Tapping your debit card at the checkout counter is easy, hassle-free and best of all, free, right?

Think again as it turns out, tap-and-go has hidden charges that a lot of consumers don’t really know about.

Businesses are passing on costs to consumers

Contactless card payments such as payWave or payPass cost businesses a ton of money. The Australian Retailers Association believe banks charge businesses an estimated $500 million each year to process card transactions.

“This has happened by stealth and retailers didn’t realise what was happening when they were asked to sign on to tap-and-go,” said executive director Russell Zimmerman in a report.

Businesses are passing the buck to consumers through transparent means such as surcharges aside from card transactions or by raising the cost of goods in the store.

Supermarket chain ALDI is in the surcharge camp; a small sign on the debit machines says a 0.5% charge for tap-and-go payments.

“Rather than ALDI inflating prices across the board to compensate for the credit card acceptance costs (like most of the retailers do), ALDI instead allows customers to make the choice as to the payment method they prefer,” a statement released by the company said.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) deputy chairman Dr Michael Schaper, businesses have the authority to charge consumers with a fee for tap-and-go charges, but they cannot gain profit from doing so.

“It can be a bit of a trap here for both consumers and for businesses,” Schaper said.

“For consumers, it’s to make sure they’re aware of the fee and for businesses it’s to remember they can’t charge more than the fee.”

If a business is levying a flat fee for card transactions, they could be in violation of the law.

“Almost all of us have seen retailers say if you want to use eftpos, credit card or debit, there’s an extra 20, 30, or 50-cent charge. In many cases [the fee] is an overstatement, so they run a bit of a risk there.”

How to avoid the charges?

There are ways to make sure you’re not paying a fee for using a card. You can go back to swiping and punching in your PIN, or you can simply just avoid using a card at all. Visit the ATM and do your shopping with cash, but make sure your bank doesn’t charge you for using another bank’s ATM to avoid another bunch of charges.