Who Gains and Who Loses from Credit Card Payments? Theory and Calibrations
61 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2010 Last revised: 3 Sep 2010
Date Written: August 31, 2010
Merchant fees and reward programs generate an implicit monetary transfer to credit card users from non-card (or "cash") users because merchants generally do not set differential prices for card users to recoup the costs of fees and rewards. On average, each cash-using household pays $149 to card-using households and each card-using household receives $1,133 from cash users every year. Because credit card spending and rewards are positively correlated with household income, the payment instrument transfer also induces a regressive transfer from low-income to high-income households in general. On average, and after accounting for rewards paid to households by banks, the lowest-income household ($20,000 or less annually) pays $21 and the highest-income household ($150,000 or more annually) receives $750 every year. We build and calibrate a model of consumer payment choice to compute the effects of merchant fees and card rewards on consumer welfare. Reducing merchant fees and card rewards would likely increase consumer welfare.
Keywords: Credit Cards, Cash, Merchant Fees, Rewards, Regressive Transfers, No Surcharge Rule
JEL Classification: E42, D14, G29
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation