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The card rort costing us all $550 million

Australian retailers and shoppers are paying $550 million to the banks that could be avoided. (Images: Getty)

When you go to the shops and pull out your debit card, are you annoyed that there is a surcharge for Visa and Mastercard payments?

Are you red with anger when you find a surcharge whacked after using tap-and-go, even though you're using a debit card? Aldi Australia is a classic example of a retailer that does this.

This is because the banks are deliberately routing those payments through the international Visa and Mastercard systems – which are more profitable for them – instead of the cheaper local EFTPOS rail.

And this rort has to stop, said Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe.

"We have made it clear to the banking industry that we expect them to develop the functionality to allow the merchant to choose which payment rails it goes through – the international schemes or the EFTPOS schemes," he said at the National Press Gallery on Wednesday.

"And we put a lot of pressure on the banks to do this."

Retail groups have previously estimated going through the Visa and Mastercard systems cost the merchants – and therefore customers – as much as $550 million.

And that cost is only increasing as tap-and-go payments boom.

Fairfax Media reported last month that fees for the local EFTPOS system are only about a quarter of the expensive international systems.

The banks had been called out for this earner for several years, but they have been slow to develop the technology to either allow the merchant to choose the payment system or allow the transaction to automatically use the cheapest option (called Least Cost Routing).

Cynics, such as retailer lobby groups, would say the banks have a self-interest in dragging their feet on the change.

While Lowe said he would prefer the banks voluntarily reform their systems, he would not rule out intervention.

"If that process doesn't work then we would have to consider a regulatory solution."

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