Credit card minimum purchases are not allowed

LOS ANGELES Despite the rising use of our credit cards, cash is still king and some merchants believe it's the only way to pay for their products or services. But don't let that force you to buy more than you expected because you want to pay with plastic.

Odds are, you've seen the sign posted before stating a $5 or $10 minimum for debit or credit purchases.

"My personal experience has been in multiple convenience stores," said a consumer.

"Where I usually run into a problem is at coffee shops. It is very frustrating," said another consumer.

So what do you do?

"You look around, you get gum, you get candy, things you really don't need at all just to make the minimum," said another frustrated consumer.

No one wants to buy more than they need, especially now in this tight economy. Yet, Consumer Advocate Linda Sherry hears complaints from across the country. She says you shouldn't feel that kind of purchase pressure because stores aren't allowed to require a minimum purchase with most credit cards.

"They can't have a sign up there that says, 'If you want to use your credit card, you have to buy at least $10 worth of stuff.' That is a violation of the Visa, MasterCard rules," explained Sherry.

And the same goes for Discover too. American Express doesn't prohibit it, but does discourage it. Some merchants justify the expense saying they have to pay a percentage of their sale to the bank, so they pass on that expense to the consumer. Card companies and advocates say that's a no-no.

"Really the merchant just has to eat that cost as a cost of doing business," said Sherry.

Experts also say retailers can't charge you a fee for using your card, but Sherry says that happens too.

Here is what stores are allowed do.

"It's not illegal to offer a discount to people who are using cash," said Sherry.

What's the difference? In this case, it's like passing on a savings, which the merchants are welcome to do to encourage their preferred payment method.

Don't want to pay cash or a minimum?

"I think you need to stand up for yourself and your rights and you should tell them very clearly that you know it's a violation and that you will complain to MasterCard or Visa about it," said Sherry.

Or, you can take your business somewhere else.

The spokesmen for both MasterCard and Visa say it is in their contract that the merchants honor all valid cards without discrimination when properly presented for payment. If you want to complain, check the number on your credit card and call the issuing institution to file a complaint.

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