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Table of Contents

Lead Story

Agents of change


Industry Update

Private label, public dilemma

Fed insures open loop cards

Reading Black Friday tea leaves

PCI help on the way

Boost online loyalty with new tales


From restaurants to revenue streams

The archetype in the mirror

The archetype in the mirror

The archetype in the mirror

The archetype in the mirror

The spend of Holidays past


Consumers' new mantra: Shop smart

Patti Murphy
The Takoma Group

Embracing PA DSS compliance

Dave Faoro

Gear up now for PCI PED compliance

Biff Matthews
CardWare International

The case for collecting fees

Ken Musante
Humboldt Merchant Services

The case for collecting fees

Ken Musante
Humboldt Merchant Services


Street SmartsSM:
E-commerce essentials

Jason Felts
Advanced Merchant Services

Shifting focus for 2009

Christian Murray
Global eTelecom Inc.

Recruiting top college grads

Curt Hensley
CSH Consulting

A little analysis, significant rewards

Jeff Fortney
Clearent LLC

Looking beyond PCI

Tim Cranny
Panoptic Security Inc.

Preparing risk departments for the holidays

Deana Sellens
Take Charge Business Consulting LLC

10 ways to prevent credit card loss

Gino Kauzlarich

Company Profile

On-line Strategies Inc.

New Products

Lift that tradeshow burden

Jelco Inc.

POS in a box

HP rp3000 POS bundle
Hewlett-Packard Co. LP


Ditch the holiday roller coaster





Resource Guide


A Bigger Thing

The Green Sheet Online Edition

December 08, 2008  •  Issue 08:12:01

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The case for collecting fees

By Ken Musante

Pass-through pricing is ever more prevalent. Once reserved for only the largest accounts, it is now being used regardless of merchant size. Mean-while, interchange is growing more complex.

New and evolving tiers are being applied to narrow vertical segments established to increase volume from specific merchant types, as well as to encourage specific transaction formatting from many merchant types. Examples include:

Categories proliferate

At the same time, interchange categories for reward and commercial cards are being expanded to encourage volume by certain cardholders such as high-end consumers. The Visa Preferred Card, for example, has interchange as high as 2.70% + $0.10.

Commercial and business cards have also seen new interchange categories. With slowing growth in the consumer rewards segment, Visa Inc. and MasterCard Worldwide are seeking other growth areas. Hence the push into the affluent end of the consumer market, as well as the increase in business and commercial cards.

The result of the increase in pass-through accounts and additional interchange tiers is an increasingly complex merchant statement. Also, because pass-through pricing mandates that all interchange categories be placed on statements (to show what the pricing is marked up from), merchant statements are lengthening to support the increase in categories.

True pass-through pricing passes on actual interchange and assessments plus an authorization fee. The markup above interchange is fixed, regardless of the interchange category.

This assists merchants in knowing an acquirer's margin is reasonable, regardless of card type or interchange category. Unfortunately, little financial incentive exists for acquirers to assist merchants in optimally routing transactions, but they do know that whatever interchange category a transaction falls into they will make a set margin, including transactions in new categories. Some acquirers have morphed pass-through pricing into a model that further marks up downgrades and has variable authorization costs, depending on interchange category. I expect to see more of this type of pricing as margins are compressed in tandem with the shift away from tiered pricing.

Nibbles add up

In addition, both Visa and MasterCard have network or acquirer surcharge fees. For Humboldt Merchant Services, these range from $0.0001 to $0.005 per item. The weighted average cost is $0.00329. Fees are paid directly to Visa and MasterCard and are in addition to assessments.

While these fees have always existed, they are a small percentage of overall transaction costs and not typically broken out of pass-through pricing. Even worse, effective April 17, 2009, MasterCard will increase its network access fee to $0.0185 per domestic acquired financial detail record. This is a huge increase (to 1.85 cents) and can no longer be ignored when pricing merchants - especially small-ticket retailers.

Additionally, Visa introduced a new acquirer fee called the Visa International Service Assessment fee. It is charged on all non-U.S.-initiated card transactions and is 40 basis points of cross-border volume. MasterCard has a similar fee, but there are three components as follows:

Fee name Basis points
Acquirer cross boarder fee 40
Credit for settling in U.S. dollars (10)
Acquirer program support fee 45
Total for U.S. acquirer 75

Such fees are over and above interchange and may or may not be priced into pass-through pricing. HMS' total cross-border fees add up to over 4 basis points of processing volume.

In a business with margins shrinking faster than polar ice caps, shouldn't we ensure these fees are recovered? After all, most of us have wording in our pass-through contracts to allow the collection of such fees from merchants. The margins on pass-through pricing are not sufficient to absorb this added cost.

Pass-through pricing is appropriate for many merchants. It is growing in popularity due to competitive pressure and the complex interchange structure. And it allows acquirers to earn a fixed margin regardless of the merchant's processing selections - provided, however, acquirers are indeed passing through all fees.

Ken Musante is President of Humboldt Merchant Services. Contact him by e-mail at or by phone at 707-269-3200.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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