As of January 27, 2013, retailers in most states are allowed to impose a surcharge, sometimes referred to as "checkout fees," on purchases you make by credit card. Florida is one of just a few states that still prohibits credit card surcharges.
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What Is a Credit Card Surcharge?
A surcharge is any amount imposed at the time of a sale or lease transaction which increases the amount you pay solely because you chose to make your payment by credit card instead of by cash, check, or similar means. Taxes or tariffs imposed by federal or state governments are not surcharges and are not prohibited.
Surcharges Allowed in Most States Because of Class Action Lawsuit
Traditionally credit card surcharges were prohibited by the terms of the contracts between the credit card issuers and the retailers. However, a U. S. District Court Judge in a class action suit brought by retailers against Visa and Mastercard, approved a settlement that allows these surcharges if they not prohibited by state or federal laws. The settlement agreement changes the longstanding policy of the credit card issuers and permits retailers accepting credit cards that do not prohibit swipe fees to impose surcharges.
No Surcharges for Debt and Prepaid Cards
The allowed surcharges are limited to credit cards and do not apply to debit or prepaid cards because they were not part of the litigation.
Retailers accepting the cards are not required to surcharge your purchase, but if they do, they must notify you in advance by posting notices both at the store entrance and at the register. If you are charged in connection with an online sale, the retailer must notify you of the surcharge on the first page that identifies the credit card brands accepted. Surcharge information must also be clearly provided on your receipt.
Florida Law Bans Credit Card Surcharges
If you live in Florida, you should not be affected by the settlement because Florida law protects consumers and strictly prohibits credit card surcharges.
What Credit Cards Are Covered Under Florida Law?
Under the Florida statute, "credit card" includes cards for which the unpaid balances are due on demand. However, "credit card" does not include debit or prepaid cards.
Exceptions for Some Student Tuition Fees
The only exception to the ban is convenience fees imposed by certain eligible educational institutions in connection with the payment of tuition, student fees, and other student account charges. The allowed convenience fee cannot exceed the amount the credit card company charges the educational institution.
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Criminal Penalties for Violations
The penalties for violating the Florida ban are steep. Violations are second degree misdemeanors and, for each violation, are punishable by a fine not to exceed the greater of $500 or double the amount of the surcharge, or by incarceration for up to 60 days.
Discounts for Cash Payments Are Allowed
Florida law does allow retailers and lessors to offer discounts for payments by cash, check, or other means, even if the offer is intended to encourage payment by means other than credit cards. To be legal, the discount must be offered to everyone.