Will Paying With Credit Cost You More at the Register?

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  • It's common practice for gas stations to charge more for credit card fill-ups.
  • Now, more and more merchants are adopting a similar tactic.

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

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

Now I'm used to seeing higher prices at gas stations for credit card fill-ups versus those paid for in cash. That's a common practice, and one that's been around for a long time. 

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

One friend told me that a local store in town just started imposing a similar fee. Another friend said she's seen multiple restaurants start imposing a credit card surcharge. And that's definitely something consumers will need to look out for.

Is your credit card costing you more?

You'd think that it would be illegal for businesses to impose fees on customers paying with credit cards. But that's something businesses have the right to do, provided state law allows for it.

That said, businesses can't just sneak that extra charge in. Rather, they have to make those surcharges clear so consumers aren't caught off guard.

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

But at the restaurant I went to the other day, I almost missed that small note at the bottom of the menu pointing to the surcharge. And that bugged me. 

I understand that a lot of local businesses are struggling with rising costs and may need to recoup some of the fees credit card companies charge them. But I didn't like that the surcharge in question wasn't more obvious. 

Also, I was annoyed that I hadn't known about it in advance. Had that been the case, I might've considered running over to the bank ahead of time and paying for my meal in cash. Since I wasn't aware of that practice and was already seated when I noticed that surcharge, I was sort of stuck using my credit card. 

Of course, a single 3% surcharge isn't a big deal. But a series of surcharges could really add up. And that's why consumers these days really need to be vigilant.

Avoiding surcharges

It's one thing to be charged a little extra money for a restaurant meal, which, 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 look out for credit card surcharges, especially at smaller merchants. 

If you're not sure whether using a credit card will cause you to incur extra costs, just ask. One friend told me that another restaurant in town had posted a sign on its door about imposing a credit card surcharge. But on one nice day, the door was open for ventilation so the sign wasn't 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 help ensure you don't get stuck paying more for your purchases than necessary.

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