May 15, 2019 – With credit card surcharges now in the news, the Westchester Consumer Protection Department is working to clear up questions for consumers. More people than ever before are using credit and debit cards for payments in stores and restaurants, and some merchants are now seeking to add surcharges to bills to recover their transaction fees for these plastic payments.
Merchants recently engaged in a legal challenge to a New York State law that banned them from charging a credit/debit card surcharge. After an extensive litigation, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that:
- Merchants can charge two different prices, one for credit cards and one for cash;
- The higher price charged to credit card users must be posted in total dollars and cents form; and
- Merchants can call the price differential anything they wish.
Westchester County Consumer Protection Director Jim Maisano said: “After this prominent legal decision, if merchants decide to add a surcharge to bills, they must clearly inform consumers of the terms of the surcharge in ‘dollars and cents’ on the bill and/or receipt. Consumers should not have to do math to figure out the surcharge. While merchants can now charge a surcharge, they cannot do so in a misleading way.”
These extra credit card fees are now allowed but must be included in the final selling price of a good or service. Merchants must either display both prices (cash and credit) or the higher credit card price only. If the merchant only displays the cash price or lists the cash price only and states that the credit card price is a certain percent higher, it would be a violation of law.
Additionally, Sec. 863.71 of the Westchester County Consumer Protection Code requires that for the marking of item prices and advertised prices, it shall be a violation “to sell or offer for sale any consumer goods or services at a greater price than the price displayed or advertised therefor.”
County law also mandates that gasoline stations that offer two tier pricing (cash/credit) need to display the higher selling credit price as well as the discounted cash price. Drivers must know when pulling up to the pump what their highest cost exposure is before filling their tanks. Debit sales can be considered credit sales or cash sales, the determination being made by the merchant.
If consumers believe merchants are engaging in deceptive or unconscionable trade practices regarding credit card surcharges, they can reach out to the Consumer Protection Department for advice at ConPro@westchestergov.com or 914-995-2155.