Credit Card Processing

Non Qualified Rate: A Figment of Your Processor Imagination

by Ben Dwyer

Are you looking at your credit card processing statement every month while banging your head against the wall trying to figure out how to lower your non-qualified credit card processing fees?

If so, you’ll be really happy to learn that non-qualified rates are primarily a figment of your processor’s imagination. They are often used to increase profits through the practice of excessive surcharging. Non-qualified rates can be easily avoided, and this article will show you how to rid yourself of non-qualified fees.

The Frustration of Non-Qualified Rates

Frustration with non-qualified rates goes something like this for most business people:

It all starts when you read your credit card processing statement and cringe at all the non-qualified fees. Then you pick up the phone and call your processor’s customer service center to inquire about the charges. The person that answers the phone tells you that non-qualified fees are a fact of life, and you are accepting business and reward cards that are considered non-qualified.

At this point you start to get frustrated, so you push a little harder for a solution. Alas, it never comes. So, by now you’re getting even more frustrated, and the representative agrees to lower your rates to appease you.

Here’s where you pause and ponder… it all seemed too easy. How can the processor lower my rates so quickly? Having accomplished what seems like a victory, you hang up the phone with a hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach. You won the battle, but know that the war is far from over. You fully expect to see those non-qualified fees next month, but at least the rate will be lower this go-around, right?

(Repeat process next month.)

If this sounds remotely like your situation, this article will save you time, money and a big headache.

Interchange Rates are the Only Reality

There’s a little something called interchange that dictates what processing banks pay issuing banks when you process a credit card. Since interchange is the same for all processors, the details of how it works are incidental, so you don’t have to worry about the terminology or intricacies of how things work.

Just understand that interchange is the equivalent of a wholesale price list for credit card processing.

Processors Use the Complexity of Pricing to Increase Profits

There are a lot of different interchange rates, about 400 or so, and they’re assessed individually on a per transaction basis. This means that every single transactions is assigned an interchange rate based on the type of card the customer uses, how the transaction is processed (swiped, keyed, etc.) and a host of other variables.

Some of this may sound familiar because processors will often use a version of this truth to sell the story about non qualified rates. For example, you may have been told that “all of your transactions will be qualified except for reward and business cards,” which is simply not the case.

A Non-Qualified Rate Example

A perfect example of this twisting of the truth comes courtesy of Wells Fargo. If you check out that link, you’ll notice that in the very first paragraph Wells Fargo says,

“A non qualified fee … is … generated when a transaction … does not meet Visa®, MasterCard®, and Discover® Network requirements.”

The truth is, only Visa has a “non-qualified” interchange rate, and it’s a “downgrade” category. (Meaning, you should strive to avoid it anyway, just like any other non-qualified transaction. We’ll address Visa’s non-qualified charge a little later in this article.

MasterCard and Discover don’t have any requirements that determine whether a transaction is non qualified. They have guidelines that determine into which interchange category a transaction qualifies, but there is no such thing as a non-qualified rate from the card brands’ perspective.

Wells Fargo goes on to say,

“… Visa, MasterCard and Discover Network assign the appropriate interchange level. Each account is set up [Read: Wells Fargo sets up each account] with an interchange level according to its processing method and business type. Any transaction that does not qualify at that level [Read: Any transaction that does not qualify at the level Wells Fargo determines] may result in a non qualified fee being charged.”

So, which is it? Do MasterCard and Discover determine which transactions are non qualified, or do they simply “assign the appropriate interchange level?”

The answer is B. VMasterCard and Discover assign the appropriate interchange level, and Wells Fargo determines what it feels is “non-qualified.”

Since interchange is confusing, processors created a pricing model that simplifies costs by grouping interchange fees into fewer categories called qualified, mid-qualified, and non-qualified. The qualified rate is the lowest and the non-qualified rate is the highest.

Processors got one thing right. The simplicity of tiered pricing often makes it easy to understand, but it also makes it easier for processors to separate you from your money. As we will explain in a moment, tiered pricing is opaque, misleading and expensive.

Your Processor is the Puppet Master of Your Rates

The reason why tiered pricing is so evil is because it gives your processor the ability to manipulate costs behind the scenes by allowing them to control which pricing tier they use the most.

For example, your processor doesn’t have to raise your rates to increase its profits (and your costs). All it needs to do is route more interchange fees to your mid- and non-qualified tiers. Sure, you will still have a nice low qualified rate, but the processor will rarely use it.

Remember how your processor was able to lower your rates so easily in the phone call scenario above? Your processor knew that lowering your rates a few percentage points wouldn’t hurt its profits because it can simply route a larger portion of your transactions to the mid- and non-qualified tiers. Sure, your rates went down, but your overall cost will remain the same, or may even increase.

Interchange Pass Through: The Light at the End of the Non-Qualified Tunnel

This article began by telling you that non-qualified fees are nothing more than a figment of your processor’s imagination. Well, it’s true. Tiered pricing isn’t the only game in town.

All you need to do to completely rid yourself of non-qualified rates is to get interchange pass through pricing.

That’s it! Dump tiered pricing for pass through and you will eliminate your processor’s ability to play games with your rates.

Unlike tiered pricing, pass through functions by allowing you to pay the actual interchange fees and a separate markup. Instead of charging several different rates, your processor makes money by charging a single fixed markup. The result is lower cost and a more transparent processing statement. Imagine, you will actually be able to see where your money is going each month.

So, where can you get pass through pricing? If you want to do things the easy way, sign up for free at CardFellow and get competitive quotes from multiple processors instantly. We’ll even help you decide which option is best, and we’ll make sure you rates stay low for as long as you’re processing.

Here’s a short video about how CardFellow works:

However, as of 2023, even on a pass-through pricing model, you may see one lingering “non-qualified” rate: Visa’s.

Visa’s Non-Qualified Rate

In the past, it was easy to say that any “non-qualified” rate on a processing statement was in your processor’s control. Visa has made that a little bit harder. The credit card brand now has a downgrade category called “non-qualified.” When one of your transactions fails to meet the criteria for a lower cost interchange category, it may “downgrade” to the Visa non-qualified category and be charged at that rate. This means that it’s possible some “non-qualified” transactions on a processing statement really are from Visa and not from your processor.

However, one thing remains true: non-qualified charges on your processing statement mean you’re paying more than you had to. Whether those come from Visa or from your processor, non-qualified is never a good thing. If you’re seeing those on your statement, it’s time to investigate. Those businesses seeing non-qualified from the processor will want to consider a switch. Those seeing non-qualified from Visa will want to dig deeper into how to reduce downgrades.

7 thoughts on “Non Qualified Rate: A Figment of Your Processor Imagination”

  1. CardFellow has this 100% correct. If you (the merchant) are not on a cost-pass-through program with your current processor, then you are on a confusing three-tier program, and have to deal with qualified vs. non-qualified transactions, and hidden surcharges over the real interchange rates. As a result, you have no idea how much revenue your processor is making off your business over the actual cost of processing, and therefore you are probably grossly overpaying for processing.

    To save money on your processing, you have to stop thinking in terms of “rates”. For example, let’s say you currently have a “great” qualified rate of 1.48% + 10 cents. Well, the reality is it isn’t great — since it is already marked-up by about 50% over the actual cost! How is that possible? Well, that “great” rate probably only applies to debit card transactions! And debit card transactions typically have an interchange rate of about 1% + 10 cents (which will be even lower once the recent government regulations become effective). So, that rate offered by your current processor is already marked-up far above the real, lower interchange rate! That stinks!

    And what stinks even more, is that most of your transactions are going to be non-qualified! And that means your processor’s mark-ups over the real interchange rates will go even higher! Expect to pay even greater mark-ups if you accept a credit card, even more if it is a business/rewards credit card, and even more if it is keyed-in (as opposed to swiped). Those mark-ups are on top of the actual, real interchange rates, which are going to be higher for a credit card, or a keyed-in card. So, for example, a business rewards credit card might have a real interchange rate of 2.1% + 10 cents. But since it is non-qualified, your current processor may add an additional 2% non-qualified surcharge on top of that, so you would be paying 4.10% for that transaction. Some non-qualified surcharges are even higher!! Their surcharges are adding insult to injury!

    The good news is that if you’ve read this much on CardFellow, you’ll soon be able to avoid all this three-tier, qualified vs. non-qualified, hidden surcharge nonsense by getting your business on a cost-pass-through pricing platform (like those offered through CardFellow). Good luck!

  2. I have been with Leaders Merchant Services for 2 months and I’m already getting gouged. My fault — I should have seen your Web site first. can I get them to change to pass-through pricing, or not? What should I do?

    1. Hi There,

      Even if your current provider is willing to change your pricing model to pass-through, there’s no guarantee that rates, fees and terms will be competitive. I would suggesting signing up here at CardFellow to receive free quotes from multiple processors. Our expert advisers will help you review the various quotes to select the most competitive option for your business.

  3. I was recently approach by a merchant processing company that quoted me a 1% qualified credit, 2.99% non qualified, and 7 cents on all transactions. The rates will stay the same for the entire life of business. Is this considered tier pricing, and is it a good deal? Thanks

    1. This is considered tiered pricing, and it’s unethical tiered pricing at that. It is not competitive. This processing company is engaging in bait-and-switch pricing. You should really sign up here at CardFellow to receive free, instant quotes. Each quote you receive is guaranteed to be based only on interchange plus pricing, all pricing is locked for life, and no quote will have a cancellation fee. Additionally, CardFellow sticks around to ensure the processor you choose delivers on pricing and service.

      If you still want to learn more about processing, check out CardFellow’s credit card processing guide.

  4. I have just been dealing with a major bank in my area on mid qualified and non qualified rates what a deal – .36 in discounts, what a deal. How do you get a a deal on credit card rates? You cannot even trust your bank any longer.

    1. Hi Sam,
      I hear you, it’s a frustrating industry sometimes. Fortunately, CardFellow has made it easy to get a great deal on your processing costs. We run a free marketplace where processors compete for your business in a blind auction style format. You provide some basic details about your business needs and processors place quotes for you to review in private. No sales calls, no teaser “starting rates,” no games. CardFellow requires processors to disclose all their fees to you, we require a lifetime rate lock, and we prohibit cancellation fees. Best of all, it’s free to use, and we stick around to make sure you’re getting the best possible pricing.
      Give it a try at

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Credit Card Processing exposed

Use the secrets that credit card processors don't want
you to know to drastically lower your credit card
processing fees.

Read Now!

You might also like…

View all articles..