Should My Small Business Accept Credit Cards? What Can I Do to Offset the Credit Card Processing Fee the Network Charges?

Generally, your small business should accept credit card payments; it just makes business sense.

Many small business owners and entrepreneurs ask the question: “Should my small business accept credit cards?” Generally, from a pure business/financial standpoint, the answer is yes, for these reasons:

  1. Don’t Lose Business – By not accepting credit card payments, a business risks losing customers. A customer who wants to pay by credit card may not want or be able to pay by any other method. Perhaps the customer doesn’t carry cash or checks, or just deems paying by credit card more convenient or secure. It simply does not make sense to turn away a would-be paying customer, just because the credit card company will charge a fee to process the transaction.
  2. Convenience = ^ Sales – Second, those same customers who value the convenience of paying by credit card are likely to buy more, and/or more often from your company.
  3. Recurring/Automatic Payments – Related to the second reason, accepting credit cards enables setting customers up for recurring/automatic payments if they use your company’s goods or services regularly.
  4. Cash Flow – From a cash flow standpoint, a credit card payment is immediate like cash, but doesn’t carry the risk of a personal check that could bounce for insufficient funds. Also, as noted above, not all customers carry cash or want to use cash, and many will buy more if they can use credit.
  5. Accounting & Record-keeping – Credit card payments can be easily integrated and synchronized with your bookkeeping software, increasing accuracy and ease of accounting and documentation while minimizing costs for additional labor to do so.

In some instances, credit card processing fees can be strategically offset or recouped.

Often, despite the above reasons, small business owners and entrepreneurs remain hesitant to accept credit card payments because of their aversion to paying the transaction fee to the credit card network. This concern has led many start-up founders and small business owners to consider what they can do to offset the credit card processing fees that the network charges. To do so, numerous small businesses have creatively tried to pass the credit card processing fees along to the customer. But, are small businesses allowed to pass credit card fees along to the customer?

Currently, there is no federal prohibition, but 10 states have laws prohibiting a merchant from charging customers a surcharge to pay by credit card (CA, CO, CT, FL, KS, ME, MA, NY, OK, and TX). In California and New York, court orders have enjoined the state from enforcing the prohibition laws, but those cases remain on appeal. In Florida, an appeals court reversed a trial court order that upheld Florida’s law limiting surcharges, but that case remains subject to further litigation. So, what can a small business owner do to offset or recoup credit card surcharge fees?

Biz&TaxHax Tip:

If you are an entrepreneur or small business owner considering charging your customers a fee for paying by credit card, following is some guidance for minimizing the effect of credit card transaction fees to your business:

  1. Review Credit Card Network Agreements – Although there is no federal prohibition, and your state may not be one that prohibits imposing a surcharge for credit card users, companies should review their agreements with the various credit card networks to determine whether a contractual prohibition or limitation exists. Agreements with the credit card networks may prohibit or otherwise limit or restrict the merchant from charging the transaction processing fee to the customer. So it is important to review all agreements with credit card networks before imposing any surcharge on credit card users to avoid potentially breaching those agreements.
  2. Review Applicable Law for Specifics – Even if your business operates in a state where there is a prohibition on imposing a “surcharge” to credit card users, these laws may be drafted such that the company can avoid the prohibition by simply offering a discounted price to cash (non-credit card) payers. In other words, the company could simply set the price for its products or services at a particular amount that would cover the credit card processing fee cost, and then advertise to customers that if they pay by cash, they get a discount from the regularly stated price. Of course, if your company operates in a state with a surcharge prohibition, you should review the particular statutory/regulatory language before using this discounted price method, to ensure that this method would not also violate the law.
    • Read Credit Card Network Agreements Again & Clearly Post Discounted Prices for Cash Payments – Note, this practice may still violate some credit card network agreements, so it’s important to read the agreements carefully. Also, be careful to clearly and conspicuously post the discounted price for customers paying by cash to avoid any possible concerns with consumer protection/deceptive trade practices laws.

As always, it’s important to consult an attorney familiar with your company’s specific facts and circumstances and the applicable law before making any decision or taking any action that may affect contractual or regulatory compliance obligations of your company. An experienced lawyer can fully evaluate your facts and circumstances along with applicable law and guidance to develop the most effective, efficient, and proper solution to your business compliance and planning needs.

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