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Top Credit Card Stories of 2012

Tickers in this article: AXP COF DFS MA V

NEW YORK ( -- Last year was a relatively quiet one for the credit card industry, but there were a number of developments that may have a far-reaching impact. Here are the top 10 credit card stories of 2012:

1. Swipe fee settlement
In July, MasterCard (MA) , Visa (V) and other major banks agreed to pay more than $6 billion to resolve accusations that they engaged in anti-competitive practices and price fixing in payment processing. In addition, credit card companies agreed to reduce swipe fees for eight months, an adjustment valued at $1.2 billion. The settlement would also allow retailers to charge higher prices to their customers for paying with credit cards. Before this settlement, the card companies prohibited retailers from adding this type of surcharge.

Just days after the proposed settlement, Wal-Mart (WMT) and Target (TGT) came out against it and were joined by major trade groups including the National Association of Convenience Stores, the National Retail Federation and the National Restaurant Association. Eventually, a majority of the original 19 plaintiffs would come out against the settlement.

They are challenging a part of the order that would free Visa and MasterCard from new legal claims over related interchange issues. The settlement got initial approval in the U.S. District Court in November but is being appealed in the appeals court.

2. Growth of prepaid cards
Thanks to regulations and legislation on credit cards, banks are turning renewed attention to prepaid cards. Prepaid cards have fewer regulations than credit cards and banks are embracing prepaid cards for needed revenue. Today, competition for the prepaid market is growing and driving down rates and fees. Consumers loaded approximately $57 billion onto prepaid cards in 2011, and loads were projected to reach approximately $82 billion last year, $117 billion this year and $167 billion next year, according to the Mercator Advisory Group .

There are no government regulations and consumer protections on prepaid cards -- debit and credit card rules and regulations do not apply. But that may soon change. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is investigating the fees and practices of prepaid cards and seeking input on ways to enforce safety for consumers.

3. The Libor scandal
The Libor rate-fixing scandal is far reaching for consumers and financial institutions. Regulators are still investigating whether banks rigged interest rates to gain more profits or perhaps reported lower interest rates on loans to appear more financially stable. A rigged Libor rate means millions of people around the world might have unknowingly paid more or less interest than they should have on their mortgages, student loans and credit cards.

Regulators have begun handing down fines. In June, British bank Barclays (BCS) was fined $450 million by U.S. and British regulators. Just recently, Swiss bank UBS (UBS) agreed to pay $1.5 billion in fines for its role in manipulating Libor and other benchmark interest rates. This is one of the biggest fines that regulators have given a financial institution.