Much has changed since I opened the doors of my first 7-Eleven franchise 22 years ago. Particularly in the last three years, when I’ve been forced to confront everything from a global pandemic to supply chain issues.
Despite this, I’m proud that my stores have been open and a lifeline for the communities I serve in the Central Valley since COVID-19 started impacting all of our lives. Now, there’s a problem that threatens to undo all the progress my small businesses have made in the face of these persistent challenges: skyrocketing credit card swipe fees.
Credit card companies levy a processing fee, or swipe fee, for every purchase made across my eight stores and every business across the state and country. These fees have always been the norm, however the fees have grown so quickly, they’re well outpacing the current 8.3% rate of inflation. In 2021, card processing fees totaled $137.8 billion, according to the Nilson Report. That was up 112% over the previous decade and up 24% over the last year.
The increases stem from a significant lack of competition when it comes to the credit card processing market. Just two single companies, Visa and Mastercard, control roughly 80 percent of U.S. card volume – a functional monopoly. These companies have no qualms about raising their swipe fees at a time when a growing number of California families are forced to pinch pennies and pay more for necessities.
I’ve seen the consequences of this firsthand. Swipe fees represent the second largest cost for my business after labor expenses, taking away my ability to hire additional staff and invest in improvements to my stores. As a small business owner, I strive to create sustainable employment opportunities for my community, but swipe fees make it financially impossible to do so. During a time of economic uncertainty and rampant inflation, taking away the ability to create jobs is the last thing California business owners and job seekers need.
As a member of the small business community, I also take pride in giving back to the communities that my stores operate in. Unfortunately, swipe fees inhibit my financial ability to support local schools, sports teams, first responders and other vital community initiatives. By forcing business owners to pay these exorbitant fees, resources are being taken from the local community only to benefit large credit card companies.
The issue is only getting worse. Card processing fees totaled over $130 billion in 2021 — up 24 percent over the last year alone. For 7-Eleven franchisees, this amounts to a staggering average of $85,000 per store annually. In many cases, Visa and Mastercard are pocketing more than small business owners are.
Of course, my small businesses are not the only ones bearing the added costs of these swipe fees. The convenience store industry at large — which is largely made of small businesses like mine — was forced to hand over $13 billion in card fees in 2021. Today, these fees are now our second highest operating cost, beating out rent and utilities.
My shoppers will tell you that they are feeling the burn more than anyone else. Swipe fees are now estimated to cost the average American family more than $900 a year. No different than other franchisees trying to stay above water, I have been forced to raise prices on many of my products. This isn’t something I want to do, but Visa and Mastercard’s greed has given me no other option.
Thankfully, there is a solution and Congress is trying to crack down on this issue. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the U.S. House and Senate have introduced the Credit Card Competition Act, which would require credit card-issuing banks to offer other networks for processing credit transactions. In other words, Visa and Mastercard would no longer be able to make out like bandits and profit at the expense of hard-working business owners. While this wouldn’t fully solve the problem of runaway swipe fees, it’s an important start.
Senators Feinstein and Padilla and the entire California congressional delegation — particularly those representing the Central Valley — should support this measure on behalf of the millions of California small business owners and consumers who would stand to benefit with its passage. With the election now wrapped up, our state’s leaders in Congress need to tackle this persistent problem back in Washington.
I remain firmly committed to doing right for my community and serving customers through thick and thin. But the small business community could use a hand from Congress when it comes to swipe fees — and I know that my customers could as well. With costs at historic levels, now is the right time to address this lingering issue.