Debit Card Transaction Fees: Signature Vs PIN

Debit Card Transaction Fees

Unnecessarily high debit card transaction fees are an easily correctable source of significant losses for many businesses.

Understanding debit card transaction fees and the difference between signature debit and pin debit transactions can will save your business thousands in processing fees.

Feel free to jump down to the Signature Debit Vs Pin Debit Cost section if you'd rather skip the details and get right into which type of transaction is cheapest for your business.

Contrary to popular belief, PIN debit transactions incur more than just a flat fee, often making signature debit transactions cheaper to process. Understanding the ins and outs of debit card transaction fees will ensure you're not losing hard-earned money pennies at a time.


Signature Debit

A signature debit transaction is where a customer uses her debit card to pay for a product or service without entering her personal identification number (PIN) into a PIN pad. Instead, she completes the transaction by signing the sales receipt as if she used a credit card to make the purchase.

Since a customer does not enter her PIN number, a signature debit transaction is routed to the bank via Visa or MasterCard's computer network instead of the PIN debit network, making the transaction subject to Visa and MasterCard interchange fees instead of the PIN debit network fees.

Side Note: Signature debit transactions are often referred to as an offline debit transaction because a PIN debit network does not play a role in processing the transaction.

Debit Interchange

A business pays an interchange fee to a customer's issuing bank each time it processes a signature debit transaction through Visa or MasterCard's network. The amount of the interchange fee varies depending on the size of the bank that issued the customer's card, the amount of the transaction, and whether the transaction is card-present or card-not-present.

Since both signature and PIN debit transactions must be card-present by nature, this article does not touch upon card-not-present debit interchange fees.

Debit Interchange & Ticket Size

Card-present (swiped) debit interchange fees differ on a per-transaction basis depending on the size of a transaction. Transactions that are less than $15 are classified as small ticket, whereas transactions that are $15 or more are classified simply as retail debit.

Current Visa and MasterCard debit interchange fees as of June 2012 are listed below, but interchange fees change often, and it's best to check Visa and MasterCard for the latest fee schedule.

Visa Debit Interchange Fees
Small Ticket Debit (Less than $15): 1.55% plus $0.04
Retail Debit ($15 or more): 0.80% plus $0.15

MasterCard Debit Interchange Fees
(MasterCard refers to swiped transactions as merit III transactions as shown below.)
Merit III Small Ticket Debit (Less than $15): 1.55% plus $0.04
Merit III Debit ($15 or more): 1.05% plus $0.15

As our article on credit card transaction fees discusses in detail, the card brands have structured debit interchange fees this way because the transaction fee portion of credit card processing fees has a greater impact than the rate portion for businesses with a low average sale amount.

Processing Markup: Rate & Fee

As with all credit and debit card transactions, the interchange fee paid to the issuing bank is only one portion of expense; the processor needs to make money, too. The sum of interchange, assessments, and the processor's markup determines the fee a business pays to process a signature debit transaction.

As we've covered in detail in CardFellow's free guide Credit Card Processing [Exposed], the pricing model a processor uses to assess charges has a greater impact on cost than its rates and fees.

Tiered Pricing Cost

In the case of tiered pricing a business does not pay interchange fees. Instead, a business pays qualified, mid-qualified and non-qualified rates to a processor, and the processor pays interchange fees on the business's behalf.

Calculating signature debit fees on tiered pricing is a simple matter of multiplying the processor's rate by the amount of the transaction, and then adding the processor's transaction fee. Keep in mind that processors will often have separate pricing tiers for credit and debit card transactions.

A very expensive issue with tiered pricing is that it does not allow a business to reap the benefits of small ticket interchange fees.

For example, a business with an average ticket of $12 that is being billed on tiered pricing with rates of 1.69% plus $0.25 will pay $0.44 (0.0169 * $12 + $.25) to process an average signature debit transaction.

However, the processor's cost for the transaction at the small ticket debit interchange rate is only $0.23 (0.0155 * 12 + $0.04).

Interchange Plus Cost

For businesses savvy enough to pay processing fees via interchange plus pricing, calculating signature debit cost is a simple matter of multiplying the processor's flat rate by the transaction amount, adding the processor's transaction fee, and then adding the cost of interchange.

For example, a business with an average ticket of $12 that is being billed on interchange plus with rates of 0.25% plus $0.10 will pay a markup to the processor of $0.13 (0.0025 * $12 + $.10) to process an average signature debit transaction.

Add the processor's markup of $0.13 to the interchange cost of $0.23 (0.0155 * $12 + $.04), and the total signature debit cost is $0.36.

PIN Debit

A PIN debit transaction is one where a customer pays for product or service by entering her personal identification number (PIN) into a PIN pad to complete a transaction. In the case of a PIN debit transaction, the customer does not sign the sales receipt.

Information for a PIN debit transaction is routed from the merchant to the customer's bank by a PIN debit network, therefore subjecting the transaction to the debit network's fees.

Side Note: PIN debit transactions are often referred to as an online debit transaction because a PIN debit network handles the routing of transaction information instead of Visa or MasterCard.

Debit Network Fees

Debit networks such as NYCE, STAR and ACCEL maintain computer networks to route transaction information among businesses and banks. A debit network charges an interchange fee and a switch fee to route transaction information over its network.

Contrary to popular belief, PIN debit transactions incur more than just a flat fee.

Debit networks charge an interchange fee that consists of a percentage and a flat transaction fee. In fact, debit network interchange is very similar in structure and complexity to the interchange fees charged by Visa and MasterCard.

Debit interchange fees vary by merchant category code, transaction size and a few other less common variables. Some debit networks cap the maximum fee that a business pays, while many have no cap.

The networks' interchange fee category for general PIN debit transactions is listed below along with a maximum fee, if any. The following is accurate as of October 2011, but keep in mind that PIN debit interchange fees change often. Check with your processor or acquirer for the most recent information.

Network Rate Transaction Fee Switch Fee Maximum Fee
ACCEL 0.8% $0.18 $0.03 None
AFFN 0.75% $0.15 $0.035 $0.80
Interlink 0.8% $0.15 $0.035 None
Maestro 0.9% $0.15 $0.025 None
NETS 0.85% $0.13 $0.04 None
NYCE 0.9% $0.15 $0.0475 None
Pulse 0.86% 0.13 $0.085 None
Shazam 0.85% $0.16 $0.06 None
Star 0.8% 0.185 0.0325 None

Processing Markup: PIN Debit Fee

Just as with signature debit transactions, a business pays an interchange fee as well as a markup to the processor to process a PIN debit transaction. However, a processor's markup for a PIN debit transaction consists of only a single flat fee called a PIN debit fee.

For example, a business with an average ticket of $12 and a PIN debit fee of $0.18 will pay a markup to the processor of $0.18 to process an average PIN debit transaction. The processor does not charge a percentage of the transaction, just a flat transaction fee.

However, the same business will also have to pay an interchange fee to the debit network that processes its transaction. Let's assume that the STAR debit network processes the majority of the business's transactions.

STAR's interchange and switch fee results in a charge of $0.31 (.008 * $12 + $0.185 + $0.0325), that when added to the processor's markup brings the total fee to $0.49 ($0.18 pin debit fee + $0.31 interchange fee).

If you scroll up and look at the cost example for signature debit transactions, you'll see that PIN debit is actually more expensive for this business than signature debit due to its low average sale amount.

Durbin Amendment

Effective October 1, 2011, the Durbin Amendment capped the debit interchange fee that can be charged by any bank with $10 billion or more in assets.

The Durbin Amendment transformed the payment landscape overnight, and had a profound impact on debit card transaction fees. Please check out CardFellow calculator and article for more information about the Durbin Amendment.

Signature Debit Vs Pin Debit Cost

When people want to know the difference between signature and PIN debit transactions, they usually want to know which type of transaction costs less to process. The answer is different for every business, but it only requires a quick bit of simple math to figure out.

The first step toward figuring out which type of transaction is cheapest for your business is determining the pricing model that your processor is using to assess fees. If you don't already know, a quick look at our article about tiered pricing vs. interchange plus will help you figure out which type of pricing your processor is using. If you would like more detail, check out the articles that cover tiered pricing and interchange plus separately.

Interchange Plus Pricing

If your processor is charging fees based on interchange plus pricing, simply use CardFellow's free PIN debit vs. signature debit cost calculator to figure out which type of transaction is cheapest for your business.

Tiered Pricing

The first step to comparing signature debit vs. pin debit transaction fees on tiered pricing is to calculate your signature debit cost using your business's average sale amount as we did in the Tiered Pricing Cost section above.

Once you know the signature debit cost, calculate the PIN debit interchange cost using your business's average sale amount and average debit network fees of 0.834% plus $0.197 per transaction.

For example, if your business's average sale amount is $20, the PIN debit interchange charge will average $0.36 (.00834 * $20 + $0.197).

Add your processor's PIN debit fee to the PIN debit interchange cost to arrive at the final total. For example, if your processor's PIN debit fee is $0.18 and PIN debit interchange is $0.36, the total PIN debit cost for your business's average sale is $0.54.

Finally, compare the PIN debit cost to the signature debit cost for your business to see which is lower, and there's your answer!

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2 Responses to Debit Card Transaction Fees: Signature Vs PIN

  1. Wesley says:

    I am a bit confused about your comments about V/M debit interchange Vs. Durbin debit interchange.

    I thought all regulated debits are now 0.05%+$0.22/23. Where is 1.55%+$0.04/0.80%+$0.15 from?

    Thanks!

    • Ben says:

      Hi Wesley,

      Regulated debit card will incur an interchange or PIN debit network charge of 0.05% plus a $0.22 transaction fee. Issuers that meet certain fraud deterrent standards can charge an extra $0.01, making the transaction fee $0.22. The 1.55% plus $0.04 and 0.80% plus $0.15 are interchange charges associated with unregulated (issuing institutions with $10 billion or less in assets) offline (meaning non-PIN) debit transactions.

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