There's a new price for convenience at the gas pump: Many service stations are charging customers more per gallon if they use their credit cards than if they pay with cash.
The practice, already in place at a number of local service stations, is likely to become more widespread in the weeks ahead. And while it might be a pain in the wallet to customers, it's only fair for dealers to charge more for credit card use.
With higher fuel prices, filling station owners are paying considerably more in credit card fees. In some cases, the fees wipe out any profit to station owners on the sale of gasoline.
The National Association of Convenience Stores has taken the issue to Washington. The advocacy group has asked for federal help in renegotiating the fees charged by major credit card companies. In the past year, NACS members paid $7.6 billion in credit card fees, compared to $3.4 billion in earned profits.
An overwhelming number of customers pay for their gasoline with credit or debit cards. Until recently, convenience store owners have been willing to pay the credit card fees to keep customers, hoping to make money on other items.
But the need to pass the cost of fees on to customers is understandable in tough economic times. Some stores have a dual fee system, with cash customers paying slightly less than credit card users. Other stores simply charge more per gallon for all customers to help cover the cost of the fees.
In any case, drivers are going to have to calculate how much the convenience of using a credit card to buy gas is worth to them. Older folks can be forgiven pangs of nostalgia for the days when they could go to a "full service" gas station, buy gas for 35 cents a gallon, have it pumped by an attendant, who also would clean the windshield and check the oil and tire pressure if you asked.
The transition to self serve was difficult for some. For others, self-service is the only method of buying gas they have ever experienced -- and paying at the pump with a credit card was a big leap forward.
We suspect that paying a few extra cents per gallon for the privilege of using a credit card won't deter a lot of people. But those on a slim budget who are counting pennies may do whatever it takes to save at the pump.