Credit card surcharges not immediate, but keep your eyes open

New federal rules allow retailers to start passing along the "swipe fees" that credit card companies charge businesses every time we swipe our credit cards. The surcharges can be as much as 4 percent of the cost of what we buy with our credit card.

Acknowledging the clear potential for customer backlash, the retail industry says most businesses have no intention of sticking consumers with the added fees, but some consumer advocates say keep your eyes open.

"Starting out, everyone's kind of afraid to do it," said Edgar Dworsky, founder of

"Some small internet companies might do it. Taxi companies might do it. But then it will start to build."

Dworsky and other consumer watchdogs say watch for the first surcharges to pop up at small retail outlet, independent stores, corner markets and so-called "mom and pop" stores. Also, watch for potential surcharges at small website businesses that are not linked to national chains, and small restaurants.

Some predict discount airlines and hotels will eventually add credit card fees. Taxi drivers are also on the "watch" list.

And watch those vending machines. We caught one vending machine company adding 15 cents per transaction, even though many of the snacks cost less than a dollar. Remember, while the surcharges are part of a new rule, there is no official monitoring and enforcement.

It's up to you as a consumer to know your rights.

The National Retail Federation and many of its larger members have gone on record saying they have no plans to add the surcharge. Consumer advocates expect we'll see it first with "the little guy" small businesses for whom credit card "swipe" fees take a big chunk out of an already tight operating budget.

Retailers who add the surcharge must post a conspicuous notice at the point of sale. If you shop online there must be warning at checkout and the surcharge must be on your receipt. If you're charged more than 4 percent, make some noise and report it to Visa or MasterCard.

American Express does not allow merchants to pass on the fees to consumers. The surcharge is also prohibited from being added to debit cards.