Credit Card Processing Fees: The Benefits of Interchange-Plus Pricing

Shaw Merchant Group
7 min readApr 27, 2023

For many merchants, credit card processing fees can be a source of confusion and frustration. The lack of transparency in traditional pricing models often leaves business owners in the dark about the true cost associated with credit card processing. Fee transparency is essential for merchants as it empowers them to make informed decisions about their payment processing partners. By better understanding the credit card fees they are paying, they can:

  • Accurately Predict Expenses — By knowing the exact fees associated with credit card transactions, merchants can better forecast their financials and manage budgets.
  • Compare Processors Effectively — When fees are clearly presented, it’s easier for merchants to evaluate different payment processors and select the best fit for their business.
  • Negotiate Better Deals — Armed with a comprehensive understanding of fees, merchants can negotiate more effectively with payment processors to secure lower rates.

Interchange-plus pricing is an option that can provide merchants with this much needed clarity to help them make smart business decisions. In this article, we’ll explore what interchange-plus pricing is, how it works, its advantages and disadvantages, and why it’s essential to choose a credit card processor that prioritizes transparency.

How Does Interchange-Plus Pricing Work?

Interchange-plus pricing (also referred to as cost-plus or pass-through pricing) is a more transparent and cost-effective model for merchants who process credit card transactions. This pricing structure separates the fees into two distinct components — the interchange fee and the markup fee.

  • Interchange Fee — The interchange fee is a percentage or fixed amount paid to the issuing bank or credit card company (such as Visa or Mastercard). These fees are highly variable and change depending on a variety of factors including the card brand, card type (credit or debit), whether the card is present during the transaction or not, payment security features, the merchant category code (or MCC), and if the card was run as a debit or credit card.
  • Markup Fee — The markup fee is a percentage or fixed amount charged by the payment processor that the business hired to facilitate the transaction.

This approach allows merchants to understand and predict their overall expenses. It also provides a level of detail that helps merchants clearly see the individual fees for each transaction, making it easier to compare payment processors and understand processing costs. To see how interchange-plus pricing works, let’s look at an example of how this model works in the real world.

Example: Imagine you own a retail store and have a merchant account. A customer comes in and purchases items worth $150.00 (including tax). They pay with a Visa Signature Preferred Consumer credit card. The interchange cost for this card is 2.10% + $0.10, which amounts to $3.25 ($3.15 from the percentage fee and $0.10 from the fixed fee). Your merchant account provider passes this cost to you, and in addition, charges a markup of 0.30% + $0.15, or $0.60 ($0.45 from the percentage fee and $0.15 from the fixed fee). Your total cost for processing the credit card is $3.85, which is 2.57% of the transaction amount.

In this example, interchange fees make up 84.4% of your total processing cost, highlighting the significance of interchange fees in the overall expense associated with credit card transactions.

It’s important for businesses to be aware of some of the misleading practices that some processors use to sell this model. While many providers advertise interchange-plus pricing on their websites, their quotes often only list the percentage-based markup and the fixed authorization fee. As you can see in the example above, interchange fees usually make up the bulk of the total processing costs. Businesses should always validate that the quote provided by credit card processors includes both interchange and markup fees.

Another key point to understand is that interchange fees are set by credit card associations. Some salespeople with credit card processors will claim they can negotiate a discounted rate. This is untrue. Credit card processors have no control over these fees.

The Downsides of Interchange-Plus Pricing

No fee structure is perfect. While there are numerous advantages to using an interchange-plus model, there are some disadvantages depending on the size and type of business that you operate. It’s important to carefully consider the downsides of interchange-plus pricing to confirm if it is the right fit for your business.

  • Complexity — The separation of interchange fees and markup fees can make the pricing model more challenging to understand initially, particularly for merchants accustomed to bundled or flat-rate pricing models.
  • Variable Fees — Interchange fees can vary depending on the type of card and transaction, making it difficult for merchants to predict their exact costs upfront.
  • Processor Markups — While markup fees are typically a fraction of the overall processing fee, processors can still impose high markups on transactions. Comparing quotes from multiple providers can help merchants identify processors who charge excessive fees.
  • Requires Higher Volume — Smaller businesses with lower monthly transaction volumes may not benefit as much from interchange-plus pricing compared to other pricing models, as they could face higher markups.

How Interchange-Plus Pricing Compares to Other Pricing Models

The interchange-plus pricing model isn’t the only option available in the payment processing industry. In addition to interchange-plus pricing, there are three other options that are the most common including bundled, flat-rate, and subscription-based pricing. Here’s a brief overview of each alternative pricing model.

Bundled Pricing

Bundled pricing (also known as tiered rate pricing) combines the interchange fee and markup fee into a single rate, often categorized into tiers (e.g., qualified, mid-qualified, and non-qualified). While this model simplifies the fee structure, it obscures the true costs associated with each transaction and makes it difficult for merchants to compare payment processors.

Example: Imagine you own a boutique and have a merchant account that uses bundled pricing. A customer comes in and buys clothing worth $200.00. They pay with a Visa Rewards Consumer credit card. Your merchant account provider charges a qualified rate of 1.70% + $0.25 for this card, resulting in a total processing fee of $3.65 ($3.40 from the percentage fee and $0.25 from the fixed fee). In this case, it’s difficult to determine how much of the fee is the interchange cost and how much is the markup fee.

Flat-rate Pricing

With this model, the payment processor charges a fixed percentage or per-transaction fee, regardless of the underlying interchange fees. Although simple to understand, flat-rate pricing may not always be the most cost-effective option, as merchants may end up overpaying for certain types of transactions.

Example: Suppose you run an online store and have a merchant account with a flat-rate pricing model. A customer places an order worth $120.00 and pays using a Mastercard Platinum Consumer credit card. Your payment processor charges a flat rate of 2.75% per transaction, making your total processing fee $3.30. With this model, the processing fee remains the same regardless of the card type and underlying interchange fees, which could result in overpaying for some transactions.

Subscription-Based Fee Models

Under subscription-based models, merchants pay a fixed monthly subscription fee and a small per-transaction fee, which often includes the interchange fee and a nominal markup. This model provides more predictable costs for merchants, as the monthly fee remains constant, regardless of the volume of transactions. However, businesses with lower transaction volumes may not benefit as much from this model, as the fixed monthly fee could result in higher overall costs compared to other pricing structures.

Example: Imagine you operate a gym and have a merchant account that uses a subscription-based pricing model. A customer signs up for a membership costing $80.00 per month and pays with an American Express Gold Consumer credit card. Your payment processor charges a monthly subscription fee of $49.00 and a per-transaction fee of 0.10% + $0.25. In this case, the processing fee for the transaction would be $0.33 ($0.08 from the percentage fee and $0.25 from the fixed fee). Your total monthly cost for this single transaction, including the subscription fee, would be $49.33. However, as the number of transactions increases, the average cost per transaction decreases, making the subscription-based model potentially more cost-effective for high-volume businesses.

Interchange-plus pricing, known for its transparency and fairness, is often the most cost-effective option for businesses. However, it may not always be the ideal choice, especially for small businesses with lower transaction volumes. It’s crucial to compare rate quotes from multiple providers and consider all associated fees before selecting a pricing model. While interchange-plus pricing works well for many businesses, high-volume merchants might find subscription pricing more advantageous. Ultimately, it’s essential to explore various options and choose the one that best suits your business’s unique needs.

Go With the Credit Card Processor People Trust

In the world of credit card processing, transparency is crucial for merchants to make informed decisions. At North American Bancard, we understand the importance of offering a wide range of options to our clients including interchange-plus pricing. Our goal is to provide you with the right credit card processing approaches to help you take control of your payment processing costs and ultimately improve your bottom line. Contact us today to learn more about our interchange-plus rates and fees.

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Shaw Merchant Group

At Shaw Merchant Group we specialize in merchant services agent and ISO development. We are a group of experienced payment processing industry professionals.