In January 2019, a lengthy court battle that began in 2013 ended by giving New York State merchants the right to charge a fee for purchases paid with a credit card, as long as the pricing was clear to the customer beforehand.
The guidelines require that the higher credit card price for an item must be listed in dollars and cents, such as Hamburger $15.60 Credit Price; $15.00 Cash Price – similar to how gas stations list credit and cash pricing. The pricing can be displayed on the menu, a price tag or on a display sign. Merely posting the credit card percentage upcharge isn’t enough: the state does not want consumers to have to do arithmetic to calculate their actual charges.
However, consumers are shocked and unhappy when they find the extra 3% or 4% fee masquerading under creative titles such as Technology Fee, Non-cash Adjustment, Service Fee, Muddling Fee, Merchant Fee, Checkout Charges, Usage Fee, Additional Fee Extra Cost, Swipe Fee, Differential, Surcharge and others.
Should You Surcharge or Not?
It’s a decision every merchant must consider now that New York State law allows it. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages for your business and your relationships with your customers that should be weighed carefully. Large retailers including Wal-Mart and Home Depot have declared they won’t be adding “checkout fees” because these would impact customer loyalty and reduce overall competitiveness.
- Surcharges lessen the bite of credit card processing costs, putting some (probably not all) of the burden on the customer’s shoulders. However, merchant processors will charge more for processing the additional surcharge so that’s a somewhat hidden extra fee that could actually increase your processing costs rather than decrease them.
- If you have already built processing costs into your pricing, you might be able to lower your prices across the board, making your business more competitive, particularly if your customers usually pay with cash, checks or debit cards rather than credit cards.
Not to Surcharge
- If most of your customers pay with credit cards, surcharging may not be a good idea. Studies show customers spend more when paying with credit cards than with cash. If you add a surcharge to their bill, customers will instinctively buy less, unless they are wealthy and money is not a concern. How much is customer loyalty, good will and repeat visits worth? Many customers surprised by surcharges on their bills vow to avoid dining or buying from that merchant ever again.
- Virtually every town, village or city has other restaurants or shops customers can patronize. If a customer can buy a meal, services or products somewhere else without a surcharge, you can bet they will. Even with a great value proposition, an extra charge makes your customers weigh your service or products against your competitors.
- If your typical credit card transaction has commas in it, adding another 3% or 4% to the price will definitely give your customers pause. The more your products or service costs, the more thought a customer gives to buying from you or buying at all.
Follow the Rules
If you decide to add surcharges to customer purchases, make sure you understand and follow the law to avoid chargebacks or other penalties from your bank or credit card companies.
- Charge only the fee you pay for credit card processing. The rate is derived from your merchant discount rate in the previous quarter.
- Keep the surcharge fee to 4% or less per transaction as established in the court settlement.
- Debit cards or prepaid cards are exempt from the settlement; don’t assess a surcharge on those.
- Add a notice on the menu or on a sign near the front door and on receipts so your customers know about the surcharge. They must know there’s a fee for credit card transactions before using their card for payment.
- When issuing a refund, you also must refund the assessed surcharge, whether it’s a full or partial refund.
Get More Information
Want more information about surcharges, merchant processing and how to minimize credit card fees for your business? Contact Mike Krause, President of Sales Sense Payments, firstname.lastname@example.org or 585-704-6453. Ask Mike about your free fee processing analysis to help your business save on processing costs.