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Tap-and-go broke: Are you getting hit by hidden card fees?

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Card fees cost us more than we realise. But there are ways to avoid them.

Australia is fast becoming a cashless society, and a contactless one too. 95% of in-person card transactions are contactless according to RBA figures.

And this convenience has a price. In Australia, merchants are allowed to recoup the cost of processing card payments (the costs charged by eftpos, Mastercard, Visa) by charging a small fee to their customers.

That's the infamous "1.5% card surcharge" many small businesses hit you with when you buy a coffee.

While these fees are small they really do add up. The ABC estimates card fees cost Australians almost $1 billion a year.

There are ways to avoid or lessen these little, daily card fees. If you're willing to lose a bit of convenience.

Use cash

Australians still use cash, although the amount we use shrinks each year. There's no surcharge for using cash because there's no payment processing involved and no extra cost to the merchant.

You just hand over your cash. Easy. Of course, these days many shops and merchants don't even take cash any more.

And they are allowed to do that. Although the ACCC does say that in situations where customers have to pay via card and can't avoid a surcharge "the business must include the minimum surcharge payable in the displayed price for its products."

Learn more about card fees and charges

Insert your debt card when paying

Tap-and-go payments on credit cards have higher charges for merchants. Debit card payments using tap-and-go often go through the same network with a similar charge.

But if you insert your debit card when making a purchase then your payment goes through the cheaper eftpos system.

Eftpos typically costs a merchant less than 0.5% per transaction (according to the ACCC), while Visa and Mastercard charges can be as high as 0.5 to 1% for debit cards and 1% to 1.5% for credit cards.

This should lower your charges. The ACCC says "If a business wants to set the same surcharge for all payment types, it must not be more than the lowest surcharge they would set for a single payment type."

But whether small businesses comply with this or not is another issue.

Incidentally, a Finder survey found that 74% of Australians think banks and card issuers should pay the cost of processing card payments. Only 6% think the customer should pay it.

Shop at places that don't charge a fee

Businesses don't have to pass on payment processing costs to customers. Many don't. If you get a coffee or a sandwich from the same place every day, a daily surcharge of even a few cents will quickly add up.

If there's a place nearby that charges similar prices but no card surcharge, then it's just a question of whether their coffee is that much worse.

Compare some of the market's best bank accounts and debit cards.

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