibility of paying this $5-billion from merchants to consumers, in the form of surcharges on purchases made with a credit card."

Altering the rules would allow retailers to tack on extra fees, boosting the cost of a $100 purchase to as much as $103 for those using credit cards.

The consumers association poll found that 87 per cent of Canadians use credit cards and more than four out of five Canadians, when told of the planned fee changes, would oppose them.

The poll, which gathered responses from 1,000 Canadians, was conducted for the association by Angus Reid between Sept. 12 and 13.

The case against credit-card companies Visa and MasterCard is slated to be heard at the quasi-judicial Competition Tribunal in April.

The Competition Bureau also takes issue with credit-card policies that allegedly prevent retailers from encouraging consumers to use other payment options such as cash or debit card, which cost retailers less. But Visa said it has no such policy and does nothing to discourage retailers from offering discounts for using another payment method.

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The bureau also opposes a requirement that merchants must accept all credit cards offered by a company, including premium cards that carry higher fees for acceptance.

The consumers association poll also suggests that about 80 per cent of Canadians are opposed to merchants being able to reject a payment by credit card.

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