Will paying with credit cost you more at checkout?
Will paying with credit cost you more at checkout?
A man sitting at a table in a casual restaurant and tapping his credit card on the payment reader held by the waiter.

Image source: Getty Images

These days you really need to read the fine print.

Key points

  • It is common for gas stations to charge more for credit card fill-ups.
  • Now more and more traders are adopting a similar tactic.

The other day, I went out to dinner with my husband in a restaurant in town where we went several times. I was surprised to see a number of menu changes, including 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 compared to those paid in cash. It’s a common practice, and it’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.

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

Is your credit card costing you more?

You would think it would be illegal for companies to charge customers who pay by credit card. But it’s something companies are allowed to do, provided state law allows it.

That said, companies can’t just sneak in these additional fees. On the contrary, they must clarify these additional costs so that consumers are not caught off guard.

At gas stations, you’ll usually see the price per gallon for cash versus credit card payments shown in giant letters and numbers. And as annoying as this practice may 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 to the extra. And that pissed me off.

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

Also, I was annoyed that I didn’t know about it in advance. If that had been the case, I might have considered running to the bank in advance and paying for my meal in cash. Since I was unaware of this practice and was already seated when I noticed this surcharge, I was kind of stuck with my credit card.

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

Avoid 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 watch out for credit card surcharges, especially with smaller merchants.

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

Situations like this 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 can mean asking the right questions to make sure you don’t end up paying more than necessary for your purchases.

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