American Express Accused Of Antitrust Violations

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The Justice Department is suing American Express claiming the rules AmEx imposes on retailers are anti-competitive. Visa and MasterCard decided to settle the charges. American Express said it had no intention of settling because it doesn't have the ability to force merchants to accept products or pricing.


The Justice Department has accused American Express of antitrust violations over the fees that it charges merchants. At the same time, the government settled similar charges against Visa and MasterCard.

NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI: When a consumer uses a credit card, the merchant has to pay a fee, and it can vary based on the kind of card being used. American Express tends to charge higher fees than its competitors, and so do cards that offer rewards, like airline miles. Merchants have long wanted to be able to steer customers to use cheaper cards, and even give them discounts if they do. But the card companies have barred them from doing so.

As part of the settlement announced yesterday, Visa and MasterCard said they would stop imposing these kinds of restrictions on merchants, but American Express refused to do so.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder charged that by doing so, American Express is violating antitrust law.

Attorney General ERIC HOLDER (Department of Justice): We need to ensure that every consumer has access to more choices and lower prices, and that simply will not happen unless and until American Express's restrictive rules are changed.

ZARROLI: American Express said it can't be guilty of anti-competitive behavior because it lacks the market power of Visa and MasterCard, and can't force merchants to take its cards. It said the Justice Department suit would allow merchants to pressure customers to use other cards. And it said that would be discriminatory. The Justice Department was joined in its suit by attorneys general of Texas, Connecticut, and five other states.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from