David Lott, retail payments risk expert at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, examines the lead up to, reaction against, and eventual fallout of the cap on debit card interchange fees imposed by the Durbin Amendment. Lott notes the Durbin Amendment was in some ways a reaction to an escalating arms race between card issuers and retailers over debit interchange fees. Issuers incentivized cardholders to use the more lucrative signature debit or credit options through generous rewards programs, while retailers attempted to enact surcharges or make PIN debit the default option at checkout. After the passage of the Durbin Amendment, issuers said they planned to discontinue debit rewards programs and major banks mulled imposing monthly or annual debit card fees, while others said they would stop offering free checking. A year after Regulation II of the Durbin Amendment went into effect in October 2011, some of these predictions have come to pass. Bankrate data for 2011 showed a 30 percent decline in debit rewards programs, while its September 2012 Checking Survey showed that free checking was continuing to shrink. However, new debit fees did not materialize. Retailers say the interchange cap has helped them lower or hold prices steady, but such claims are difficult to verify, leading most experts to conclude that mid-to-large retailers, who have been able to keep or drive their interchange fees down, were the only ones to truly benefit from the Durbin Amendment.
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