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Vol. LXI, No. 39
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
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Heartland Systems Hopes Library Will Pilot Community Card

Linda Arntzenius

Heartland Payment Systems, which provides retailers with the tools for processing credit card transactions, proposed a pilot program to the board of trustees of the Princeton Public Library last week.

Headquartered in Princeton, the company is the world’s sixth largest payment processor.

The board, which includes the mayors of both Princeton municipalities, watched a video presentation introduced by chairman and CEO, Bob Carr.

The video described Heartland’s introduction of a new campus card for Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. The card, which features cutting edge contact-less technology, allows users to designate a charity of their choice to benefit through Heartland’s “Give Something Back” program, whenever it is used to make a purchase at participating merchants.

Heartland has been processing the university’s credit and debit card transactions for the past 10 years.

The card (or a similarly enabled cell-phone) communicates with a card reader without physically touching it. A light on the reader indicates that the tag has been read. A PIN number for transactions over a specified amount can be requested.

Mr. Carr proposed a similar card which would benefit the library every time it was used to purchase goods at a number of participating Princeton merchants. The pre-paid card — Mr. Carr pointed out that it is not a credit card — also has the potential to be used in the town’s parking meters.

The company, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange and serves 150,000 restaurants, hotels, and retailers, as well as 300 colleges throughout the U.S., is proposing to supply the new cards and card readers at no cost to the library. Card readers will cost participating merchants around $210.

“We think card holders like the idea of giving back to their communities,” said Mr. Carr. “We believe there are enough people who will put their rewards points in support of a non-profit to make this a worthwhile venture.”

Merchants, who pay a percentage of each transaction to Heartland, appreciate the community card because of the lower fees charged and because of the opportunity to give back to their communities through matching grant programs, he said. Heartland’s rate of 1.5 percent is less than the rates charged by credit card companies (1.85 percent for Visa/Mastercard, 2.8 percent for American Express).

If the library takes Heartland up on its offer, “Princeton could be the first community in North America to have this system,” said Mr. Carr. The system could take only 60 days to implement.

Of the over 70 local merchants already using Heartland technology to process credit card transactions, Mr. Carr reported that between 30 and 40 have expressed interest in a Princeton Community Card. The Princeton Library Card has the potential to become the Princeton Community Card (FDIC insured) with the library as the default beneficiary, said Mr. Carr. “This would be model program unique to Princeton which if successful could have applicability in many other sites,” he said.

While Library Director Leslie Burger described the idea as “intriguing,” she commented that “there is no guarantee that it would generate significant income for the library or any of the other non-profits that might be designated to receive funds.”

The key is usage, said Mr. Carr who wants card holders to be able to choose which non-profit should benefit from its “Give Something Back” program. While the default would be the library, cardholders could choose from a list of local groups such as SAVE and the Historical Society of Princeton. They could also designate percentages to chosen groups and keep track of their donations (for tax purposes) online.

“This only makes sense if people use the card,” said Mr. Carr. “The Library has the ability to bring in users and would not pay anything to be the default beneficiary of a portion of the transactions in local shops.”

Heartland would pay for the cost of reissuing library cards and would work with the University’s Tiger Cards and possibly even with a k-12 card in local schools, he said.

The company charges merchants a fee for each transaction. The cost to the library would be nil.

Members of the board who raised questions about privacy and security, were told that the procedure does not interfere with the library’s barcode system.

According to Library Director Leslie Burger, the proposal from Heartland resulted from conversations relating to the library and credit card processing following Heartland’s launch of “Give Something Back.” “As we began thinking about cash purchase card our minds immediately went to other applications: paying library fees, parking, library material loans, etc. Having a multipurpose card that works for a variety of uses seems attractive,” said the library director.

For more on the Give Something Back program, visit:

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