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Credit Card Processing Costs and Fees Explained

Julie Thompson
Julie Thompson
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Updated Jun 29, 2022

Learn which fees come with accepting credit cards as a form of payment, as well as how your business can reduce those processing costs.

  • There are three main fees for accepting credit cards: payment processing, assessment and interchange fees.
  • Your merchant category code can determine your interchange fee rate.
  • You can reduce your credit card processing costs by setting a minimum transaction amount, minimizing chargebacks and increasing in-person transactions.
  • This article is for merchants who would like to accept credit and debit cards as a form of payment for sales transactions.

To sustain a healthy cash flow, most merchants need to allow customers to use credit cards. While it may be a no-brainer to accept credit cards as a form of payment, selecting a payment processing service can be overwhelming. 

It is essential to choose a processing services provider that can take multiple forms of payment (Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express, PayPal, etc.) and keep your customers’ information secure.

Editor’s note: Looking for the right credit card processor for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

Fees can also depend on several factors, including required and negotiable costs through the payment processor, card network, and card issuer. You will need to monitor the monthly fees to determine which payment forms are sustainable for your business to accept.

But how much money will you have to account for in fees? And how do the different fees measure up? We’ll walk you through the basic fees for credit cards and offer some tips along the way.

TipTip: To accept credit cards, you’ll need to set up a merchant account for your business, with the exact type depending on whether you need it for retail, mobile or e-commerce.

Which types of fees and costs are associated with credit cards?

Fees for accepting credit cards can differ from business to business based on industry, location, type of card and number of transactions.

When accepting credit cards, you should be aware of fees from your payment processor (payment processing fees), card network (assessment fees) and card issuer (interchange fees). Other mandatory fees include the Acquirer Processing Fee, Fixed Acquirer Network Fee, Kilobyte Access Fee, and Network Access and Brand Usage Fee.

For small businesses with $10,000 to $250,000 in annual credit card transactions, the average cost of processing these payments is currently 2.87% to 4.35%. However, additional fees (whether required or added by your payment processing provider) could make your rates higher than average.

Who decides credit card processing fees?

When working with credit card payments, you are charged by three primary services: the payments processor, card network and card issuer.  

Payments processor

The payments processor is a financial institution, like Chase, that completes the credit card transaction. Most merchants work with a third-party company that facilitates this process for a financial institution, like Leaders Merchant Services. 

TipTip: To learn about some specific examples of payment processors, read our review of Merchant One or our Square review.

The best credit card processing providers can also offer you equipment for brick-and-mortar and online transactions. This equipment includes point-of-sale (POS) systems and credit card terminals. In addition, you can also access payment software systems such as virtual terminals, contactless payments through RFID (Apple Pay, Google Pay), mobile payments, e-commerce shopping carts and payment gateways.

Payment processors charge a percentage of each credit card or debit card transaction plus a flat fee.

Card network

Card networks include American Express, Discover, Mastercard and Visa. They facilitate credit and debit transactions between the card issuer and the merchant. In addition, card networks partner with card issuers for credit cards and debit cards.

These are the average transaction costs from the top four credit card networks:

  • American Express: 1.58% to 3.3%
  • Discover: 1.53% to 2.53%
  • Mastercard: 1.29% to 2.64%
  • Visa: 1.29% to 2.54%

Card networks also determine where credit and debit cards are accepted. While credit cards used to have a variable acceptance rate, major credit card networks now have relatively similar rates, with all four major credit card networks accepted at over 10 million U.S. locations.

Card networks are also responsible for any credit card or debit card perks or rewards. 

Card issuer

The card issuer makes money by charging the business owner a percentage of each transaction plus a flat fee (similar to payment processing providers). In addition, card issuers have the final say on whether a card transaction is approved or denied.

Credit card processing fees

The average credit card processing fee per transaction is 1.3% to 3.5%. The fees a company charges will depend on which payment company you choose (American Express, Discover, Mastercard, or Visa), the merchant category code (MCC) and the type of credit card.

Did you know?Did you know? Debit card transactions usually cost a business less than credit card transactions. Debit cards typically have their own pricing structure and may be listed separately from credit card fees.

The table below shows interchange and assessment fees, but not processing fees, as they vary widely by credit card provider, card type, and MCC.

Payment networkAverage range of credit card processing fees
American Express1.58% + $0.10 to 3.45% + $0.10
Discover1.48% + $0.05 to 2.53% + $0.10
Mastercard1.29% + $0.05 to 2.64% + $0.10
Visa1.29% + $0.05 to 2.54% + $0.10

Types of credit card processing fees

There are three main types of credit card processing fees: payment processing fees, assessment fees and interchange fees.

Payment processing fees

There are many payment processors that you can use to accept credit card payments. Generally, you will have payment processor equipment to take physical cards and an online payment gateway to accept credit cards through a virtual shopping cart.

The payment processing company determines your payment processing fees. It may choose to charge you in the following ways:

  • A per-transaction fee
  • A monthly service fee
  • Cost of the credit card transaction equipment

Did you know?Did you know? American Express and Discover operate their own payment networks. By doing so, they can collect both the assessment and interchange fees. Therefore, American Express and Discover make more per transaction than Visa and Mastercard do.

Assessment fees

Major credit card providers receive assessment fees. For example, if you have a Capital One Visa credit card, Visa receives the assessment fee on every transaction.

The major networks’ average credit card assessment fees fall at or around 0.14%, broken down in this table:

Payment networkAssessment fee
American Express0.15%
Discover0.13%
Mastercard0.1375% for transactions under $1,000; 0.01% for transactions of $1,000 or more
Visa0.14%

Interchange fees

The bank that issues your credit card receives an interchange fee on every transaction. In the case of the Capital One Visa credit card, Capital One would receive the interchange fee.

Interchange fees are set by each network and change every year in April and October. The average credit card interchange fee is 1.5% to 3.3%, as you can see in the table below.

Payment networkInterchange fee range
American Express1.43% + $0.10 to 3.3% + $0.10
Discover1.35% + $0.05 to 2.4% + $0.10
Mastercard1.15% + $0.05 to 2.5% + $0.10
Visa1.15% + $0.05 to 2.4% + $0.10

Risks that influence interchange rates

The interchange fee helps cover the risk for the card issuer in the case of fraud and handling costs. The following risks will influence your interchange rates.

Credit or debit card type

Credit cards have a higher risk than debit cards with a security PIN, so you will pay higher interchange rates for credit card transactions. However, debit cards that require a signature are processed like credit cards, and credit cards that double as reward cards (travel, cash back, etc.) can also have a higher interchange rate.

POS vs. CNP transactions

POS transactions may have lower interchange rates than card-not-present (CNP) transactions. CNP transactions include online, phone, direct invoicing and mail orders.

Charge amounts

If your business has a large number of transactions of small dollar amounts, you can negotiate lower interchange rates to increase your profit.

MCC

When your business accepts credit cards, you are issued a four-digit number as an MCC. Your MCC helps with IRS reporting. It also categorizes your industry so that financial institutions can assign you a risk factor when determining interchange fees. For example, companies with a higher risk factor, like travel and gambling, are often subject to higher interchange fees.

Additional fees charged by card issuers and networks

If you accept credit cards, you will also be subject to the following fees. These costs do not vary between processing companies and are required by every payment processor.

  • Acquirer Processing Fee (APF): This is a charge on all U.S. business Visa credit card transactions.
  • Fixed Acquirer Network Fee (FANF): This charge is common to all card brands and is based on the presence or nonpresence of the card at the time of the transaction, the number of locations, and volume.
  • Kilobyte Access (KB) Fee: This is a per-transaction charge for settlement upon authorization.
  • Network Access and Brand Usage (NABU) Fee: Mastercard charges this fee for all settled or refunded credit and debit card transactions.

Negotiable fees charged by card issuers and networks 

Some fees are not required for your business to process credit cards. Choosing a merchant services provider that is transparent about all of its costs is in your best interest. Negotiate the following fees with your payment processor to see if they can be waived. 

  • Account fee: This is an administration fee that helps maintain your payment processing account.
  • Address Verification System (AVS) fee: This is a fee for matching a customer’s billing data with keyed-in transactions (per transaction).
  • Batch fee: This is a fee for settling or closing out daily deposits (batch header fee).
  • Chargeback fee: This fee is assessed every time a customer disputes a charge or returns a purchase.
  • Contract cancellation fee: This is a penalty fee assessed when you cancel your contract with the payment provider before its end date.
  • Hosting fee: This is a fee for server-based POS systems.
  • IRS reporting fee: This is a merchant-based fee that covers reporting relevant information to the IRS.
  • Marked-up discount rate: This is an additional charge above and beyond mandatory interchange rates.
  • Minimum monthly processing fee: Credit card processors can impose a minimum monthly transaction quota. The minimum monthly processing fee can be charged whether or not you meet their requirements.
  • Monthly fee: This is a flat-rate subscription fee to use the payment processing service or software.
  • Payment gateway fee: This is a fee for processing online credit card payments attributed to software and data security costs.
  • PCI compliance fee: This is an additional fee to keep you PCI compliant.
  • Service fee: Similar to the account fee, this fee is tied to running your payment processing account.
  • Terminal lease fee: This is the monthly cost to lease your credit card machine.
  • Wireless access fee: This is a fee for using a cloud-based POS system.

TipTip: Avoid leasing your credit card terminals. A credit card machine should cost you only a few hundred dollars to purchase outright, while leasing the same terminal could cost you nearly $5,000.

How to minimize credit card processing costs

Small businesses can cut down their credit card processing costs by implementing a few transaction rules.

1. Set a minimum credit card transaction amount.

Credit card processing costs can add up if you sell many inexpensive items, especially for sales under $10. The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 combats this cost by allowing businesses to set a credit card minimum up to $10 per transaction. 

However, check with your state before getting creative with credit card policies. Most states require you to use the same minimum policy for every payment company you offer (Visa, Mastercard, etc.).

2. Minimize chargebacks.

If your business has a high rate of chargebacks, financial institutions automatically consider you high risk and can spike processing fees.

To lower your risk of chargebacks, use a credit card authorization form. Once a customer signs this form, you can charge the card on an ongoing basis. Having this document in hand when a chargeback case is raised can give you the upper hand.

3. Increase in-person transactions.

With online transactions on the rise, there will also be an increase in fraud. Accepting payments in person can reduce this risk and lower your overall processing fees

Image Credit:

AS photostudio / Shutterstock

Julie Thompson
Julie Thompson
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Julie Thompson is a professional content writer who has worked with a diverse group of professional clients, including online agencies, tech startups and global entrepreneurs. Julie has also written articles covering current business trends, compliance, and finance.