Why don't Illinois Secretary of State facilities take Visa?

July 19, 2011

It’s that time of the year; you have to renew your license plate. You make your way down to the Secretary of State office, fill out the forms, stand in line. You throw down your Visa to cover the $99 fee only to be told, that’s not going to work.

The state of Illinois does not accept Visa at Secretary of State locations.

Henry Haupt, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office which oversees the Department of Vehicle Services and Driver Services, explained that Visa will not allow businesses to charge a separate fee for the transaction cost, the fee credit card companies charge business to run the card. The Department of Revenue is required by law to charge the amount set by the governing body and thus can’t add on an extra charge to cover the transaction fee.

“Visa does not allow merchants (including government offices) to charge consumers a fee for using a Visa card because we do not believe that cardholders should be penalized for using their cards,” Ted Carr, a spokesman for Visa, Inc., said in a statement. “Checkout fees on purchases are harmful to consumers and unfairly shift the cost of electronic payments onto consumers. In fact, ten states ban businesses from the practice to protect consumers.”

Carr goes on to add that Visa is accepted at other government agencies across the country.

One such agency is the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Graig Lubsen, a deputy communications director at the Indiana Secretary of State’s office, Lubsen said that their offices accept Visa and MasterCard.

“We understand that the fee is there and that’s something we handle like any other business does,” Lubsen said. That’s to say, the Bureau pays the transactions fees and the charge is not passed onto the consumer.

Not accepting credit cards in general (or Visa in particular) is “not really convenient for customers,” Lubsen said. “We’re focused on customer service and security of all data and transactions.”

You can use a MasterCard, American Express or Discover card at the Illinois Secretary of State offices.

Wait, don’t they have transaction fees too?

MasterCard has a specific program for governments and educational institutions that will allow them to use MasterCard for electronic payments. Seth Eisen, Mastercard spokesperson, explained the program allows them to pass along the convenience fee to the customers, provided they meet the set criteria. The state of Illinois does in this case, since it is a government support service. Other qualifying institutions could be college and universities or a government organization collecting taxes or fees.

Like MasterCard, Discover allows the government to pass the transaction fee to the consumer. Matt Towson, spokesman for Discover Financial, explained there is nothing, in fact, in Discover’s merchant contract which prohibits businesses from charging the consumers for the transaction.

Both MasterCard and Discover require the State of Illinois not to discriminate against their cards, so there is one flat fee to use any credit card.

Consumers can use their Visa card for online transactions for the DMV. Haupt explained since Visa does allow organizations to charge a fee to maintain their website, which the DMV is then able to collect and use to pay for the transaction fees.

So next time you need to renew your license plate and want to use your Visa, do it online. Or try to find your checkbook.

But hey, at least we’re better off than our neighbors up north. Wisconsin’s system doesn't accept credit cards.