Qualified, Mid Qualified & Non Qualified Credit Card Processing Rates

The key to lowering your business’s credit card processing expense is not avoiding non-qualified fees. The key is completely eliminating a processor’s qualification altogether.

Who Determines Rate Qualification

Qualified, mid-qualified and non-qualified rates are set and manipulated by credit card processors through something called tiered pricing. There is one exception – Visa started using the term “non-qualified” as one of its downgrade categories, which we’ll address later in this article. However, in most cases, seeing “non-qualified” on your statement is still a result of processor manipulation, and Visa and Mastercard have no influence in determining how various processors qualify transactions under tiered pricing.

In reality, there are far more than just three (qualified, mid-qualified and non-qualified) credit card processing rates. In fact, there are hundreds of different rates between Visa and Mastercard, called interchange fees.

Interchange fees are the basis for all credit card processing charges, and they remain exactly the same regardless of which processor a business uses.

A processor uses tiered pricing to route hundreds of interchange fees to its own qualified, mid-qualified and non-qualified rates.

A couple important points to keep in mind about tiered pricing and rate qualification are:

  • Individual processors control how interchange fees are qualified under a tiered pricing structure. This leads to something called inconsistent buckets, which makes comparing rates from different processors virtually impossible. For example, one processor may consider a Visa reward interchange fee as qualified, while another considers the same interchange fee non-qualified.
  • Processors can change how interchange fees are qualified at any time without notice. This allows processors to lower a business’s qualified rate while still increasing the business’s gross processing fees. To do so, the processor simply routes more interchange fees to the business’s mid and non-qualified rates.

Non-Qualified Interchange

There is no such thing as a non-qualified interchange fee. 

This may sound confusing if you’re looking at your statement with a non-qualified rate, but that rate is completely made up by your processor. Qualified, mid-qualified and non-qualified rates are a processor’s way of classifying Visa and Mastercard’s interchange rates.

There is, however, a “downgrade” interchange rate called non-qualified by Visa. In that case, it means you had a transaction that failed to meet criteria for a more favorable interchange category and thus was charged more. Regardless of where a non-qualified charge originates, it’s something to strive to avoid on your statements.

Interchange simply is what it is. For example, the interchange rate that a business pays to swipe a Visa reward credit card is 1.65%. It’s up to a processor whether this interchange rate gets classified as qualified, mid-qualified or non-qualified under the tiered pricing structure it uses to bill business that utilize its credit card processing service.

Non-Qualified Credit Cards

There is no such thing as a non-qualified credit card; there are only non-qualified transactions, and individual credit card processors decide which transactions are considered non-qualified based on how interchange categories are routed under a tiered pricing model. Visa and Mastercard do not determine which transactions are “non-qualified,” with the sole exception of the downgrade category previously noted.

A credit card’s type is just one of the many variables used to determine the interchange category that is associated with a particular transaction. Credit card processors have no control over the interchange category assigned to a transaction, but they do control into which pricing tier (qualified, mid-qualified or non-qualified) the interchange category is routed.

For example, the interchange rate for a swiped transaction involving a consumer Visa reward credit card is 1.65%. One processor may consider this transaction as qualified, while another may consider-it non-qualified.

The interchange fee is consistent for both processors; the only thing that changes is how the processor qualifies this particular type of transaction under its own tiered rate structure.

Over-Simplifying Qualification

Processors’ sales people tend to give very general answers when asked which transactions will be qualified, mid-qualified or non-qualified. For example, it is typical for a sales person to say something like, “Reward cards and keyed-in transactions are considered mid-qualified, and business credit cards are non-qualified.”

The snippet below was taken from a business’s processing statement before it used CardFellow to lower its credit card processing fees by 30%.

You will notice that the processor’s explanation of how it qualifies transactions is very vague. The processor even alludes to this fact by saying, “Qualified, Mid-Qualified, and Non-Qualified definitions are not all inclusive, but instead meant to be general descriptions.”

Processor Qualification

Along with generalizing how transactions are qualified, sales people tend not to mention that the processor can change how transactions are qualified without notice to a business. So, transactions that are considered qualified one day may suddenly be non-qualified the next.

Qualified Rate

The qualified rate of a tiered pricing structure is the lowest possible rate a business will pay. Since it is the lowest, the qualified rate is often what a processor advertises, and it is often used to make pricing appear artificially low.

Processors typically route only consumer non-reward credit cards and debit cards to the qualified rate tier.

Processors that engage in bait-and-switch tactics will advertise a qualified rate that is below Visa and Mastercard’s lowest credit card interchange rate.

In cases like this, the processor will route only debit card transactions to the qualified rate tier. All credit card transactions will be routed to the mid and non-qualified tiers. Unfortunately, such tactics are common in the processing industry.

Mid-Qualified Rate

In the case of retail businesses, processors typically route swiped reward and keyed-in consumer and debit card transactions to the mid-qualified rate tier.

In the case of e-commerce and card-not-present businesses, transactions involving a consumer reward card make up the bulk of mid-qualified transactions.

Non-Qualified Rate

Processors typically route all commercial and upper-level reward cards to the non-qualified pricing tier. Keyed-in or e-commerce transactions that are processed without the customers billing address are also often routed to the non-qualified rate.

However, companies like Intuit merchant services that are known to engage in excessive surcharging may route all reward interchange categories to the non-qualified pricing tier as well.

Eliminating Non-Qualified Fees

It is possible to completely eliminate non-qualified fees. To do so, you need to eliminate a processor’s ability to set its own rates to which interchange fees are routed.

This may sound complicated, but in fact, it’s a pretty simple thing to accomplish. Simply require processors to use interchange pass-through pricing to assess processing charges instead of tiered pricing.

Interchange pass-though is the only type of pricing that CardFellow allows processors to use because it is completely transparent and far more cost-effective than tiered pricing.

Under a pass-through pricing model, a processor does not bill a business based on qualified, mid-qualified and non-qualified rates. Instead, it bills a business based on actual interchange fees plus a fixed markup.

For example, if a processor offers a rate of 0.25% with pass-through pricing, it will charge the actual interchange rate for a given transaction plus 0.25%. Therefore, all transactions receive the same exact markup from the processor regardless of whether the transaction is swiped, keyed, reward, commercial, or otherwise.

Note that in limited cases, you may still see a non-qualified downgrade charge from Visa if your transaction fails to meet the criteria for its “target” interchange category. However, these should be infrequent, if ever. If you see many “non-qualified” charges, it’s time to investigate why you’re overpaying and how to rectify it.

To learn more about processor pricing models and how your business can lower its processing charges, check out CardFellow’s free credit card processing guide.

6 thoughts on “Qualified, Mid Qualified & Non Qualified Credit Card Processing Rates”

  1. You are completely disregarding the fact that an equal or sometimes greater number of transactions are actually cheaper on tiered pricing depending on card type. For example, if a card has an associated cost of 1.59% and the tier it falls under is 1.75%, then that transaction is 0.09% cheaper than if the merchant was on a Interchange Plus mark up of 0.25%….In reality, each merchant and business type should be treated individually and a true analysis should be done to determine which of the two pricing methods would be most cost effective for said merchant.

    1. Hi Chris,
      While what you’re outlining is theoretically possible, it’s not financially or logistically viable for processors. Any form of bundled pricing relies on an interchange qualification matrix that is used to route interchange categories to the processor’s chosen rate tiers. Qualification matrices are set on a per-business/per-account basis, meaning a processor can update a matrix for a particular business at any time without impacting interchange routing for other clients. This independent routing allows processors to ensure bundled rates never undercut interchange.

      For example, it’s not uncommon to see a processor advertise bundled pricing with a qualified rate of less than 1%. All credit interchange rates are more than 1%, so a processor can’t realistically offer such a low rate. In cases like this, the processor routes only debit interchange to the qualified rate and routes all credit interchange (and higher than core debit interchange) to mid or non-qualified rates. I’ve written in more detail about the type of bait-and-switch.

      Your example will function much the same way. Either the processor is routing only debit interchange to the qualified pricing tier, or it is routing only debit and core credit (lowest credit interchange) to the qualified rate and routing most other interchange to an aggressively priced (high rates) mid or non-qualified tier. In either case, such a pricing scheme will not compare to competitive interchange plus pricing.

      Beyond the specifics of interchange routing on a bundled model, it’s fundamentally impossible for bundled pricing to be consistently as transparent or competitive as the interchange plus model. The very nature of interchange is to fluctuate, which is in direct contrast with the nature of bundled pricing. The only way a bundled model could compete is if a processor would chance losing money, or if a processor constructed an extremely detailed and diverse qualification matrix, at which point it would be in the processor’s best interest to simply price the business using an interchange plus model.

      With all of this said, it’s important to keep in mind that interchange plus does not guarantee competitive pricing, as noted here.

  2. Hi, help please.
    I have a moving company; we recently moved 1 customer over 3 days. The first time we charged for 2 days (1 charge) and later after few days we charged for the 3rd day. The customer used his daughter’s card. I have customers’ signatures on papers with amount. Customer claimed a chargeback with fraud/card-not-present. Is it possible to get this money back? Is there any easy way to solve this?

  3. Cindy Greenleaf

    Is an American Express virtual card considered a qualified, mid-qualified, or non-qualified transaction?

    1. Hi Cindy,
      Qualified, mid-qualified, and non-qualified designations are invented by processors. There’s no uniform answer, because different processors can decide which transactions and card types they’ll consider qualified or not. The best processing solutions are ones that don’t use qual, mid-qual, or non-qual at all.

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