American Express is a closed network and so their interchange rates work differently than Visa or MasterCard. For a long time, AmEx was the most expensive credit card to process, although the price has come down in recent years. However, they still have not shed this misconception. This article will attempt to break down AmEx’s system, which is difficult since AmEx does not provide a lot of information on the exact nature of these rates.
What is an Interchange Rate?
Before going into the specifics of American Express Interchange Rates, lets first settle on a definition of what an interchange rate is. An interchange rate is the rate a card network charges to cover the risk of doing business. All credit transactions involve risk because no physical currency is being exchanged, and an interchange rate is calculated to mitigate that risk incurred from fraud as much as possible. The cost of authorization and the average bank cost of funds are also factors in determining the interchange rate. These fees change twice per year and are paid whenever a merchant processes a transaction.
American Express is trying to shed its “expensive” reputation with its OptBlue program. This program offers what is referred to as a “wholesale” pricing agreement to smaller merchants (merchants processing less than $1 million annually). This is a highly personalized program and AmEx does not allow the exact numbers of their OptBlue pricing to be disclosed, although some payment processors list their American Express rates online with their markup. What we do know that AmEx separates transactions into pricing categories, and that certain variables such as the industry (restaurant, retail, ticketing etc.) affect that category. Other factors in determining pricing include whether the transaction is taking place online or over the phone (card-not-present) or in person (card-present) and the average ticket.
For merchants making over $1 million per year, American Express requires them to sign a direct agreement with the card network. There are two plans that AmEx offers for direct processing: the discount rate plan and a flat-fee plan. The discount rate is structured the same way as the OptBlue plan. AmEx does not provide information on how the flat-fee plan is calculated, however it is known that a merchant that chooses the flat-fee plan pays $7.95 on top of the monthly fee.
Some common fees that merchants may find on their bills include the gateway fee, CNP surcharge (for all keyed or manually entered transactions), Cross-border fee (for international transactions) and voice authorization fee (for when a merchant calls in an authorization).
Is AmEx Right For Your Business?
The last thing a merchant wants to do is lose a sale because they don’t accept AmEx. These days, while AmEx rates may be higher than Visa or MasterCard, it is more important to allow AmEx cardholders to make the purchases that they want to, thus generating more profit for you. After all, if your competitors are taking AmEx, why shouldn’t you?