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How to spot hidden fees and negotiate the best rate with your payment service provider

How to spot hidden fees and negotiate the best rate with your payment service provider

If you’re in the process of requesting quotes from different merchant services, you’ve probably come to realize that there are many different rates out there. You might also start feeling like hidden fees are just the name of the game.

After all, there’s a reason why many business owners say that there are 2 types of entrepreneurs: those who have been burned by a payments company, and those who have yet to be burned by a payments company.

This is what brings us to today’s topic, and why we want to educate merchants about this rather complicated-for-nothing industry. Because when you break it down, it’s actually pretty straight-forward.

Now that we’ve covered how the payment process works, we can start breaking down the cost and fee structure of a typical payment provider. Keep reading to learn about the different pricing models, the various hidden fees to look out for, how these fees affect your rate, and how you can reduce your overall cost to process payments for your business.

Psst. If you want to watch the video instead, skip to the bottom of the blog.

Pricing models

The list of credit and debit card processing fees is long, but if you want to process cards in your store, you have no choice but to pay them. Some are negotiable, some are not, but it’s important to educate yourself on what these fees are, how much you’re being charged and why you’re paying them. If you don’t, how will you ever know if you were charged unfairly? Better yet, how will you ever determine what your true overhead is?

Let’s start from the beginning. Remember Sophie’s example?

How to spot hidden fees and negotiate the best rate with your payment service provider | Lightspeed POS

If you look back at the visual above, you’ll notice that every player that touches Sophie’s $100 purchase is getting paid.

  • The business owner gets paid for that pair of shoes she’s buying
  • The processor gets its processing fee
  • The card brand gets its assessment fee
  • The issuing bank gets its interchange fee

Who pays all those fees? Well, you, of course. But payment processors won’t detail all that out when pitching their price to you ‒ that’s not appealing. They’ll add everything up and package it in an easier way for you to understand.

The most common way for payment processors to present their price looks like this: 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction and is referred to as flat-rate pricing.

Although that is typically the pricing model processors opt for, this isn’t the only way to package it. In fact, there are three different models you can expect:

*Psst: Don’t feel like reading all the details? Scroll down to “Our 2 cents” for a quick recap.

1. Flat-rate

How to spot hidden fees and negotiate the best rate with your payment service provider

The most straight-forward pricing method. You pay one flat rate per every transaction ‒ no more, no less. The processing fee is a single, fixed percentage composed of what the processor, card brand and issuing bank charge. The transaction fee is a fixed amount determined by the processor and serves as a buffer.

What’s great about this method of pricing is that you always know what to expect once you receive your merchant statement, and it makes spotting anomalies a lot easier and systematic, should there be any.

2. Interchange plus

How to spot hidden fees and negotiate the best rate with your payment service provider

This model is the most difficult to understand because of the (almost) infinite variables that come into play when you process a transaction. Like:

  • The total transaction amount
  • The card brand
  • The card type
  • The issuing bank
  • The processor
  • The entry type (manual, swipe, type)
  • What country the card is from
  • If you batch out the same day or not
  • Etc.

Every one of these components have an effect on the interchange fee. The markup fee, however, is determined by your processor, for which they have their own set of rules and varying factors.

Bottom line, every single one of the transactions you process is subject to a different rate. This makes it a lot harder for you to know what to expect once you receive your monthly statement, and verifying for mistakes also becomes a much longer process.

3. Tiered

How to spot hidden fees and negotiate the best rate with your payment service provider

The typical tiered pricing model will have 3 categories: qualified, mid-qualified, and non-qualified. Some processors go for 6 categories, but those are rather rare.

Tiered pricing is the least preferred of all the pricing models because it tends to be the most deceiving. It is composed of a fixed processing and transaction fee, just like the flat-rate. The big difference here is that transactions are categorized into tiers, and depending on which tier they fall under, the fixed rate will vary.

What’s deceiving about tiered pricing is that there’s no way for you to know beforehand what transactions fall into what tier. It’s all up to the processor, and they don’t disclose that information. The cheapest first tier pricing is what they’ll advertise and quote you on, but the majority of your transactions will be channeled through the mid or non-qualified tiers.

This model ends up being quite expensive and can lead to a lot of frustration once you get your statement. So be wary: if the price is too good to be true, it might be tiered pricing.

Our 2 cents

Too long, didn’t read?

The breakdown of each model can be hard to remember when you’re on the phone with a payment processing representative. The easiest way to remember the logistics of each model is to compare it to something else that you already understand. Like mortgage rates.

  1. The flat-rate pricing is like getting a fixed mortgage rate.
    Your contract locks you in at a fixed rate for a predetermined period of time.
  2. The interchange plus pricing is just like getting a variable mortgage rate.
    During the course of your contract, your rate will fluctuate depending on the “market”.
  3. The tiered pricing is a combination of the 2.
    Which isn’t technically a mortgage rate type, but you get it.

What to negotiate

No matter the processor you choose, or the type of pricing model they offer, there is always room for negotiation. The interchange fee (payable to the issuing bank) and the assessment fee (payable to the card brand) are regulated by the card association, rendering them non-negotiable. These fees are imposed on the processor for every transaction, and thus relayed onto you to pay.

However, the processing fee (payable to your payment provider) is unregulated, and completely up to your processor’s discretion. This is where you can (and should) bargain.

Fees to look for

They’re called hidden fees for a reason – they’re buried in the fine print. So guess what? You have to read it. All of it. We can’t promise it’ll be a very interesting read, but in this case, you can’t afford not to. A lot could be hidden in there.

There are typically about 15 to 20 different common fees that could apply to your business, and depending on your contract and pricing model, they will vary.

  • Monthly or Annual Fee – From $0 to $100 per month or $0 to $300 per year
  • Terminal/Equipment Fee – From $5 to $60 per month
  • PCI non-compliance Fee – From $20 to $120 per year
  • Chargeback Fee – From $10 to $30 per occurrence
  • Monthly Minimum Fee – From $0 to $25 per month
  • Cancelation or Early Termination Fee (ETF)  – From $300 to $1000 per occurrence
  • Address Verification System (AVS) Fee – From $0.05 to $0.25 per occurrence
  • Batch Fee – From $0.05 to $0.30 per occurrence
  • Application/Setup Fee – From $50 to $100 per occurrence
  • PIN Debit Transaction Fee – From $50 to $60 per year
  • Payment Gateway Fee – From $5 to $25 per month
  • Online Reporting Fee – From $0 to $10 per month
  • Account Closure Fee – From $20 to $75 per occurrence
  • Merchant Location Fee – From $5 to 15$ per year
  • IRS Reporting Fee – 25$ per year
  • Statement Fee – From $5 to $10 per month
  • Voice Authorization Fee (VAF) – From $0.25 to $4 per occurrence
  • Non-Sufficient Funds Fee (NSF) – From $20 to $25 per occurrence

These are the most common ones, but there are more. If at any point you find something in your preliminary contract that you don’t understand, never hesitate to ask your payment sales rep to get to the bottom of all your possible charges. Now is the time before you get locked in.

Not only are you ensuring you get the best possible price now, but you’re also making it a lot easier and faster for yourself to pinpoint unethical billing (should it ever happen) once that monthly statement comes in.

Knowledge is power.

Now, you’re ready to find the right payment service provider for your business.


Too long, didn’t read?

Watch our expert Michael break it down for you.


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