Consumer Payment Card News

Exchange Fees

A California Superior Court judge last week ordered VISA and MasterCard to refund more than $800 million in foreign currency conversion fees to cardholders. Now, American Express has been sued over the same issue. The California court also ordered the card associations to amend their operating rules to require their issuing members to make effective disclosure of the currency conversion fees charged to consumers. Judge Ronald Sabraw found that VISA and MasterCard violated California’s unfair competition law by failing to adequately disclose the currency conversion fees they have charged to U.S. cardholders. However Judge Sabraw also found that VISA and MasterCards currency conversion process does not violate Truth-In-Lending regulations, nor is it in any way unconscionable. Nevertheless, VISA, which is headquartered in California, was ordered to refund the one percent currency conversion fees to all cardholders in the USA who paid the fees from February 15, 1996 to the present. MasterCard, which is headquartered in New York, was ordered to refund the currency conversion fees to all its California consumers who paid the fees during the same period. The court ordered the card associations to devise a plan of restitution by April 28th. VISA and MasterCard said they will appeal the decision. VISA said it was disappointed by the court’s decision particularly since the judge himself acknowledged that the process is “uniquely beneficial” to consumers as cardholders receive currency conversion rates that are favorable to their other conversion options. MasterCard said the judge’s decision sends a chilling message to the business community that if you do business in California, you cant rely on existing laws, and you could be subject to sanction based on previously unknown notions of commerce and jurisprudence. MasterCard also said that mandating how its members disclose the currency conversion process to their customers is usurping authority that properly resides with federal authorities, who regulate financial disclosure.

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