Don’t Lose Money from Processing Fees Paid on Sales Tax
Information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and does not constitute tax advice. For tax advice for your business, consult a tax professional.
For every transaction you process that is subject to sales tax, you pay processing fees on the total amount, including the sales tax. Processing fees paid on sales tax can add up quickly, so improperly deducting credit card processing fees paid on sales tax can be a costly mistake, a fact that many businesses that do their own taxes fail to consider.
- Paying Fees on Sales Tax
- What type of businesses does this affect?
- Can I change how I process transactions to avoid paying fees on sales tax?
- Passing Fees to Your Customers
- Effects of Passing Fees
Paying Fees on Sales Tax
When you process a credit card transaction, your customer's credit card is charged for the total amount of the sale including sales tax. Transactions aren't divided into sale amount and taxes. Since the transaction amount is the sum of the total sale and the sales tax, you pay your processing fees on that amount. In a retail environment where sales tax is paid on almost every transaction, the increased processing fees can amount to a substantial yearly expense.
For example, if a retail store has a monthly processing volume of $15,000, pays an average rate of 1.9%, and their state's sales tax is 6%, $205.20 of their yearly credit card processing fees were paid on sales tax.
15000 x 12 months = 180,000 x .06 = 10800 x .019 = $205.20
If the business in this example improperly deducts their sales tax processing costs, or isn’t aware of the deduction, they’re essentially losing $205.20.
What type of businesses does this affect?
Any business that processes credit and debit card transactions for goods or services that are subject to sales tax can be affected. In particular, businesses that process a lot of card-present (swiped) transactions that are subject to sales tax could see significant impacts. It’s important to be aware of the deduction and to take it properly to ensure you don’t give away money that you’re entitled to.
Can I change how I process transactions to avoid paying fees on sales tax?
There's nothing you can do to rectify this issue at the point of sale. The logistical obstacles involved in creating a system to accurately divide transactions into sales amount and taxes and only apply the processing fee to the sales portion of a transaction make the prospect all but impossible.
To allow separation of transaction total and sales tax, you would either have to divide transactions based on the honor system prior to authorization, or processing banks would have to perform the additional task of deducting sales tax from your gross processing volume prior to settlement.
Allowing merchants to declare sales tax is impractical due to the likelihood of abuse with such a system. Processing banks would see sharp declines in profits, and businesses could see an increase in tax audits. Additionally, dividing transactions before authorization would take extra time during the transaction process, resulting in unhappy customers.
The second option of modifying the settlement process is more feasible than the first, but not by much. The logistics of creating an accurate and efficient system would likely raise costs and could place unnecessary restrictions on businesses.
The good news is that creating a system to handle sales tax separately really isn't necessary. Tax professionals are accustomed to dealing with credit card processing expenses and accountants know how to properly declare sales tax processing expense deductions. Losses most often occur when thrifty businesses decide to handle their own tax preparations. If you're one of these do-it-yourselfers, enlisting the help of a certified accountant may be something to consider once you start accepting credit cards.
Passing Fees to Your Customers
Proper accounting is the best way to deal with sales tax on merchant account fees, but there is another way to handle this issue: by passing along a portion of credit card processing fees to your customers. Known as surcharges or checkout fees, they can be applied to shift the expense to your customers. However, doing so could cause adverse effects if your customers decide to spend less or stop shopping at your store because they are unhappy with your policy.
If you do decide to pass a portion of your fees to your customers, note that card brands historically forbade surcharging credit card transactions, though a lawsuit has changed that. Ten states still forbid surcharges on credit cards, trumping the surcharge provision in the lawsuit. Some states are currently contesting the surcharge bans, and laws can change at any point. Before you decide to pass fees to customers, be sure you know your state or local laws, and consult an attorney if necessary.
One legitimate way to pass credit card processing fees to customers is by offering a discount on cash transactions. In this situation, you would likely raise prices on all of your products by a fixed percentage, and then offer a discount of that percentage for transactions paid with cash. Again, you will need to consider the adverse effects on your customers, since paying with credit and debit cards has become a convenient and preferred method for many people.
Related Article: Rules for Surcharging Credit Card Transactions.
Effects of Passing Fees
Whenever you adjust your pricing model it's important to track the effects such changes have on your cash flow. Passing a portion of processing fees to your customers may hurt your income more than it helps, especially if sales decrease because of customer dissatisfaction with your new policy. If you do decide to pass a portion of processing fees to your customers, be sure to track customer behavior carefully and be prepared to eliminate your new pricing policies quickly if they prove detrimental.
Shifting fees to customers can be a complex process as you’ll need to ensure your policies are in line with changing laws. You can avoid the issue all together and still not lose the processing fees you paid on sales tax by working with a tax professional. If you’re properly handling sales tax and processing fee deductions come tax time, you’ll save yourself time and money without risking alienating or upsetting your customers.