Credit Cards

Will paying with credit cost you more at checkout?

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These days, you really need to read the fine print.

Key points

  • It is common practice for gas stations to charge more for recharging credit cards.
  • Now more and more merchants are adopting a similar tactic.

The other day I went out to dinner with my husband at a restaurant in the city that we have been to on multiple occasions. I was surprised to see a number of changes to the menu, including some notable price increases and a note that all credit card purchases would incur a 3% surcharge.

Now I am used to seeing higher prices at gas stations to recharge with a credit card compared to those paid in cash. That is a common practice, and one that has been around for a long time.

But the restaurant thing surprised me. So I told some friends about it and they weren’t surprised.

A friend told me that a local store in town had just started charging a similar fee. Another friend said that she saw several restaurants start imposing a credit card surcharge. And that’s definitely something consumers will need to be aware of.

Does your credit card cost you more?

One would think that it would be illegal for companies to impose fees on customers who pay with credit cards. But that’s something companies have the right to do, as long as state law allows it.

That said, companies can’t just sneak in that extra charge. Rather, they should clarify those surcharges so that consumers are not caught off guard.

At gas stations, you’ll commonly see the price per gallon for cash payments versus credit card payments listed in giant letters and numbers. And as annoying as that practice can be, I have to admit that every gas station I’ve passed with a price difference makes that difference very clear.

But at the restaurant I went to the other day, I almost missed that little note at the bottom of the menu pointing out the cover charge. And that bothered me.

I understand that many local businesses are struggling with rising costs and may need to recoup some of the fees charged by credit card companies. But I didn’t like that the surcharge in question wasn’t more obvious.

Also, it bothered me that I didn’t know about it beforehand. If that had been the case, I might have considered running to the bank early and paying for my meal in cash. Since I wasn’t aware of that practice and was already seated when I noticed that charge, I was a bit stuck using my credit card.

Of course, a single 3% surcharge is not a big deal. But a number of surcharges could really add up. And that’s why consumers these days really need to be vigilant.

Avoid surcharges

It’s one thing to be charged a little extra money for a restaurant meal that, let’s face it, can be considered a luxury purchase. But it’s another thing to be charged extra money for using a credit card for something essential. And that’s why it’s important to watch out for credit card surcharges, especially at smaller merchants.

If you’re not sure if using a credit card will incur additional costs, just ask. A friend told me that another restaurant in town had posted a sign on his door about imposing a credit card surcharge. But on a good day the door was open for ventilation so the sign was not visible.

Situations like that aren’t always the result of a business owner trying to be sneaky; these things just happen. But it’s important to be an informed consumer, and that could mean asking the right questions to make sure you don’t get stuck paying more than you have to for your purchases.

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