Credit card processing: Everything you need to know
After every credit or debit card transaction, businesses need to pay an interchange fee, also known as an interchange reimbursement fee or interchange rate. Many variables can affect the fee amount, and it can be difficult to determine how much the charges will be.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the factors that impact interchange fees, where you can find the most up-to-date interchange rates, and the regulations that exist to ensure you’re paying a fair price.
Every time a transaction is made via a card scheme (Visa, Mastercard, etc.), the acquirer pays the cardholder’s bank an interchange fee. The business then pays the interchange fee back as part of its card processing fees.
Payment card processing comes with three fees:
Interchange fees make up the most significant chunk of card processing fees.
On average, interchange fees are around 0.3-0.4% of the transaction amount in Europe and 2% in the US.
The most accurate and up-to-date way to find the current rates is to check the card scheme’s website. Below you can find the interchange rates for Visa and Mastercard in different regions:
Some card networks, including American Express and Discover, work slightly differently to Visa and Mastercard and don’t publish their rates online.
Many factors influence the interchange fee amount. Here are the key ones to be aware of and how they affect the amount you're charged:
Different card schemes charge different interchange rates. So the cost of a customer paying with a Visa card won't be the same as with a Mastercard.
Card-present (CP) transactions, also known as face-to-face transactions, have lower interchange fees than card-not-present (CNP) transactions. This is because the risk of fraud is lower when the customer’s card is physically present.
Your assigned MCC can affect your interchange fees. For example, in the US and Australia, Visa and Mastercard grant lower rates to businesses like charities, travel agents, streaming services, and utilities.
Commercial cards charge higher interchange fees than those issued to an individual.
Domestic transactions, where the card-issuing bank is in the same country as the business, are generally cheaper than cross-border transactions.
If a customer uses a rewards card to pay, the interchange fees are generally higher. This is because the increased fees pay for the extras offered by rewards programs.
Some of the factors above you can influence, but others you can't change. For instance, if you convinced your customers to buy more in-store than online, you could reduce your interchange fees.
When it comes to your MCC, however, you have no control. Your MCC is assigned to you and is dependent on the type of business you have.
Lowering your interchange fees may not result in more profit. By limiting your customers' choices, you could deter them from purchasing from your business.
Interchange++ shows you a detailed breakdown of the three payment card costs mentioned earlier: the acquirer markup, card scheme fee, and interchange fee.
You only pay the interchange fee the card issuer actually charged you. As interchange fees vary depending on many factors, they can sometimes be lower than a fixed rate.
The alternative to Interchange++ is Blended pricing. The Blended model charges an average processing cost plus a fixed markup. You're charged the same markup for every transaction, and you can't see the split of the costs.
This makes it easy to understand, but intransparent. And there's no guarantee your processor will share any savings with you made from lower interchange fees.
How interchange fees can vary per transaction
Traditionally, there was very little transparency into how interchange fees were calculated. Large businesses with a high volume of transactions could negotiate lower fees, while smaller firms had to pay the full amount.
Markets dominated by the large international card schemes were most vulnerable. Businesses couldn't afford to refuse the payment methods most of their customers used.
Fortunately, recent progress has been made to standardise interchange fees, with stricter rules and fee caps introduced, and overall transparency increased.
Below is a breakdown of the fees caps across different regions:
Note: US credit is unregulated, and US debit applies to regulated banks only. Fee caps only apply to consumer cards in the US and EEA. In Mexico, caps depend on the industry, and some rates are negotiable.
This amendment, enacted in 2010, is an example of a fee cap for debit and prepaid card transactions.
The Durbin amendment is dependent on the size of the issuing bank's assets. If the issuing bank has assets of $10bn or more, its debit and prepaid cards will be charged regulated rates. These cards are then subject to an interchange rate of 0.05% + $0.21 or 0.05% + $0.22, depending on fraud prevention policies.
European Interchange Fee Regulation
The European Economic Area (EEA) introduced interchange fee regulation in 2015. This led to the heavy regulation of interchange fees and made the EEA one of the cheapest options worldwide.
Interchange fees are capped for consumer cards in all EEA regions, making it a good place to set up an entity for cross-border transactions. The precise caps are as follows: