Frequently Asked Questions

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Fees and Expenses of Credit Card Processing
1. Are there other fees or expenses involved?

Don’t think of your merchant account as an expense. Rather, it is an investment in the success of your business, so remember this DOES NOT cost money but makes you money. Your sales should increase significantly if you begin accepting credit cards.

  • Application fee - This should be under $100. ISO’s charge a fee to process your paperwork with the processor. ISO's will usually waive this fee.

  • Discount rate - A discount rate is the fee that a credit card processor charges a merchant who wants to process credit card sales. There are two types of discount rates.

  • Card present - The first type of discount rate is a card present discount rate. Banks identify card present with retail businesses because the credit card is present at the time of sale and swiping the credit card through the terminal processes the card. The range for this type of discount rate is usually from 1.59% to 1.89%.
  • Card not present - The second type is card not present. Banks identify card not present with mail/telephone order businesses, service or Internet businesses. The credit card is not present at the time of sale and must be manually keyed or entered into a credit card terminal or software program. This type of transaction is slightly riskier and therefore you can expect to pay slightly more than for a Retail Card Swiped Transaction. The range for this type of rate is usually from 2.25% to 2.49%.
  • Transaction fee - A transaction fee is a fee that the processor charges a merchant’s to dial into the network and verify that a credit card is valid and has available credit. This fee covers the cost of the terminal dialing out through a phone line or through the Internet. There is no charge from your phone carrier for this call as the terminals usually dial local or Toll Free Numbers. For retail accounts, the transaction rate generally falls between .25 and .40 cents. So, to continue the discount rate example above, if you are quoted a discount rate of 1.79% and a transaction rate of .25 and receive a credit card payment of $100, $2.04 (equivalent of 1.79% times $100 + .25 will now be deducted from your bank account for that transaction. Please note that some merchant service providers “bundle” their rates, and include the discount and transaction rates as one charge. For example, instead of quoting a discount rate of 1.79% and a transaction rate of .25, a merchant service provider may just give you one rate, such as 2.10% bundled. In this scenario, if your average ticket were $100, you would owe $2.10 (equivalent of 2.10% times $100) for each transaction. Batch fee - This is a small daily fee charged to batch or close out all your transactions. Batch fees are typically the same as your transaction fee. This fee ranges from 25 cents to one dollar.
  • Statement fee - This monthly fee typically ranges from $5 to $20. This fee pays for you to receive a Monthly Statement which breaks down all of your credit card transactions. A Monthly Statement summarizes all activity for the merchant. The statements are sent automatically at the end of each month. This Statement should be used to balance your checkbook. Some processors have on-line transaction reporting available, providing up to the minute, detailed information merchants can use to confirm payments, identify processing problems, and other issues. Reading your statement can sometimes be difficult but it is important you understand what it says. Once you receive your statement and you have questions call customer service or your sales representative to explain how your statement.
  • Customer Service Fee - Some companies charge a modest monthly fee for the merchant assistance they provide. This charge should not be more than $10 a month and is rare if the processor is charging you a statement fee.
  • Monthly minimum - A monthly minimum is not a fee unless you do little or no sales each month. It is calculated by multiplying your total sales times your discount rate and then adding your transaction fees.
    Example: Keyed Business – Discount Rate is 2.49% + .30 cents per transaction.
    Visa/MC Sales $1,000.00 in 10 transactions of $100 each.
    $1,000 x 2.49% = $24.99.
    Total = $24.99.
    You missed the minimum by .01 cent of $25 and therefore you pay .01 cent. If you had come up with $23.00 in total fees, you would pay the $2.00 difference to hit your monthly minimum.
    Example: Swiped Business - Discount Rate is 1.79% + .25 per transaction
    Visa/MC Sales $1,000.00 in 60 transactions of $25 each
    $2,000 x 1.79% = $17.99
    Total = $35.80
    You hit the minimum of $25 and therefore you pay nothing else. Most businesses should easily surpass the monthly minimum, and owe nothing for this.

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2. Those fees are less expensive than I thought it would be but there must be some other hidden fees?

Yes, there other incidental costs you must be aware of associated with your merchant account. Be sure your processor discloses all fees before you sign any contracts, and you will not have any hidden fees.

Here is a list of other fees. Some may or may not apply to your specific business type.

  • Void Transaction - A voided transaction occurs when a customer wants to return merchandise before the merchant has closed his/her batch containing that transaction. Voiding a transaction before the batch is closed saves the merchant fees and only costs the transaction. Voiding a sale is similar to deleting a sales draft before taking it to the bank for deposit. Voiding a transaction before the batch is closed saves the merchant fees and only costs the transaction. The merchant does not pay the discount rate on that transaction because the batch has not settled and the sale is not “official”. If possible, void transactions before the closing the batch.

  • Annual fee - This once a year for maintenance and system upgrades is an automatic deduction from your checking account. An Annual Fee should not be more than $99 per year. Some processors are starting to charge this fee. Make sure to ask your ISO if there is an Annual fee.
  • Debit Card fees - It is much less expensive to accept a customer's debit card rather than a credit card. Most merchant service providers charge a flat fee, generally ranging from .35 to .75 for each debit card transaction. The credit card discount and transaction rates do not apply when you accept a debit card. Debit fees only apply to merchants who have this service. Please note that you will need an encrypted pin pad to process customers' debit cards so that they may key in their private four digit number into the pin pad. This will be an additional charge, and should be less than $200. It may be worth the expense as debit cards cost you much less to process than credit cards, as previously stated. While you may decide to allow your customers to pay with debit cards, it remains imperative to also allow for credit card use.
  • Over limit fee - When you apply for your merchant account, you indicate how much monthly volume you expect to process. Your account, approved to process that amount, will subject to an over limit fee. You can avoid the over limit fee in any given month if you believe your sales will be over the top by calling customer service and letting them know in advance. If your sales will continue to be over the limit for the following months, you can simply ask them to bump you up to the next level.
  • Reserve account - Processors will often identify certain merchant accounts as a higher risk. These accounts pose a high risk to a processor in terms of charge backs. In other words, the processor expects that a high risk account will have more charge backs. Processors will accept higher risk accounts but often ask the merchant to place a reserve with them to protect the processor against loss.

There are four ways that a processor will ask a merchant to start a reserve.

  1. Place a dollar amount in a reserve account equal to one month processing limit. The processor holds this amount for the life of the account. This money is released to the merchant only after his merchant account is closed and 210 days have passed.

  2. Allow the processor to hold in reserves the first month’s credit card sales done by the merchant The processor holds this amount for the life of the account. This money is released to the merchant only after his merchant account is closed and 210 days have passed.

  3. The processor will hold a percentage of gross sales each month until the reserve amount equals one month processing volume. This percentage is usually anywhere from 5% to 25% of monthly gross credit card sales.

  4. Allow the processor to establish a “sixth month rolling reserve”. The Processor will hold 5% of each months sales until the 7th Month. On Month 7, all reserve dollars from Month 1 will be released to the Merchant. On Month 8, all reserve dollars from Month 2 will be released to the Merchant and so on.

  • Programming or encryption fee - The ISO can charge a programming or encryption fee, reflecting the effort of your merchant service provider to make your existing terminal compatible with their system. Others do not charge this fee directly but include it in their set-up fee.
  • Chargeback fee - the MSP will charge a fee when someone disputes a credit card sale that originated with your business. The fee can range from $0 - $40 for each chargeback. It is imperative for you to reduce the likelihood of chargebacks through customer service intervention, fraud prevention, etc. Chargeback’s can be avoided by setting your account up properly from the beginning. Having your complete company name and customer service phone number printed on Customers statements is a great way to avoid chargebacks. That way, when a customer gets his bill and has a question about the “charge” on his account, he can immediately call you and get his questions or problems resolved.
  • Return - A return transaction occurs when a customer wants to return merchandise after the merchant has closed his/her batch containing that transaction. Returning a transaction after the batch is closed costs the merchant the discount fees and the transaction fees. A merchant will pay the discount rate for the initial sale if returned plus two transaction fees. For example, if a discount rate of 2.75% paid for every sale a $100 sale will cost the merchant $2.75 for the sale and $2.75 for the return of the sale for a total of $5.50. This is why many merchants often have stiff return policies or a fee for returned items. AVS fee (address verification service) – Many credit card processors offer address verification service. This service will match shipping information with the cardholder's billing address. There are different AVS codes that will indicate complete or partial match. When addresses do not match, merchants should discuss the discrepancies with their customers before shipping orders. For example, the street address may match but the zip code does not. The merchant must then decide to either ship or contact the customer for verification. Using AVS lowers fees but is not a requirement to either ship or not. To reduce confusion merchants should clarify that billing information is required regardless of the shipping address. AVS works with cards issued in the United States. AVS is a service used by merchants who take orders over the phone or the Internet and is an extremely useful tool to reduce fraud.
  • Mid-qualified and non-qualified fees – Along with the discount rate, you must know these rates. The mid-qualified and non-qualified rates are surcharges (i.e. transactions that do not meet certain Visa/MasterCard requirements. For example, even if you manually key in a transaction with an AVS match, your rate may go up a little (but not as high as it would if you do not have an AVS match). If you do not batch out the transactions within 24 hours, your rate will increase, too. Furthermore, if you accept International, corporate or government cards, you rate will go up substantially. There are surcharges based on varying factors.
  • Termination or cancellation fee – Clients, seldom informed, may only discover this expense when they switch processors. It can be as high as $400 if you end processing with a particular merchant service provider, especially if you only employed their service for a short length of time. The fee is NOT applicable as long as you do not switch providers! Ask, or better yet, read your provider’s termination/cancellation policy in the contract.
  • Retrieval Request - A retrieval request is what happens when a cardholder cannot remember a credit card transaction, or the bank wants order information for some reason. The card issuer initiates a retrieval request, in which the merchant has 10 days to respond with the order information or the retrieval request will turn into a charge back. There is usually a retrieval request fee issued against the merchant also in these cases. Cost varies from $2 to $15 depending on the processor. All fees and charges are on the merchant agreement. Be sure to read it carefully.

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3. I hear American Express and Discover are not used much and is more expensive than the discount fees?

Accepting American Express or Discover is very important for any business. Your current processor will process these transactions as a service to you and usually do not charge any additional fees. Merchants need to give their customers every possibility to buy their service or product. Your current terminal or software program can process all major credit cards. Funds are deposited directly to your checking account just like Visa and MasterCard.

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4. Great, so it is not really an added expense to take American Express or Discover. But there must be a fee from the credit card companies themselves?

American Express does not charge a set up fee. Your ISO can usually set up your account to accept Discover at the time of your Visa and MasterCard Application. American Express offers two pricing plans.

  • Discount Rate - Using this plan, you only pay American Express a small percentage of each transaction your customers make with the Card. There is no set monthly fee. This fee is approximately 3% but varies based on your industry and average size ticket. American Express does not differentiate between Card Swipe and Keyed Transactions like Visa and MasterCard do.

  • Flat Fee - Eligible merchants pay a monthly flat fee of $5, with no additional charges. Unlike the discount rate pricing plan, you do not pay an amount for each American Express sale. Businesses must have less than $5,000 in annual American Express sales, and submit, authorize, and receive payments electronically to be eligible for this plan.
  • Statement Fees – American Express does not charge an extra Statement fee. These transactions are reported on your Monthly Merchant Statement from your MSP. Discover offers a tiered pricing plan based on one of 3 types of businesses. Retail, Restaurant, and Internet or Home Based Businesses: Discover will also charge a one time set up fee of $25 which is automatically billed on your first month’s statement. Your ISO can usually set up your account to accept Discover at the time of your Visa and MasterCard Application.
  • Discount Rate - Retail Businesses:
    Average ticket $00 to $20, your rate is 2.52% + 8 cents
    $21 to $30, your rate is 2.22% + 8 cents
    $31 to $50, your rate is 1.99% + 8 cents
    $51 to $70, your rate is 1.86% + 8 cents
    $71 to $90, your rate is 1.80% + 8 cents
    $91 to $120, your rate is 1.77% + 8 cents
    $121 to $150, your rate is 1.73% + 8 cents
    $151 and above, your rate is 1.69% + 8 cents
    Internet & Mail Order; Out-of-Home Businesses
    Average ticket $00 to $20, your rate is 2.97% + 8 cents
    $21 to $30, your rate is 2.67% + 8 cents
    $31 to $50, your rate is 2.44% + 8 cents
    $51 to $70, your rate is 2.31 % + 8 cents
    $71 to $90, your rate is 2.25% + 8 cents
    $91 to $120, your rate is 2.22% + 8 cents
    $121 to $150, your rate is 2.18% + 8 cents
    $151 and above, your rate is 2.14% + 8 cents
    Restaurant Businesses
    Average ticket $00 to $20, your rate is 2.18% + 8 cents
    $21 to $30, your rate is 1.93% + 8 cents
    $31 to $50, your rate is 1.73% + 8 cents
    $51 to $70, your rate is 1.62% + 8 cents
    $71 to $90, your rate is 1.57% + 8 cents
    $91 to $120, your rate is 1.55% + 8 cents
    $121 to $150, your rate is 1.51 % + 8 cents
    $151 and above, your rate is 1.49% + 8 cents

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5. How much should I pay for a terminal or software solution?

Cost varies dramatically based on the model, features required and technology required. There are many different makes and models available all with different types of features that allow merchants to perform any function they need. I will list the different combinations that merchant can choose from with a range in cost per unit I think is reasonable based on features but remember ISO’s set prices. One price for a particular unit by one ISO and a remarkable different price by another ISO for the same make and model.

Terminal alone (Free to $500)
Terminal with external printer ($200 to $750)
Terminal, internal printer and internal debit pinpad ($400 to $1,000)
Real time online software (free to $750)
Computer software (free to $500)
Printer ($200 to $350)
Debit pinpad ($50 to $200)
Check reader ($200-$500)
Wireless unit using cellular ($500 to $1,500)
Wireless unit using radio technology ($500 to $1,500)

Equipment technology varies greatly. Just remember to compare prices, ask about available refurbished equipment and do not be sold on equipment you do not really need.

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6. I do not have much capital and want to save my money for marketing and other things I need to do. What do you advise?

I am not a big fan of leasing only because you will pay two to three times more for a piece of hardware or software than if you had purchased it. It can be helpful to conserve capital as long as you do not end up paying 4 times more for a piece of equipment or software than if you had paid cash. Personal credit can really effect the monthly payment, sometimes doubling the monthly payment if you had good credit. Most leasing companies include a fair market buyout at the end of the lease which really means at the end of the lease a leasing company has the right to determine the value of the hardware or software and charge you that dollar amount for you to actually own the hardware or software. This amount is usually 10% of the total amount of the payments you paid throughout your lease term. This can add $200-$400 to your total cost of hardware or software. One more important thing to remember is that at the end of the lease you must contact the leasing company and request cancellation of your lease. Otherwise, the contract usually turns into a Month to Month Rental. If you are considering a lease option, remember the above listed prices, read the contract, ask about buyout cost, be sure the lease contract expires without notification and keep the lease term short. Use a calculator and add up the lease payments along with any monthly fees a leasing company will charge including insurance charges.

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7. What are some things I can do to reduce chargebacks not related to fraud?

There are a few pointers I can give you to help prevent chargebacks but the best advice is to deliver a good product or service and have excellent customer service.

  • Credit card statement – Merchant account providers provide a service that will place your business name and phone number on the credit card statement of your customer. This will reduce confusion if the customer does not remember buying from your company. This occurs quite a bit when a customer purchases products or service from Internet businesses. If the customer does not remember the purchase, he or she can call the number listed on their statement to verify the purchase. Contact your MSP to request this service.

  • Market using your business name – Place your legal business name on marketing or web sites. This will reduce confusion if your legal name is different from your DBA (doing business as) and helps to identify your business name with purchases made by a customer.
  • Cash advance – Do not process your own credit card through your merchant account to give yourself a cash advance. This is a violation Visa and MasterCard regulations that does not allow merchants to process their own credit card to receive a cash advance. The fees associated with a cash advance are usually much higher than if a merchant processed his own card to receive a cash advance. This costs the issuing bank money because if the merchant had received a cash advance from their issuing credit card company instead of processing their own card the bank would make much more money. Never process your own credit card.
  • Do not Factor credit cards. A company will process credit card transactions through their own merchant account for a merchant that does not have their own merchant account in exchange for a percentage of the transaction. Heavy fines can occur by factoring credit cards. Often merchants who have lost there privilege to process credit cards wills seek out other merchants to run their credit card sales. The problem is that the merchant running the transactions is responsible for those transactions. When a customer receives their credit card bill, the name of the merchants he/she has purchased from will appear on that statement. If the cardholder does not recognize a particular merchant, he/she will dispute it because he/she did not buy anything from that merchant. The merchant who factored the transaction will then lose their ability to have a merchant account.
  • Charging a premium to accept a credit card - Visa and MasterCard want a merchant to treat credit cards like cash. Charging more on a credit card purchase is a violation of Visa/MasterCard regulations. If a merchant charges more on purchases a customer will not use their credit card and the issuing bank will lose interest on that sale. Visa and MasterCard also allow banks to issue credit cards and receive money for sales so it is in their best interest to accept every possible sale by credit card. Setting a minimum can result in losing your ability to accept credit cards.

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