Tuesday, July 21, 2009

21 JUL 09: Fees Up. Fed Up

"Would you like to sign our petition?" the woman behind the convenience store counter asked me Monday. In July 2008 there might have been no hesitation -- but gas prices are well below four dollars a gallon now.

This petition was about a very different subject. It demanded an end to "high credit card fees." For the Circle K store in my neighborhood, it's a rather surprising topic. Customers might use credit cards to fill their gas tanks, but the people spending "30 smokes" for a carton of smokes tend to use cash.

I wasn't sure what was behind this petition, but I learned the answer online Monday night. Circle K stores have joined a campaign started by 7-Eleven against high credit card fees for businesses. Of course, this all could be a promotional stunt - to set an annual percentage rate of 7.11 percent or something.

Convenience stores are protesting higher "interchange fees" imposed by credit card companies for transactions. The money is split several ways, but most of it is paid by a business's bank to a cardholder's bank. So if you have a CB&T credit card, use it downtown and demand a discount.

These fees were NOT included in the credit card reform act, which the president signed earlier this year. So there's now a bill in Congress to limit the interchange fee as well. Convenience stores such as Circle K argue it will lower prices - which is strange, because 16-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola still cost 99 cents Monday compared with $1.19 at Publix.

On the other hand, major banks and credit card companies claim a limit on interchange fees is really an attempt by convenience stores to increase their profits. As if two-liter bottles of soda and overpriced doughnuts didn't give them enough already....

Circle K isn't the only local business caught up in this. TSYS boasts its services include "clearing and settling merchant transactions." I found NO online statement Monday night explaining where TSYS stands on limiting interchange fees - but the two Circle K's around 14th and Veterans Parkway might want to keep the petitions hidden.

As I said, I didn't understand all this when I walked inside Circle K Monday. So I offered an answer to the credit card fee petition question that the employee never could have expected: "That's not really my issue." For one thing, a big Thirstbuster cup in the summer only costs 84 cents with tax.

"All my credit cards have no annual fees," I told the woman. If they add a fee, I simply stop using them. If I can track those businesses down, you'd think a big corporation like Circle K could.

The last time a company tried to tack an annual fee on one of my credit cards was Shell, about 15 years ago. So I gave their card up - since I come to Shell for answers, not a club membership.

My answer of misunderstanding didn't end there. "I pay all my bills in full on time, so I don't have any fees." Maybe I should have publicized this about a year ago -- and Synovus's real estate department might have hired me.

So I passed on the Circle K petition, largely out of ignorance. If you see one of these petitions at a convenience store, you now know the details behind it. The signatures are probably going to members of Congress - with no secret plot to put you on a mailing list for discount cigarette offers.

-> The last two days have been downright remarkable for us at the online poker table. Find out why at our other blog, "On the Flop!" <--

E-MAIL UPDATE: Our Monday topic was so meaty, a reader wants to chew on it some more....

I have always been afraid to buy frozen meat from the side of the road..What if it has been allowed to thaw and then been refrozen..What if when you thaw it you get an unusual odor..How do you get your money back from a traveling meat salesman?

These are good points I admittedly hadn't considered. But there's an easy cure for steaks with an unusual odor -- extra coats of barbecue sauce and black pepper.

Now for some news dessert, from a third consecutive mid-July day when the air conditioner was kept turned off:

+ The Muscogee County School Board approved tough new rules for students using cell phones. A district news release notes elementary school students cannot carry them at all. Huh?! How else are fourth-graders supposed to stay up-to-date on the Cartoon Network's programming?

+ A variety of blogs confirmed former President Jimmy Carter has issued a statement separating himself from the Southern Baptist Convention. Yet the Albany Herald indicates he still taught Sunday school in Plains this past weekend - so Secret Service agents are still doing a great job protecting him.

(The blog buzz about this separation started with a column Mr. Carter wrote in the Australian newspaper "The Age" - where people really would be part of the Southern Hemisphere Baptist Convention.)

+ One-time Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick officially was released from federal custody. There's speculation Vick might play this fall in the new United Football League -- and we all remember how Herschel Walker made the United States Football League the success it is today, don't we?

+ Instant Message to the Space Science Center: You disappointed me Monday. I mean, no big event to mark the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing?! Not even a contest to have young people do a moon walk - Michael Jackson's or otherwise?

The number of unique visitors to our blog in the first half of 2009 was up 11.1 percent! To advertise to them, offer a story tip, make a PayPal donation or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post your e-mail comment and offer a reply.

BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 562 (+ 17, 3.1%)

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.

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