Kitchen Table Economics

How Hidden Fees Swipe Your Money

Did you know that small businesses pay a fee whenever they process a debit or credit card transaction? These are called hidden swipe fees. Whenever a customer pays with a card, banks and credit card companies collect between 23 cents and $4 per transaction. In many cases, the customer also pays a swipe fee without even knowing it.

Imagine that you’re buying a $1.50 bottle of water at your local convenience store. The store owner could pay a $2 swipe fee on the sale, meaning that the business actually loses money on the sale! Since local convenience stores and grocery chains operate on almost nonexistent profit margins—the industry average is 1.93 percent—this puts a huge squeeze on these small businesses and, oftentimes, you the consumer.

How big is the problem? Banks and credit card companies collect more than $79 billion in hidden swipe fees every year. That’s $216,000,000 per day or $2,500 per second. Put it this way: $79 billion could buy you the Chicago White Sox 79 times over. And the cost is only going up: In 2011, banks and credit card companies collected “only” $50 billion in hidden swipe fees, which is roughly $30 billion less than in 2016.

American consumers and small business owners pay billions of dollars in taxes and fees without even knowing it. The hidden cost of complying with federal regulations every year is $1.8 trillion—more than the revenue collected from individual and corporate income taxes combined. Airplane ticketscell phones, and a bottle of wine all come with hidden costs.

Keep that in mind the next time you swipe your card.