Practical Ecommerce

Understanding Credit Card Fees, Part 2: Merchant Account Fees and Charges

In “Understanding Credit Card Fees, Part 1: The Basics,” I outlined the information you need to know to receive the best rates from your merchant account provider.

This article is “Part 2” of that series where I help you understand your credit card fees. In this installment, I address merchant account statements, and identify key fees and charges on them. I sympathize with merchants when it comes to reading their statements. I decipher statements every day, and there are times when I want to pull my hair out trying to understand their rates and charges.

The legitimacy of various fees and charges is hard to know without looking at a specific statement. To be sure, I’ve seen fees that are fair and reasonable. But, I’ve also seen bogus fees, inflated fees, questionable fees, and even nonsensical fees. For example, I recently analyzed an ecommerce merchant’s statement that had a “terminal support fee” on it. Terminals are for physical retailers, of course, not pure-play ecommerce merchants. In this case, the merchant account provider apparently had a cookie-cutter approach to processing, regardless of whether the merchant was brick-and-mortar or online.

The important point here is that not all merchant account providers are competent with ecommerce. If you see a questionable fee on your statement, ask your provider about it.

Fees and Charges

  • PCI Fees. The first fee you should look for in your statement is a “PCI Noncompliant Fee,” or words to that effect. Not all merchant account providers isolate this fee in their statements. If your merchant account provider does, you will probably find it at or near the bottom of the last page of fees. If you see this fee, you have a severe issue. PCI — Payment Card Industry — compliance is critical. Noncompliance could end up costing you your job or your company if you are breached and card holder information is stolen. Your merchant account provider should insist that your company become compliant. Unfortunately, some merchant account providers use noncompliance as just another income stream by charging merchants a higher monthly fee — say $25 — versus the more common monthly PCI rate of $5 to $10.

    You may see a monthly — or yearly — “PCI Fee” on your statement. Some merchant account providers have not started charging a PCI fee, yet. Those that do typically charge $5 to $10 per month — or up to $99 per year. This fee covers the cost of conducting certain functions to help them ensure you are compliant. Merchants should ask their merchant account provider specifically what it is doing for the amount it charges you.

  • Annual Membership Fee. Many merchant account providers charge an “annual fee” or “membership fee.” This is typically around $100, and it’s usually charged to smaller merchants who process less than $250,000 per year in card volume. However, I have seen much larger merchants charged this fee. What is the purpose of the “annual fee” or “membership fee”? In my view, it’s simply to increase profits of the merchant account providers. Merchants should view this fee as a red flag about how the merchant account provider views its business relationships.

  • Supply; Merchant Club; Terminal Support Fee. These fees all apply to physical merchants. No ecommerce company should be paying them.

  • Monthly Minimum Fee. Very small merchants — those processing less than $50,000 a year in card volume — need to be aware of the monthly minimum fee. Moreover, merchants with fluctuating monthly card volume should pay attention to this fee. Some merchant account providers may quote very low discount rates to small merchants because they know the merchants will end up paying the much higher monthly minimum fee. I have seen these monthly minimum fees as high as $75.

  • Monthly Gateway Fees. Ecommerce merchants may be charged both a monthly gateway fee and a per-item (per-transaction) gateway fee. Every ecommerce merchant needs a payment gateway, which links the shopping cart to the merchant account. However, remember that the monthly gateway fee is negotiable.

  • Monthly Fee or Service Fee. I laugh at this fee. I remember listening to ecommerce merchant calls at the service center when I worked for a merchant account provider. It seemed most of the merchant calls were to clarify incorrect or ambiguous information provided by the merchant account provider. So in a sense, merchant account providers charge merchants this fee to handle servicing issues caused by the merchant account provider. There is a real cost to handle merchant calls. However, the amount of the fee is negotiable.

  • Monthly Statement Fee. Paper statements cost as little as $1.00 to print and mail. But the merchant account provider may charge up to $15 per month for a “statement fee.” If you do not receive a paper statement and access your statements online, your merchant account provider may still charge you a monthly statement fee. Some processors do include monthly support costs in their “statement fee,” versus billing you a monthly “service fee.” If this is the case, a $5 to $10 monthly statement fee may be justified. However, you should not be charged an additional “monthly fee,” or “monthly service fee.”

  • Online Access Fee. Many merchants prefer to view their monthly statements online, versus waiting for them to arrive in the physical mail. Some merchant account providers charge for this convenience, while others offer it for free. If your provider charges an online fee, be cautious about how they view your relationship.

  • IRS Report Fee. This is a recent fee imposed by merchant account providers, who now have to report your processing information to the U.S. government. Some providers are charging $2 to $5 per month to give the government this data. Every merchant account agreement I have seen allows for a fee increase should there be a change in card association regulations or rates, state and federal laws, sales volume, or equipment.

Summary

Ecommerce merchants should understand the following points.

  1. Fee income is important to providers. Merchant account providers can make higher profits on the monthly and annual fees than on the actual card processing. Therefore, you should view these fees as negotiable.
  2. Watch for excessive fees. Overuse and overcharging of these fees should be a red flag to the merchant regarding how the merchant account provider views its relationship with your company.
  3. Fees can change anytime. A merchant account provider’s “terms and conditions” allow the provider to change existing fees or impose new one.

Phil Hinke

Phil Hinke

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Comments ( 4 )

  1. faturah June 29, 2011 Reply

    Important news for merchants who are interested in selling their products and services online in Saudi Arabia, Jeddah Commercial Forum discussed the e-commerce in Saudi Arabia; and it was mentioned that there is a trend applied by Visa, which shared after its application in the reduction of electronic fraud more than 70 percent, Ayman Fakeih Managing Director of Tatweer International Software Development Company said.

    Read more –> http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/9475232-tatweer-international-software-development-co-ltd-participated-in-jeddah-commercial-forum-2011

  2. dfwcard September 28, 2011 Reply

    Very good article. Merchant Services Inc, Fort Worth TX does not charge a PCI fee, annual fee or termination fee. We have a gateway with them that is $10/month and integrates with every major shopping cart.

    http://www.merchantservices.cc/nopci

  3. Bill Botts January 3, 2014 Reply

    Fantastic article. THANK YOU for putting this together. Going through it all right now and finding out….that if you read contracts and want all details before you commit, it is REALLY confusing. I think less people are confused because they don’t read the details though.

  4. Mike Hammer August 2, 2015 Reply

    Excellent Article! Before signing up with ImGlobal Payments, we did a lot of research in regards to PCI Compliance, competitive rates and the ability to accept multiple currencies. It took me awhile to put all the information together but you put it in a easy to read article. Thank you!