Undeterred by their sullied reputation, big banks and credit card companies are making a major play to protect a key source of profit: credit card swipe fees.
Last year, the country's largest financial institutions -- including many banks that have received bailout funds -- raked in an estimated $48 billion from credit card swipe fees. That's an average of $400 per American household.
Every time a shopper swipes his card, the credit card-issuing banks charge retailers a percentage (usually between 2 and 5 percent) of the purchase. The charge was initially intended to cover the administrative costs of processing credit card payments. But even as technology has reduced those costs substantially, the amount of money generated by credit card swipe fees has continued to rise. Since 2001, revenue from "interchange fees" has gone up 120% in the United States.