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Understanding Interchange Fees: A Canadian Merchant’s Guide

In the world of digital payment processing, merchants encounter a variety of fees that impact their bottom line. Interchange fees are a crucial aspect of this landscape, influencing how much a merchant pays for each transaction. 

For Canadian merchants, understanding interchange fees is essential for optimizing costs and improving overall financial management. This comprehensive guide aims to demystify interchange fees, providing insights into their structure, impact, and ways merchants can navigate this intricate system.

What are Interchange Fees in Canada

Interchange fees are charges levied by credit card issuers (such as Visa, Mastercard, and others) to merchants for accepting and processing electronic payments. These fees serve as compensation for the risks and costs associated with facilitating electronic transactions. Interchange fees are typically expressed as a percentage of the transaction amount plus a flat fee. Read our complete overview on interchange fees.

The Cost of Interchange Fees to Merchants in Canada

The pricing structure of interchange fees is complex and influenced by various factors. The actual rate that merchants pay is not a single amount. There are literally hundreds of different rates that change depending on the credit card used, the way the transaction was made, and several other things. The average interchange fee that merchants pay is approximately 1.81%. Keep in mind, that is not the total amount merchants pay. Overall, merchants generally pay 2.3%.

Here’s a breakdown of how interchange fees pricing generally works and the different things that impact the rate.

Card Networks: Major credit card networks like Visa, Mastercard, and others establish the baseline for interchange fees. These fees are non-negotiable and serve as a fundamental component of the cost structure for merchants. 

Card Type: Interchange fees vary based on the type of credit card used in a transaction. The three main categories are debit cards, credit cards, and premium credit cards. Premium cards, often associated with rewards programs, tend to have higher interchange fees. 

Transaction Method: The method by which a transaction is conducted (card-present vs card-not-present) influences interchange fees. In-person transactions generally have lower fees compared to card-not-present transactions (e.g., online purchases) due to the increased risk of fraud associated with the latter. 

Merchant Category Codes (MCCs): Interchange fees can be affected by the type of business accepting the payment, classified through Merchant Category Codes (MCCs). Different MCCs may have distinct interchange fee structures. 

Regulations: Government regulations and industry standards can impact interchange fee structures. Some regions, including Canada, has regulatory measures in place to address interchange fees and promote fairness in the payments ecosystem. You can read more on the interchange fees by country

Payment Processor Markup: In addition to interchange fees, merchants work with payment processors who charge a markup for their services. This markup is an additional fee on top of the interchange fees and covers the payment processor’s costs and profit. This can range from 0.05% to 1% or even more. This is why it is important to use a reputable payment processor like Clearly Payments.

Refer to our article here for a full price list of the interchange fees in Canada.

Steps Merchants Can Take to Lower Interchange Rates

Merchants keen on optimizing their cost structures and enhancing profitability often explore strategies to lower interchange fees, a significant component of their overall expenses in electronic payment processing. Here are key strategies that merchants can consider to reduce their interchange fees:

  1. Switch to a Lower Cost Payment Processor:

    • Establishing a strong relationship with payment processors can be pivotal. Merchants, particularly those with substantial transaction volumes, should negotiate terms and fees with their payment service providers or switch to a low cost payment processor like Clearly Payments. While card network fees are non-negotiable, processors may be able to offer competitive rates and favorable terms.
  2. Optimize Card Acceptance Methods:

    • The method by which transactions are processed can impact interchange fees. Merchants should encourage in-person transactions whenever possible, as these typically carry lower fees compared to card-not-present transactions, such as online sales. Implementing secure and efficient payment methods can positively influence the overall cost.
  3. Understand and Leverage MCC Codes:

    • Merchant Category Codes (MCCs) play a role in determining interchange fees. Merchants should review and understand the MCC associated with their business. Some MCCs may have lower interchange fees than others, and aligning with the appropriate code can result in cost savings. Work with a payment processor that will help optimize the MCC code that you use.
  4. Encourage Debit Card Usage:

    • Debit cards generally have lower interchange fees compared to credit cards. Encouraging customers to use debit cards for transactions can help reduce overall interchange costs. Implementing strategies such as offering discounts for debit transactions can incentivize customers to choose this lower-cost payment method.
  5. Explore Technology like Contactless Payments:

    • Embracing innovative payment technologies can positively impact interchange fees. Contactless payments and mobile wallets may offer lower fees, and the adoption of these technologies not only aligns with consumer preferences but can also lead to cost savings for merchants.
  6. Stay Informed About Regulatory Changes:

    • Government regulations can influence interchange fee structures. Merchants should stay informed about any regulatory changes within their region and actively participate in industry discussions or advocacy groups to influence policies that may impact their costs.
  7. Implement PCI DSS Compliance:

    • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliance is crucial for both security and potentially reducing interchange fees. Meeting the required security standards can sometimes result in lower fees, as it demonstrates a commitment to protecting cardholder data.

By employing a combination of these strategies, merchants can navigate the complexities of interchange fees and work towards optimizing their payment processing costs while ensuring a seamless and secure payment experience for their customers.

Regulatory Landscape in Canada

In Canada, the electronic payment landscape is subject to various regulations that aim to foster fair competition, protect consumers, and ensure the security of financial transactions. While interchange rates are a significant aspect of this regulatory framework, the country has taken steps to address and manage these fees.

The primary regulatory body overseeing payment systems in Canada is the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC). However, the regulation of interchange fees specifically falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government, and in some cases, provincial authorities may also be involved.

The Code of Conduct for the Credit and Debit Card Industry in Canada is a set of voluntary guidelines established by the government to promote fairness, transparency, and competitive practices in the payment card industry. This code addresses various aspects of payment card transactions, including disclosure of fees, contract terms, and merchant rights.

Interchange rates in Canada are predominantly influenced by the policies set forth by major card networks such as Visa and Mastercard. The specific rates are typically determined by these networks and can vary based on factors such as card type, transaction method, and merchant category.

The government has periodically examined the interchange fee structure to ensure that it remains fair and balanced. While Canada does not have direct price controls on interchange fees, regulatory interventions aim to promote competition and transparency within the payment card industry.

Overall, while interchange rates in Canada are primarily influenced by card networks, the government plays a role in regulating the industry to promote fairness and transparency. Merchants should be proactive in understanding the regulatory framework, staying informed about any changes, and participating in industry discussions to ensure their concerns are addressed within the evolving payment landscape.

Get the best interchange rates with Clearly Payments

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  • A full set of payment products to accept payment anytime, anywhere
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