Looking for a credit card surcharging solution to offset expenses? The rules vary across multiple card brands and terms of acceptance. Here’s an updated review of who can surcharge, what card types, and checklist of how to roll out credit card surcharge at your company. The answers are targeted for business to business merchants, my area of expertise. Historically if a merchant complies with Visa surcharge rules, they’d be compliant with other brands, so we often cite that as the standard.
What is a credit card surcharge?
Surcharge is any fee charged by a merchant for the use of a card.
What’s the difference between a surcharge and convenience fee? Convenience fees can only be charged for a bona fide convenience in the form of an alternative payment channel outside the Merchant’s customary payment channels and not charged solely for the acceptance of a Card. If a merchant only accepts credit cards, it’s prohibited. If a merchant is 100% card absent, merchant cannot charge a convenience fee.
Card brands agree on this for surcharging:
- Merchant Discount Rate is the fee, expressed as a percentage of the total transaction amount that a Merchant pays to its Acquirer or Service Provider for transacting on a Credit Card brand. In short, it’s typically all the fees on your merchant statement EXCEPT PCI compliance, terminal rental fees or any other special fee that is not paid via the mechanism of the per-transaction merchant discount fee. Per Visa, merchants must “Limit the amount to your merchant discount rate (MDR) for the applicable credit card or 3% whichever is lowest.” This is the reason merchants can get in trouble if their surcharge solution provider charges a flat amount for every card type.
- The Surcharge amount must be submitted separately (in the defined surcharge field) from the Transaction amount in the authorization and clearing message.
- The receipt must list the surcharge amount separately.
- If the original transaction has a partial or full refund, the surcharge amount must all be refunded proportionally.
- Surcharge on debit or prepaid cards is prohibited for all merchants.To ensure compliance use a payment gateway that can identify the card brand and type of card to allow surcharges only on eligible cards.
- The fee must be relative to their average cost of card acceptance.
How much can a merchant surcharge?
In short, surcharging is allowed to cover costs, not to make a profit. Let’s face it, based on the rules above, to simplify implementation, merchants will surcharge at the brand level because they lack the technology to discern between product types on a per transaction basis. Taking all that into account what can you surcharge?
- Cannot exceed Maximum Surcharge Cap, which for Visa is currently 3%, effective April 15, 2023, and MasterCard remains at 4%.
Just because somebody offers it doesn’t make it right. Some companies are offering “free merchant accounts” by offsetting fees with surcharge of 3.5% or even 4%, both exceeding current rules. The average B2B company has much lower than 3.5% effective rate so that was always a violation of card acceptance rules, subject to penalty. The companies offering these services are making big money on the spread of actual fees vs what customers are paying. Again, these are card brand rules violations.
- Notify card brands (Visa etc) in writing at least 30 calendar days before assessing a US Credit Card Surcharge; must state whether will surcharge at the brand level or product level.
- Amex- none required
- For card not present orders, disclose verbally if telephone; for online orders minimum 10-point Arial font, but in any case no smaller or less prominent than surrounding text.
- Receipt must be delivered with the surcharge as a separate line item.
- The surcharge amount must be sent with the transaction for authorization.
Which states prohibit merchants surcharging?
Per Visa, as of April 15, 2023, they are “Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma. Note also that Merchants located in Colorado may not surcharge more than 2% as per State law.” However, due to federal and other court rulings, multiple states have backed away from the bans. The legislative intent in many of these states was to protect consumers, and not to restrict B2B surcharging, therefore, B2B companies may have exceptions.
What’s the penalty for non-compliance with surcharge rules? Acquirers face fines. Acquirers of any merchant identified as surcharging improperly may be assessed an immediate US $1,000 fine. This is just the beginning and is not all-inclusive. Visa is proactively enforcing surcharge rules from April 15, 2023.
- In 2015, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal court, overturned Florida state law as being unconstitutional, allowing surcharges to legally continue in Florida and nine other states that had enacted bans against them. The case was a highly contentious 2-1 decision in which the court’s chief judge said the state surcharge bans (like Florida’s) were “being struck down by a federal court for no good reason.”
- In December 2019, Oklahoma attorney general official opinion declaring the state’s no-surcharging law unconstitutionally restricts free speech.
Surcharge Laws Stories:
- 2/2023 NJ Businesses Fined For Credit Card Surcharge Without Proper Notice https://lakewoodalerts.com/cracking-down-businesses-fined-for-credit-card-surcharge-without-proper-notice/
- Texas Updated 2020 – https://faq.sll.texas.gov/questions/9631Senate Bill 560, which went into effect on September 1st, 2017, changed the laws relating to credit card surcharges. Previously, the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner (OCCC) enforced the law on credit card surcharges, but that is no longer the case.
- Florida update https://www.epgdlaw.com/are-credit-card-surcharges-legal-in-florida/
- California update
- January 10, 2019 NY Update
- NY Court of Appeals issues interpretation of no surcharge law https://www.consumerfinancemonitor.com/2018/10/26/ny-court-of-appeals-issues-interpretation-of-ny-no-credit-card-surcharge-law/
- 2018 Florida https://www.nbc-2.com/story/40273084/you-can-legally-be-charged-extra-for-using-a-credit-card
- 2018 case in California http://delfinomadden.com/credit-card-surcharge-ban/
- 2017 US Supreme Court & NY https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/01/10/supreme-court-new-york-credit-card-surcharge-price-speech/96391718/
State statutes on surcharge laws
- https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXX/Chapter140d/Section28a Massachusetts statutes.
For more information, see Surcharge law resources under Merchant Alerts & Rules Links or contact your acquirer for accurate and current information specific to your situation. Neither Christine Speedy nor this web site provide legal advice. Consult an attorney for all your legal questions.
Does your company want to surcharge? Call Christine Speedy right now at 954-942-0483, 9-5 ET for a compliant solution. Please share your surcharge insights for others and ask any questions below. The information herein is based upon public information available at the time written and may change.
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