Paying with plastic could get a whole lot more complicated if Ottawa permits retailers to adopt some of the strategies recommended in a Senate committee report on the credit and debit card industries.

Consumers could be faced with paying an extra fee at the cash register when they use plastic, and also be told they can’t use certain cards, especially those that come with higher rewards, but cost the merchant more to accept, the report by the Senate committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce said.

It’s unclear whether Ottawa will adopt the committee’s recommendations. The federal finance ministry has said it’s studying the report and awaiting the findings of a similar one from a House of Commons joint committee.

But some countries, notably Australia, have already taken such steps in response to growing complaints from merchants and other businesses about the rising rates and fees they pay to accept credit cards as a form of payment.

“The merchants and … businesses are not asking for a bailout. They’re only asking for fairness,” Senator Pierrette Ringuette said when asked why the committee she spearheaded endorsed the merchants’ demands.

A coalition of retailers told the committee such rates are soaring out of control now cost an estimated $4.5 billion a year, based on an average of 2 per cent of the value of all purchases, an amount that is paid indirectly by consumers in the price of the goods and services.

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