2007-05-31 / Sam Bari

Sometimes you just gotta ask

By Sam Bari

You can't beat a system you can't understand You can't beat a system you can't understand The reasons we live in a system we can't understand are many, and they aren't always obvious. Often, things we should be questioning have been staring us right in the face all our lives and we didn't even notice. An aware reader from New York City noticed one obvious issue, and he wrote in to tell us about it. He is tired of being victimized by confusing contracts and terms used by credit and debit card companies to squeeze every possible nickel out of cardholders.

He said he had a foolproof method for reducing retail prices and neutralizing all credit card charges, and he would be happy to share it with readers of like mind. He suggested that if you want to have a little fun, try this the next time you go out to dinner or purchase something expensive enough to warrant using a credit card. You know, like when you go to a restaurant that offers valet parking.

When you are presented with the bill, ask if the restaurant charges extra for paying with a credit card. The answer will always be, "No." Tell the waiter you are aware that credit card companies charge merchants for every transaction. An agreeing nod will probably ensue.

You might mention that you think this is a horrible practice because they also charge the credit card holder for using the card either with an annual fee, monthly interest, or for every transaction. Whoever is waiting on you will vigorously agree with everything you said.

Then drive your point home by saying that you think credit card companies are unconscionable for fleecing the public at both ends. Again, you will get wholehearted support for your astute observations. Add a little more credence to your argument by saying that you think credit card companies forcing the merchant to build in the cost of credit transactions into the retail price is just terrible. Trust me, you will get nothing but earnest yet sympathetic "yeses" from that statement.

Now, looking as livid as possible, loudly declare that you are not going to tolerate this kind of treatment any longer and that you will not allow the credit card companies to make so much as a dime from you. The merchant will absolutely agree, and probably congratulate you for your strong spirit.

In a calm voice, then declare that you are going to pay cash. The merchant will smile, and more than likely say that more people should be just like you. Using the same calm voice, ask what you owe. The answer will be, "Whatever is at the bottom of the bill." To which you will respond, "But I'm paying cash. Why would you charge me the same price as if I were using a credit card? Shouldn't the bill be five to ten percent less?"

At this point, you will probably get a confused expression on an ashen face and a response that somehow includes getting the manager. Defuse the situation right away by saying, "No need to go to all that trouble," and ask, "How much does the credit card company charge you for processing the transaction?" Let's say the answer is ten percent. Tell the waiter that you want to leave a twenty percent tip, but to avoid any hassle, you'll just leave ten percent and the balance can be worked out with the owner. Say, "there is no reason why the owner should charge the waiter ten percent when a credit card transaction never happened." I promise, you will get little or no resistance.

This same scenario can be played out in just about any situation where the customer is paying an end user, retail price. It is much more effective when purchasing high-ticket items.

Credit card companies victimize us every day. Their tactics to add fees to our bills boggle the imagination. I am happy to see that our government is beginning to crack down on some of their questionable and appalling practices. Credit card companies are a huge part of that system we can't understand.

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