BRISBANE, Australia – Beginning January 1, 2003 Australian consumers will be given an unprecedented degree of information about how the credit card economy works. That's when new federal regulations will go into effect that will cut interchange rates on card transactions by 40% and allow merchants to surcharge card transactions, according to the American Banker. "Thus, for perhaps the first time, the interchange fees that so anger merchants will become transparent to consumers, who will have to choose between the familiarity and convenience of plastic and the likelihood of paying higher prices," the paper wrote. The Reserve Bank justified its reforms, which have been three years in the making, by arguing they will protect consumers who do not carry credit cards from subsidizing those who do. Under the Reserve Bank's logic, since most merchants pass the costs of interchange to consumers in the form of higher prices, all consumers suffer equally, even those who derive no benefit from using a card. Although consumers groups and banks said they would be watching the Australian experiment next year, few saw it being replicated in the United States. The Federal Reserve, for example, has sent no signal that is contemplates any similar regulation.

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