When you hit the shops and hand over a credit card to pay for something, the seller must pay a fee to process your payment. Some business owners don't like this. They figure consumers should make a contribution to their card processing costs. Some add surcharges -- or checkout fees -- onto customers' bills. Visa doesn't much care for the practice, and it doesn't allow retailers to add such fees when purchases are made with its cards.
Visa's rules on surcharges are hard and fast: Merchants can't add them to your bill if you're paying with a card that bears the company's logo. Keep an eye out for signs around checkout points and notices at the entrances of shops advising of surcharges. Always look over your receipts to make sure a surcharge hasn't been added to your bill without you knowing about it. Be ready to question any surcharge.
Vendors who are happy to ignore Visa rules on surcharges should be aware that the practice is actually illegal in some parts of the country. If you live in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma or Texas, you'll be able to tell any vendor that tries to slap a checkout fee onto your bill that she's breaking the law.
If a retailer has cheekily added a surcharge to a bill you've settled with a Visa card, there is something you can do about it. You can report merchant violations using a special form available on the Visa website. All you'll need is the name and address of the merchant. If you live in a state where adding checkout fees is illegal, you can also report the offending business to your local attorney general's office.
As far as Visa is concerned, retailers are free to encourage their customers to use payment methods other than credit cards by offering incentives. The payment processor deems it perfectly acceptable for merchants to offer discounts to customers who pay by cash or check, for example, as long as any such offer is made to all buyers. Visa does allow merchants to add a "convenience fee" on transactions carried out online, over the phone or through mail order.
Michael Roennevig has been a journalist since 2003. He has written on politics, the arts, travel and society for publications such as "The Big Issue" and "Which?" Roennevig holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the Surrey Institute and a postgraduate diploma from the National Council for the Training of Journalists at City College, Brighton.