Public Library’s $10 Visa Minimum Ruins My Day

I never carry any cash. I figure, anything I need can be bought with my Visa check card. I use it for small purchases at Starbucks ($1.87 every weekday for a grande coffee in a venti cup with a cold soy topper (they used to charge me for soy, but not after I complained that New York City Starbucks provided a soy carafe at the “creation station”)) lunch, the bookstore, video store, grocery store and whatever else asks me for money. The Check Card transactions get posted to my bank account allowing me to track all my purchases. I don’t have to deal with change and tip jars. It reminds me that I’m living in the twenty first century.

Last night, with pockets empty of cash, I tried to use my Visa check card to pay the Naperville Public library $2.20. The $.20 covered a previous late fee (I know I returned the book on time, they just didn’t process it until the next day). I was paying the $2 for renting the American Splendor and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow DVDs.

Here’s how it went down:

  • Waiting in line: Usually I use the self checkout, but when renting adult fiction DVDs I have to deal with a circulation clerk. Some guy steals my clerk just as I’m about to step up to the counter. He needs a body manning the Information desk. I have my Visa Check Card in hand.
  • At the counter: I hand over my three books, comic book trade and the two DVDs.
  • Payment in vain: Clerk: “Would you like to pay your $.20 overdue charge?” Me: “Sure, put it on there.” She waits. I dig out my library card. She scans everything. I notice the VISA/MASTERCARD sign behind her head, it gives me confidence. I offer the Visa. Clerk: “Oh no, we do not take that.” Confused, I point toward the sign and then notice the little “$10 minimum” label between the two credit card logos. Clerk: “It must be at least $10.” Me: “But…” (the but is meant to imply the thoughts racing through my head: that’s against Visa policy, illegal, didn’t you read about that little ice cream shop?) “Fine, take off the videos.”
  • I leave with my books. I feel the same embarrassment as if my credit card got denied. I’m angry.

Here’s why I was so mad: Visa card acceptance is offered to the customer as a convenience. If a merchant limits that service with minimum charges the implied convenience is lost (I know every small merchant’s excuse is Visa’s transaction fees, but tough, it’s part of the program). The situation at the library is especially perplexing because they only ever charge people micro fees: you’d have to rent ten DVDs or have massive overdue fees to meet their policy violating $10 minimum.

Besides the consumer convenience factor, I figure the library owes me. My property taxes increased by 120% this last year (senior citizens owned our house before us and we lost their discount this last tax cycle). $200 a year (or maybe $100, I can’t remember if $100 was every six months or the math I did in my head for a year) goes to the Naperville Library. I want to get my money’s worth by checking out DVDs, CDs, how-to books, cinema books, children’s books, young adult fiction, comic collections and whatever else the Dewie Decimal system has to offer.

So here’s my plan: I’m going to complain. I will file a complaint with my bank (as Visa advises); I will file a complaint with the library. I will keep complaining until the policy is changed (or it takes up too much of my time, I can only do so much).

How dare the library deny me a method of payment. Now I can’t share American Splendor with my wife, which I described as “A movie about a comic writer with that guy from Sideways.” And I wanted to add, “who’s also a county clerk,” but decided against it.

How many of these “$10 minimum” signs do you encounter a day? Do you cave and carry cash just in case instead of fighting for enforcement of a well known credit card policy?

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11 Responses to “Public Library’s $10 Visa Minimum Ruins My Day”

  1. Her Says:

    Ooh, I’m also irked by those faux minimums. But I have never filed a complaint, either. Considering that the fine can be as much as $100,000 (check the Visa terms), I figure that kind of penalty would put them right out of business. Maybe instead of filing a complaint, you could write a letter to the library and enclose a copy of the terms. At least give them a chance to right their wrong. The public library may be funded by the government, but they don’t have unlimited resources. I would much rather see them use their funds to purchase books than fatten the wallets of the execs at Visa!

  2. geek Says:

    Yeah, you have a good point. I’ll definitely contact the library first. I guess I don’t want to be the jerk blogger who made suburban children cry because he shut down their library over $2.20.

    My other worry is the possibility of some obscure clause letting public libraries require minimums.

  3. Julie Says:

    my public library doesn’t even take credit cards!! but they don’t charge for videos either. And the selection sucks (coincidence?)

    But really, keep in mind that they are not a MERCHANT, but a non-profit agency. Naperville is pretty well-funded! At $200 a year, that’s about 10 books and movies, which is one visit for me.

    Didja ask them if they could charge $10 on your Visa and leave the rest as credit on your account?

  4. natalie Says:

    “My other worry is the possibility of some obscure clause letting public libraries require minimums.”

    Unfortunately, it’s not an obscure clause. Government agencies are exempt from the Visa/MC minimum purchase/service fee policy. Since the library operates on tax dollars, I’m sure it qualifies as a government agency.

  5. Delfino Says:

    You never carry any cash? Now, that is stupid. How do you pay for a parking meter with a check card?

  6. geek Says:

    Julie - The $10 credit is a good idea. I was so fumed at the time that I wasn’t thinking of any common sense solutions.

    Natalie - Where did you find this exempt info? I can’t find anything about it in Visa or Mastercard’s policies. Though I did find many museums have the same $10 minimum. I’ve asked the library directly through their online comment form about the validity of the policy and if they could point me toward supporting documents from the gov or credit card companies.

    Delfino - Yes, not carrying cash is stupid. But I never have to worry about parking meters because I only drive around the suburbs and many downtown Chicago parking meters take credit cards now, though I’ve found street parking and have to settle for a garage. We do keep change in the car.

  7. Jud Says:

    I understand your anger and it seems a pretty arbitrary minimum. I work at an academic library in New Zealand and we have no minimum for paying by eftpos, but not sure about credit (as far as I know - none). I get angered too when I’m offering my custom to someone and they won’t accept my method of payment (I’m thinking of an instance when I wanted to change my car insurance to another company but they would only accept my custom if I paid by direct debit from my bank account and I’m old fashioned enough to prefer paying by cheque so I know what goes out when). If it’s the credit card company’s policy then there’s not much you can do about it, but these seemingly arbitrary rules are annoying, frustrating, and hardly good customer service in my opinion.

  8. mia Says:

    as a librarian, i am totally flabbergasted that you’re charged a fee for taking out *anything* from your library. but then again, i think late fees should be abolished too. public libraries would do a lot better image-wise if they moved to a netflix model of loaning items.

  9. Chris Says:

    I was just turned away by a gas station that said I needed to have a ten dollar minimum purchase. I was on my scooter, which only holds a galloon of gas so I was SOL. Luckily there was another store around the corner that had no problem with my 2.34 puchase. I will shop there often and I usually fill up my Jeep, which is a windfall these days for whoever I fill up with let me tell ya. If a for profit business turns my tiny purchase down I will file a complaint. After all, doesn’t Visa get paid once a year so I can use the stupid card where it is supposedly accepted? As for a non-profit, well, I hate to say it but they should have thought about the costs of accepting the credit card. I hate to think that they will really go out of business, but I think they could resolve that by raising thier late fees to compensate for the financial burden of accepting credit card payments. Yea, I seem like a tough guy, but if credit cards don’t work for the businesses then they should stop accepting them until VISA gets thier prices in line with what it costs businesses to use them. By adjusting thier requirements for customers it is just masking the real problem for businesses, that being VISA is asking too high a usage fee for all the small businesses to accept thier card. I am going to file a complaint on the gas station…but have to admit I may not on a ‘mom and pop’ coffee shop or non-profit. Well, these were my thoughts.

  10. Library Drops $10 Credit Card Minimum Because of Blogger ¬Ľ Home Theater, Anime, Geek Gadgets for the whole family Says:

    [...] I could be completely ego-tripping here, but I think my post last July, complaining about my local library’s $10 credit card minimum, actually made the library change its policy and drop the minimum. [...]

  11. Citizens Against Minimum Purchase Says:

    I read your post regarding the minimum purchase amount to use credit cards. This has been a long standing problem without a way to combat it -until now. While Visa and Mastercard take the report and get results, there has never been a group to follow-up with the consumer to let them know the problem is solved. We recently launched ‚ÄúCitizens Against Minimum Purchase.‚ÄĚ Feel free to visit out website The site was established to give consumers a voice against minimum purchase amounts. On the site you can also report establishments that have a minimum purchase requirement. Please email us if you have any questions or would like additional information.

    Citizens Against Minimum Purchase

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