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Your Business Doesn't Have to Pay Credit Card Fees Any More and Probably Shouldn't

Legal challenges have succeeded in overturning bans on passing along the fees for credit card payments.

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For entrepreneurs, every dollar matters.

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Why, then, do so many business owners willingly absorb a cost -- often as high as 4 percent -- to accept credit card payments? If you're among them, know there is a cost-free, frictionless way to pass on the fee to customers.

Thanks to new rules, merchants are able to post a single price and then apply a fee when buyers choose credit cards. So when your business sells $100, you receive $100. The practice is not only beneficial to businesses but also to consumers.

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Why surcharging works.

In 2013, new rules enabled businesses in the United States to do what universities and government had long been permitted to do: pass on the fee when customers choose credit cards for convenience or rewards. And this month, further signaling a nationwide shift toward credit card surcharging, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled California's state-level ban on the practice is unconstitutional.

Businesses previously had few tools to manage these credit card fees, which increase twice yearly and are among the fastest-growing costs of doing business. In fact, the cost of many rewards cards increased by 24 percent between 2005 and 2009, according to the federal Government Accountability Office. While these costs were increasing in the U.S., they were decreasing in countries where passing on the credit card fee had been permitted.

The excessive cost stems from a lack of transparency. For far too long, credit card issuers have been insulated from price competition due to unfair bans on surcharging, for which the card companies lobbied aggressively. When consumers bear the cost of their own credit card rewards, they are more likely to switch to another form of payment when the cost becomes too high, applying price pressure to the card companies for the first time.

This relief benefits all merchants but especially those with tight profit margins. If your margins are in the single digits, a 3 percent credit card charge eats up a sizeable portion of profits. Higher prices charged across the board by businesses to make up for the fees on credit card payments indirectly cost families that pay in cash or with debit cards more than $1,100 per year, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

By passing on the cost of credit card transaction fees, small- and medium-sized businesses that had previously found card purchases too costly to process can now accept credit cards for the first time.

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Finding the right provider.

To pass on the credit card fee, businesses must comply with rules set by card brands such as Visa and MasterCard.

If your business is looking to pass on credit card fees, it is best to partner with a compliant processing provider for a turnkey solution. They will be experts so you don't have to be, automatically complying with all the rules. Further easing the process, the best providers won't lock your business into a long-term contract. And be sure to ask for compliance documentation, and be wary if they cannot produce it.

The most reputable providers will handle all the details of implementation, beginning with notifying card brands and your acquiring bank. They will help set up signage at the point of sale to keep customers informed and keep your business compliant.

One important rule is that no fee can be applied to debit cards, so be cautious of companies that don't heed this requirement. Another benefit of a compliant provider, then, is that your customers can use debit cards at no additional cost (with your business paying the much smaller fee associated with debit).

The surcharge adds no friction to the check-out process and will be easily understood by customers. This pricing model, already allowed in 42 states, would be quoted as, "$10, with a 3.5 percent surcharge for credit."

If credit card fees are already baked into your pricing, credit card surcharging will allow your business to lower prices across the board and become more competitive.

Passing on the credit card fee to customers is an efficient way to bring down costs, add transparency to the payments process and make payments fairer to everyone. Why is your business still paying credit card fees?

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