Definition: Interchange fees are transaction fees that the merchant's bank account must pay whenever a customer uses a credit/debit card to make a purchase from their store. The fees are paid to the card-issuing bank to cover handling costs, fraud and bad debt costs and the risk involved in approving the payment.
Card-issuing banks, payment processors (which may or may not be the issuing bank), credit card payment networks like MasterCard and Visa, payment gateways, and the merchant's own bank will all charge a percentage-based fee on every transaction, and these charges frequently appear as a single, bundled amount on the bills your payment processor hands you. Even this is something of an oversimplification, however, since there are actually about 300 individual interchange fees composing the "single" interchange fee you actually pay.
Based on the costs of moving money, the time value of money in terms of current interest rates, and the relative risk involved, credit card companies set and regularly adjust their interchange rates. Visa and Mastercard, for example, change rates twice a year, in April and October. While there are other fees that merchants pay for the privilege of making sales via credit and debit card, interchange fees are by far the largest, representing 70% to 90% of the total fees paid to banks by merchants.
Interchange fees are determined by a large number of complex variables. To simplify the cost for merchants, credit card companies compute interchange into flat rate plus a percentage of the sales total (including taxes). In the U.S. alone, billions of dollars are paid out by merchants to cover these fees every year, with the average rate coming out to about 2% of the purchase amount.
Any business that allows customers to make purchases with credit/debit cards will have to pay interchange fees. While no online retailer likes to see potential profits deducted from a sale, the net gain from accepting credit/debit cards far outweighs the cost of interchange fees.
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