Good afternoon, and thank you all for being here.
Today, the Department of Justice, along with seven state attorneys general, filed a civil antitrust lawsuit in the Eastern District of New York challenging rules that Visa, MasterCard and American Express have put in place that prevent merchants from providing discounts to consumers.
These three companies run the largest three credit card networks in the United States. Every time a consumer uses one of their credit cards to buy something from a merchant, that merchant pays a fee – a fee that is passed on to consumers through higher prices. In 2009 alone, the three credit card companies and their affiliate banks collected more than $35 billion in these fees.
Visa, MasterCard and American Express don’t just impose fees, however – they also prevent merchants from offering consumers any cost saving options such as discounts or rewards for using less expensive forms of payment. The companies put merchants and consumers in a no-win situation: accept our card, pay our fees, and don’t even think about trying to get a discount.
These restrictive rules prevent price competition among credit card networks, which means merchants face increased business costs and consumers pay higher prices. With today’s lawsuit we are sending a clear message: we will not tolerate anticompetitive practices. We want to put more money in consumers’ pockets, and by eliminating credit card companies’ anticompetitive rules, we will accomplish that.
Now, even as we file today’s lawsuit, I’m pleased to announce that we have reached a proposed settlement with Visa and MasterCard that resolves our antitrust concerns with their use of these rules.
If the settlement with Visa and MasterCard is approved, companies and retailers will be able to provide their customers with more options and cost saving incentives. And more consumers will be able to receive discounts and, ultimately, enjoy the benefits of lower prices. For example: if you use a preferred, lower-cost credit card, an airline could offer you more miles or a merchant could provide you with a rebate. Merchants will also be able to inform consumers which cards will lower business costs the most, allowing these savings to be passed on to consumers.
Today’s settlement will enable some Visa and MasterCard customers to receive the benefits of competition right away. But while it is an important step forward, as long as one credit card company continues to impose anticompetitive rules, there is more work to do.
We need to ensure that every consumer has access to more choices and lower prices. And that simply will not happen unless, and until, American Express’s restrictive rules are changed.
Because of American Express’s current rules, some consumers will continue to pay higher prices. That is unacceptable, so we will continue to pursue litigation against American Express until we ensure a fair market for every consumer.
American Express maintains the industry’s most restrictive merchant rules. American Express also has the highest fees of any credit card company. They refuse to give merchants the ability to offer rewards to consumers who use a less expensive card, or even to provide information to consumers about the costs of using American Express’s cards.
Most importantly, American Express’s rules prohibit any of the millions of merchants that accept American Express from taking advantage of the discounts and rebates Visa and MasterCard now can allow as a result of our settlement. Because American Express has refused to change its rules, consumers are being held hostage from receiving the expanded choices and lower prices they deserve under our settlement Visa and MasterCard.
We cannot allow this to stand, and we will not. Through our settlement with Visa and MasterCard, our ongoing case against American Express, and our other enforcement efforts, the Department will continue working to ensure increased competition, greater savings for merchants, and lower prices for consumers.
I am proud of the outstanding work that Christine and the Antitrust Division staff have done to address our antitrust concerns, as well as for the cooperation of state attorneys general. I also want to thank the many Department prosecutors and economists who have worked countless hours to get us to where we are today. As this process continues, you all have, and deserve, my full and ongoing support.
Thank you all. And, now, I’d like to turn things over to Assistant Attorney General, Christine Varney.