Ask LH: Can Credit Card Surcharges Be Applied Retroactively?

Dear Lifehacker, I recently made a payment for goods of $8000 on my credit card. I asked the merchant if it was okay to pay by CC and the answer was yes — but there was no mention of a surcharge. Six months later, they sent me another invoice for $200 (2.5% processing fee.) Am I legally required to pay this fee? Thanks, Big Spender

Credit card payment image from Shutterstock

Dear BS,

No. If you weren’t told that a surcharge fee would apply, you don’t have to pay. This is clearly stipulated in Australia’s consumer protection laws. As the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) explains on its website:

If you [the merchant] decide to impose a credit card fee, you must ensure your customers are aware — before they enter into the transaction or contract — that a fee will apply and the amount of the fee.

The key here is the word “ensure” — putting a sign up near a POS terminal generally isn’t good enough. The merchant should have explained the surcharge to you verbally.

In any event, you’re not really supposed to get slugged with a 2.5% surcharge even with a warning. Since 2013, merchants have been required to charge processing fees that realistically reflect their own service fees and related expenses. For Visa and MasterCard this is supposed to be in the region of one per cent.

These regulations were strengthened last year when the Federal Government passed a bill to give the ACCC the power to rein in companies that charge excessive surcharge fees. $200 seems ridiculous. The fact they waited six months to chase you up is also pretty dubious.

Our advice is to send the merchant a sternly worded refusal, along with a link to Australia’s price display rules. Tell them you’re considering taking the matter to the ACCC. If that doesn’t scare them off, you can find the steps to making a complaint to the ACCC here.


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