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Recently, I visited a bar I regularly attend and purchased what I normally get, which has a pre-tip total of less than $10. When I went to pay the check with my credit card, I was told that there was a $10 minimum for all credit transactions.

It is worth noting that there are no signs anywhere that indicate this $10 minimum nor has such a thing been enforced in the months that I had previously been patronizing this location. There are signs indicating that credit cards are accepted.

Personally, I do not keep much, if any cash, on me. So this created a conundrum. I eventually got the barback to relent and take the card, but I was wondering few things:

  1. Does the placement of a sticker stating, "We accept XYZ credit cards," essentially obligate a business to accept that card?

  2. If a business is obligated to accept a credit card, are they obligated to openly declare the conditions for that form of payment (especially in a restaurant where payment happens after services are rendered)?

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Note: IANAL

Does the placement of a sticker stating, "We accept XYZ credit cards," essentially obligate a business to accept that card?

It depends on whether you mean whether they are obligated to provide goods/services to someone who presents the card, or whether, having provided goods/services, they are obligated to accept the card as payment.

For the first question, the answer is "no". The credit card brand could theoretically go after them, however, as names of credit networks are trademarks, so claiming to accept a card but not doing so is trademark infringement.

For the second, the answer is "pretty much". Since they misrepresented their establishment, there is no mutual assent and therefore no contract. If they try to use "defrauding the innkeeper statutes", those require fraudulent intent. If you fully intended to pay for you meal by a credit card, and it was their choice to refuse payment, then you have no fraudulent intent. The only avenue I can see for them is some sort of equity argument, but that would be problematic, especially if they ask for the retail, rather than wholesale, price, and not worth the hassle of collecting. So, legally, you can just walk out, but in practice if they have a bouncer they might make trouble for you.

  • "legally, you can just walk out" - I don't think this is quite true. You would probably still be responsible for your bill, and would need to pay by different means. However, they would probably be required to accomodate you, by e.g. allowing you to come back later to pay. – sleske Oct 30 at 14:33
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A sign saying that credit cards are accepted doesn't obligate a business to accept a particular card, or indeed any card. They do not have to have a sign saying e.g. "we do not accept Discover", though ultimately they would inform you of that (if you try to use a non-accepted card). If they accept the card, then they have to notify you somehow about minimum charges. Typically this is via a sign saying "$10 minimum purchase with credit card". They can also tell you verbally when they take your card: what they might tell you is "We will add a $1.00 fee", or "We will round the amount up to $10", or "Sorry, you have to buy more stuff to use a credit card". You have to have the option of declining to use a credit card (and pay with cash or check), so they can't just surreptitiously change the amount.

Contract terms with the card company or local law might prohibit some practices, for example surcharges for credit card use may be illegal or not consistent with card-company rules (Visa and MasterCard in the past). A minimum charge of $10 is allowed pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (p. 124 of the act):

A payment card network shall not...inhibit the ability (i) of any person to set a minimum dollar value for the acceptance by that person of credit cards...(if) such minimum dollar value does not exceed $10.00

  • This seems hard to believe. If there is a sign saying "we accept card X", and you order based on that sign, would the acceptance of card X not be part of the (implicit) contract you make? What gives the shop the right to refuse CC payment later, or unilaterally impose fees or minimums? Could you add some citations to your answer? – sleske Aug 31 '17 at 8:38
  • Is it your intent to suggest that the business is not required to post their minimum for using a credit card in an obvious place, but can instead verbally inform the consumer after the purchase of their meal? – Pyrotechnical Aug 31 '17 at 12:52
  • Also, can you address the specific scenario of a restaurant whereby the payment typically occurs following services rendered. – Pyrotechnical Aug 31 '17 at 12:54
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Does the placement of a sticker stating, "We accept XYZ credit cards," essentially obligate a business to accept that card?

No, there is no obligation for that business to accept XYZ card if there is a sticker. I have been to businesses where they have a "American Express accepted here" but that was posted a long time ago and they just never took the sticker down.

If a business is obligated to accept a credit card, are they obligated to openly declare the conditions for that form of payment (especially in a restaurant where payment happens after services are rendered)?

Businesses are never obligated to accept a credit card, but if they do, they can, but are not obligated to, declare the conditions on which to accept credit card as a form of payment (minimum purchase amount). Obviously if they accept credit cards but require a minimum payment, they will tell you.

In good faith, if a small business had a "We accept XYZ credit cards" sticker and it wasn't the case, but you went to pay with XYZ credit card, they will most likely accept it.

  • I've added the law tag to my original question as I think my intent was unclear without it. Your answer is a personal experience and so is mine and those two conflict. So I'm seeking an answer that stipulates what the business is legally obligated to do given the scenario. Please also address the post-meal scenario I've described, whereby the business informs me of the limit after services were rendered. – Pyrotechnical Aug 30 '17 at 20:04
  • @Pyrotechnical that would be better suited for Law.SE – Michael Aug 30 '17 at 20:05
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    @stannius From just personal experience, I have family members that own businesses and they do not accept Amex. However, there have been instances where a customer only has Amex and did not know that Amex was not accepted. The Amex was still taken, but there was a surcharge to offset the processing fee. Just my experience. – Michael Aug 30 '17 at 20:33
  • Sounds like you know a lot better than me. I'll just delete my inaccurate comment. – stannius Aug 30 '17 at 20:51
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    Advertising laws prohibit offering to accept a branded card (enticing customers) and later claiming they don't honor that card when it is offered by a customer for payment. As noted above, it is also a trademark infringement, for which there may be hefty criminal fines, if not also civil damages and injunction. Obviously a merchant cannot accept a brand of card from a company for which they have no contract. – Upnorth Sep 1 '17 at 4:49

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