The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs is warning restaurants and other businesses over credit card surcharges.

With rising inflation and other factors squeezing all segments of the economy, many businesses have started adding fees and surcharges to try and remain viable. Businesses are charged a processing fee from the credit card company up to 3.5% of the purchase price. Especially for small businesses and restaurants, this can be a significant expense.

While the practice of adding a surcharge to your bill is legal in New Jersey, it must be fully disclosed.

The state sent out a total of 14 warning letters to business owners who were not fully disclosing what they were charging consumers.

Consumer affairs officials note, "If an establishment imposes a Card Surcharge, that establishment must conspicuously display a notice of this fact, including the amount, at or near the point of sale."

The surcharge must also be disclosed before you place an order, and not just on the final bill.

Violators could face fines in excess of $10,000.

Cari Fais, acting director of the Consumer Affairs Division, says they have received multiple complaints in recent months.

"We are putting merchants on notice that the Division is receiving complaints and that we are focused on their practices,” Fais said in a statement, "We urge merchants to immediately ensure that they are complying with the law and not hitting consumers with surprise surcharges."

Consumer Affairs also suggested consumers be aware of the following:

  • Check the receipt to make sure the price charged matches the advertised or posted price of an item (plus tax, if applicable).
  • Look for the merchant to display full price (excluding tax) using each method of payment accepted. For example, the merchant should display the full price if the customer pays in cash and display the amount that will be charged if a Card Surcharge applies, which can be stated as a percentage.
  • Be wary of Card Surcharges that exceed the actual incremental cost of the processing fee, which is typically around 1-5 percent.
  • Look out for Card Surcharges characterized as “cash discounting.” Discounting occurs only when the consumer is invited to pay less than the full posted price.

Consumers who believe that a business is in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act are encouraged to file an online complaint. Consumers can also call 1-800-242-5846 to receive a complaint form by mail.

Eric Scott is the senior political director and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at eric.scott@townsquaremedia.com

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