BOSTON — Confirming reports circulating last week in the financial services industry, Wal-Mart said Wednesday it will no longer take signature-based transactions on MasterCard debit cards, effective Feb. 1. The decision comes after Visa and MasterCard settled a $3 billion class action lawsuit over processing fees in April.

The suit, brought by Wal-Mart, Sears and other major retailers, successfully argued that credit card associations’ “honor all cards” rules unfairly burdened them with processing costs.

Wal-Mart still will accept MasterCard charge cards and MasterCard debit cards when the user enters his or her PIN number into the keypad.

There is a substantial cost difference between signature-based debits, for which credit card associations charge a processing fee of about 2 percent of the total purchase, and PIN-based debits, which cost about 25 cents a transaction, according to Craig Woker, financial services analyst with Morningstar.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the retailer was dropping MasterCard signature debits because “we don’t want to pass on the cost of fees to the customer. That’s what would ultimately happen in the form of higher merchandise costs.”

She pointed out that signature-based debits are less secure and less efficient than PIN-based debits and, accordingly, “the price should be reflective of the product.”

Less than 1 percent of Wal-Mart’s transactions would be affected by the policy change, she estimated.

A signature-based debit costs about the same as a signature-based charge, Woker pointed out. The Wal-Mart spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Wal-Mart is looking for fee cuts on those transactions, too.

Wal-Mart’s move puts MasterCard in a tight spot, since the retailer has reportedly negotiated a reduced-fee, debit deal with competitor Visa.

The Wal-Mart spokeswoman would not directly confirm a Visa deal. However, she said Wal-mart is “continuing discussions with Visa” and it will “not have a definite arrangement” until the lawsuit settlement officially goes into effect Jan. 1.

MasterCard retaliated in a three-paragraph statement, accusing the world’s largest retailer of “putting its hand into its customers’ wallets, and telling them which form of payment they must use.”

The Purchase, N.Y.-based credit giant said more than 50 million customers use signature-based debits to earn rewards points or “because they are uncomfortable entering their PIN in a terminal in a public place.”The Wal-Mart spokeswoman said customers swiping their MasterCard will be automatically prompted to enter a PIN. If they don’t have one, they will be asked for another form of payment.

The retailer’s spokeswoman said no plan had yet been developed for how cashiers would explain to customers about the policy change.

Morningstar’s Woker speculated that in return for the fee cuts, Visa may have asked Wal-Mart for exclusivity on signature-based debits.

“Wal-Mart is going to be able to play Visa and MasterCard off one another,” he said, characterizing Wal-Mart’s decision as “a blow to MasterCard — but it remains to be seen to what degree.”

The Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the firm would “consider any proposal from MasterCard” and noted it could easily resume acceptance of the signature-based debit.

In its statements, MasterCard said, “We regret we haven’t been able to reach an agreement with [Wal-Mart], but we must manage the MasterCard system in a way that balances the needs of all participants.”

As to whether others in the retail industry will be able to cut reduced-fee deals, Woker said he didn’t foresee it.

“I don’t think many, if any, other retailers are big enough to have that kind of pricing power with MasterCard and Visa,” he said.

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