As part of last year's $7.9 billion preliminary settlement agreement in the class action against Visa and MasterCard, the card networks enacted a rule change allowing merchants to surcharge customers up to 4%. Effective Jan. 27, 2013, the optional surcharge is permitted on credit card transactions in an effort to defuse merchant allegations that the card brands were violating the Sherman Antitrust Act by unlawfully fixing interchange fees and rules.
The interchange fee structure of a four-party payment system is predicated on William F. Baxter's seminal piece from the 1983 Journal of Law and Economics. In this study, Baxter laid out the elements and cost structures for each of the participants in a four-party payment transaction – cardholder, issuer, acquirer, and merchant. Essentially stating that cost flowed principally to the issuer despite interest rates and annual card fees, Baxter economically justified the merchant (or acquiring) fee that would flow back to issuers now known as the IRF, issuer reimbursement fee.