Credit card transactions fees may only be pennies on the dollar, but costs can really add up.
More often than not, credit card transaction fees contribute more to cost than credit card processing rates.
A common and costly mistake when shopping for credit card processing services is to focus on a processor's rate while paying little attention to transaction fees. The financial impact of this mistake is especially damaging for businesses with a low average sale amount.
Each time a business processes a credit card transaction it pays two types of fees. The first is a single percentage that is based on the volume of a transaction, called the rate or discount rate, and the second is a flat fee generally referred to as a transaction fee.
The trouble with transaction fees starts with a misunderstanding of the term itself. The term transaction fee generally refers to any flat fee charged when a business's credit card machine or software gives or gets information to or from a processor.
Authorization fees, return fees, AVS fees and gateway fees are just a few examples of the various transaction fees that processors charge. And, unlike a processor's discount rate, more than one transaction fee may apply to an individual credit card transaction.
Authorization Costs Vs. Discount Rate Cost
What people typically think of as a processor's transaction fee is actually its authorization fee. The authorization fee is charged each time a business authorizes a credit card transaction, and it often contributes more to cost than the discount rate. This is especially true in the case of interchange plus pricing.
For example, let's pretend a processor offers a business with an average sale of $35 an interchange plus pricing quote of 0.25% plus a $0.15 authorization fee.
The discount rate portion of expense will cost the business $0.09 (.0025 * $35 = $0.0875) per average sale, which is significantly less than the authorization fee of $0.15 per average sale.
If this same business processed $10,000 in a given month, the rate will only amount to $25 in fees (.0025 * 10,000 = $25), but the transaction fee will amount to $42.86 (10,000 / $35 * $0.15 = $42.86).
As this example demonstrates, it's important to measure the impact of a processor's authorization fee on overall cost as it often contributes more to cost than the discount rate.
Making the impact of transaction fees on cost even more significant is the fact that many processors charge more than one transaction fee per sale.
Multiple Fees Per Transaction
It's not uncommon for a processor to charge more than one transaction fee per individual credit card sale. Splitting transaction fees in this manner allows processors to make credit card processing fees appear more competitive than they really are.
This practice is most often seen in the case of processors that charge an address verification (AVS) fee for card-not-present transactions.
For example, a processor may offer an e-commerce business an interchange plus quote of 0.25% plus a $0.10 authorization fee knowing that, as a card-not-present business, every transaction will require AVS.
Since it's customary for processors to only prominently disclose the discount rate (0.25%) and authorization fee ($0.05) in a quote, the processor's additional AVS fee of $0.05 gets buried in the fine print, even though it will apply to every single transaction the business processes and bring the total transaction cost to $0.15.
Charging an AVS fee separately isn't the only way a processor can inflate costs associated with transaction fees. Another common practice is to charge a communication fee in addition to an authorization fee.
Multiple Transaction Fees in Action
Below is a statement from a business before it used CardFellow's free service to lower its processing fees by 35%.
While performing a free analysis for this company not only did we noticed excessive rates, but we also found the processor was charging an authorization fee in addition to a communication fee resulting in total per transaction costs of $0.47.
First the processor charged $0.35 per transaction as an authorization fee.
And then it charged another $0.12 per transaction as a WAT communication fee.
As this examples proves, it's very important to analyze your business's processing statements closely to ensure what you think you are paying in credit card transaction fees is actually what is being billed.
Types of Transaction Fees
Below is a list of credit card transaction fees with a description followed by the name various processors typically use to refer to each type of fee.
An authorization fee is charged each time a business authorizes a credit card transaction. The authorization fee is the most widely publicized transaction fee, and it's often what a processor refers to generally as its transaction fee.
Authorization fees are often referred to on processing statements as:
- POS AUTH
- AUTH FEE
- DISC P/I
- Authorization Fee
Per Item Fee
Per items fees are charged each time a business's equipment contacts that processor to get or give information. A per item may be charged in place of or in addition to other transaction fees such as authorization fees.
Per item fees are often referred to on processing statements as:
- Item Fee
- Item Rate
- Per Item Rate
- Trans Fee
A communication fee is charged each time a business's processing equipment dials the processor's toll-free phone number to get or give information. Communication fees are often charged in addition to authorization and per item fees.
Communication fees are often referred to on processing statements as:
- POS WATS
- GLOBAL WAT
Return Item Fee
A return item fee is charged each time a business issues a refund on a previously authorized and settle transaction. Return item fees are often charged in addition to per item fees.
Address Verification (AVS) Fee
An AVS fee is charged each time a business accesses the address verification system when processing a card not present transaction. Retail businesses typically perform AVS when keying in a transaction, and e-commerce businesses perform AVS on every transaction. For this reason, e-commerce and card not present businesses must take into consideration that an AVS fee will be charged in addition to an authorization or per item fee on every transaction.
AVS fees are often referred to on processing statements as:
- AVS AUTH FEE
- AVS AUTH
A gateway fee is charged each time an e-commerce business passes information to its gateway service provider. Gateway fees are charged in addition to authorization and per item fees. The gateway fee may also be charged in addition to the AVS fee, although many processors charge the gateway fee in place of the AVS fee for e-commerce businesses.
Wireless Service Fee
A wireless fee is charged each time a business passes information to its wireless service provider. Wireless service fees are charged in addition to authorization, per item and AVS fees.