There's a war brewing between small business owners and credit card companies, and consumers are stuck in the middle. Except they probably don't even know it.

On the one hand are card providers like VISA, MasterCard, American Express and Canada's big banks. They have spent a small fortune setting up the technical infrastructure across Canada to make sure that any time people need to pay for a purchase quickly, easily and safely, businesses are equipped to handle it.

On the other are small, independent retailers. They're more than happy to outsource the mess of handling payments. But they've seen the amount they pay for that convenience increase by almost 50 per cent in recent years, they say.


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Only consumers who carry a balance (or pay an annual fee for the card) ever give their credit provider money directly. But every time that card is swiped, the retailer who accepts it pays a percentage of the transaction to the card issuer.

When credit card use first became widespread, those fees were something in the neighbourhood of one per cent or so. But an explosion of so-called "premium" credit cards — the ones that come with all sorts of added security and reward bells and whistles — has also come with an increase in the fees retailers are charged.

Some premium cards have fees in excess of three per cent. That's exorbitant, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says, so it's putting its foot down and starting a campaign push to allow retailers the choice of refusing premium cards, and only accepting lower-fee ones. The CFIB wants to go as far as getting the card companies to charge consumers directly for the added costs of premium cards.

The credit industry says the added fees are fair, because premium cards bring the retailer a better pedigree of consumer — someone more likely to spend on big ticket items that offset the added transaction cost.

CBC journalist Dianne Buckner investigated the issue. Click on the two video players to hear her interviews with people on both sides of the story.