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Emily Starbuck Crone

Emily's list: Cookies and credit card dough edition

Little did I know my cookie cravings would put me in the middle of a huge fight over big dough.

I like my local baker, who sells delicious gourmet cookies. But I just want one at a time, and I want to buy it with a credit card since I tend not to carry much cash. The baker doesn't want to sell me just one if I use a card because every time my card is swiped, card processing fees eat his profits.

My baker, like many small merchants, posts a sign saying it requires a minimum purchase if you want to use a credit card. Those little, usually handwritten "Minimum payment required for credit card" signs have been around forever, but until 2010, they weren't supposed to be. Merchants' agreements with card issuers had required them to take any payment with a card, no matter how small. Credit card guilt edition

Merchants have to pay a fee on each credit card transaction that can eat up profit margins on small purchases. A fee of 2 percent to 3 percent may sound small, but it adds up when people use their credit cards to buy $1.50 sodas. As a result, merchants' lobbyists fought for and won the right to charge a minimum payment. That 2010 change, part of the massive Wall Street reform bill, allows merchants to require consumers make a minimum purchase of $10 before they have to accept credit cards.

Which brings me back to my cookie quandary. I used to go to my little bakery a few times a week that was near my office, and it had a sign saying it wouldn't accept a payment via debit card or credit card for under $5. Since it was required, I would abide by it, which usually meant that I would have to buy another cookie. Not a huge deal, but these were gourmet cookies that were almost $2, so it added up. I get their logic, but with so many shoppers using plastic, does it make sense to alienate people who don't tend to carry around cash? On the other hand, maybe it encourages people like me to buy more to hit that limit.

I sucked it up. But I feel guilty when a merchant has a sign that they don't require it, but prefer it. A local coffee shop and cafe down the street from my house just put up a sign next to the register. It says that if you can pay a tab of $5 or less with cash, they would very much appreciate it. It's nice to give customers the choice rather than requiring it.

But now I feel guilty if I don't pay with cash, especially since I'm enough of a regular that the owner knows me and my weekly smoothie order. Sometimes I just don't have cash on hand. I love the idea of supporting a local business, but at the same time, I don't want to go out of my way to get cash just so I can avoid buying a $5 smoothie with plastic.

There's a local burger restaurant and drive-through in Austin called P. Terry's. Their burgers are dirt cheap, yet they happily swipe cards for purchases of less than $3. I always wonder if they build the fees into the price, or if they just sell enough food that it offsets the price (they always have long lines).

What do you think -- should I feel guilty for making small purchases with my credit card even though the merchant chooses to accept them?

Read on for my roundup of my favorite posts from the personal finance blogosphere from the past week.

1. Modest Money explains what happens to your debt when you die. A bit morbid, but very important.

2. The Frugal Path shares three instances where being a major cheapskate will actually cause you to lose money.

3. Plunged in Debt discusses a story about a lemonade stand that changed her perspective on money.

4. Budget Blonde reveals how she managed to save thousands of dollars a year by changing her beauty routine.

5. The year will be over before we know it, so Little Miss Moneybags offers advice on how to get your finances in check to set you up for a smooth tax season.

6. Money Under 30 discusses how the financial baggage you carry can affect your relationship.

7. Moolanomy questions how we all define financial success and suggests that it's probably about a lot more than just money.

8. You've been seeing commercials for holiday layaway programs, but do you know what layaway is? Million Dollar Journey explains how they work and what you should watch out for.

9. As someone who has bought and sold furniture on Craigslist, I really enjoyed this post from Club Thrifty about the pros and cons of using Craigslist to sell things.

3 Comment(s)

Jackie said:

Thanks for including my link! I usually feel guilty about those small purchases, but do them anyway since I don't carry cash with me. I guess I don't feel guilty enough...


Thank you so much for mentioning my article!!!!


Samantha said:

I tend to side with the customer on this one. If you want to use the credit card, then you should be allowed to use it no matter how small the purchase amount is. It is up to the store owner to either accept the card and lose money by paying the required fees, or padding the cost of the fees into the item for sale. Besides, customers with the freedom to choose, are happy customers and happy customers are returning customers. It's a win win.


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