Thursday, June 19, 2008

Paper, not plastic, for gas stations

For everyone who grew up on Visa and MasterCard, there's a potential hitch in the plans when it comes to filling up at the pump.

The Associated Press is reporting that some gas stations are refusing to take credit cards. The reason, the story says, is the transaction fee that credit card companies charge on transactions. The fee is a fixed percentage of the sale, which means the higher the transaction, the higher the total fee. But the gas station owner in West Virginia says that rising fuel costs don't keep up with profit margins.

Disregarding the economic argument for the station owner, let's look at how this would impact consumers. If you've got a mini-van, a full tank of gas is about $100 right now. Heck, a mid-size car is going to be close to $50 for a fill-up.

With a generation that is reliant on credit cards, a switch to "cash only" means added trips to the bank - do people even visit banks in an era of direct deposit? - or to the ATM.

Let's play devil's advocate. Gas station owners nationwide say, "I give up" and will accept only cash. If Joe and Jane Consumer are paying $50 to $100 cash to fill up the car, that means they're walking around with $50 to $100 cash. Will thieves begin targeting gas stations to rob customers for quick cash, or the stations themselves that will be flush with cash?

And what if the practice expands to other businesses? Individual and businesses will be in a position where there will be large amounts of cash being carried around or sitting in cash registers (or store vaults).

There's not a lot of value for a thief to steal a wallet or purse if it's filled with credit cards. But a wad of cash is not traceable.

The one positive of a credit-less society is it place more responsibility on people to spend wisely and spend only what they have.

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