Welcome to The Official Merchant Services Blog’s Knowledge Base effort. We want to bring clarity to the payment processing industry’s terms and buzzwords. We want to remove any and all confusion merchants might have about the industry. Host Merchant Services promises: the company delivers personal service and clarity. So we’re going to take some time to explain how everything works. This ongoing series is where we define industry related terms and slowly build up a knowledge base and as we get more and more of these completed, we’ll collect them in our resource archive for quick and easy access. Today we decided to get as basic as possible. Our term is credit card. No, really, credit card. We noticed that we’ve been adding to this database for months now and kind of skipped over the most basic element of the industry.
Credit card processing hinges on the use of credit cards. So, without further hullabaloo:
A credit card is a payment card issued to users as a system of payment. It allows the cardholder to pay for goods and services based on the holder’s promise to pay for them. The issuer of the card creates a revolving account and grants a line of credit to the consumer (or the user) from which the user can borrow money for payment to a merchant or as a cash advance to the user.
Credit cards are issued by a credit card issuer, such as a bank or credit union, after an account has been approved by the credit provider, after which cardholders can use it to make purchases at merchants accepting that card. Merchants often advertise which cards they accept by displaying acceptance marks – generally on stickers depicting the various logos for credit card companies like Visa, MasterCard and Discover. Sometimes the merchant may skip the display and just communicate directly with the consumer,saying things like “We take Discover” or “We don’t take credit cards”.
When a purchase is made, the credit card user agrees to pay the card issuer. The cardholder indicates consent to pay by signing a receipt with a record of the card details and indicating the amount to be paid or by entering apersonal identification number (PIN). Also, many merchants now accept verbal authorizations via telephone and electronic authorization using the Internet, known as a card not present transaction (CNP).
Electronic verification systems allow merchants to verify in a few seconds that the card is valid and the credit card customer has sufficient credit to cover the purchase, allowing the verification to happen at time of purchase. The verification is performed using a credit card payment terminal or point-of-sale (POS) system with a communications link to the merchant’s acquiring bank. Data from the card is obtained from a magnetic stripe or chip on the card; the latter system is implemented as an EMV card. For card not present transactions where the card is not shown (e.g., e-commerce, mail order, and telephone sales), merchants additionally verify that the customer is in physical possession of the card and is the authorized user by asking for information such as the security code printed on the back of the card.
Each month, the credit card user is sent a statement indicating the purchases undertaken with the card, any outstanding fees, and the total amount owed. After receiving the statement, the cardholder may dispute any charges that he or she thinks are incorrect. The cardholder must pay a defined minimum portion of the amount owed by a due date, or may choose to pay a higher amount up to the entire amount owed which may be greater than the amount billed. The credit issuer charges interest on the unpaid balance if the billed amount is not paid in full (typically at a much higher rate than most other forms of debt). In addition, if the credit card user fails to make at least the minimum payment by the due date, the issuer may impose penalties on the user.
For merchants, a credit card transaction is often more secure than other forms of payment, because the issuing bank commits to pay the merchant the moment the transaction is authorized, regardless of whether the consumer defaults on the credit card payment. In most cases, cards are even more secure than cash, because they discourage theft by the merchant’s employees and reduce the amount of cash on the premises. Finally, credit cards reduce the back office expense of processing checks/cash and transporting them to the bank.
For each purchase, the bank charges the merchant a commission (discount fee) for this service and there may be a certain delay before the agreed payment is received by the merchant. The commission is often a percentage of the transaction amount, plus a fixed fee (interchange rate). In addition, a merchant may be penalized or have their ability to receive payment using that credit card restricted if there are too many cancellations or reversals of charges as a result of disputes. Some small merchants require credit purchases to have a minimum amount to compensate for the transaction costs.
Costs to merchants
Merchants are charged several fees for accepting credit cards. The merchant is usually charged a commission of around 1 to 3 percent of the value of each transaction paid for by credit card. The merchant may also pay a variable charge, called an interchange rate, for each transaction.
Merchants must also satisfy data security compliance standards which are highly technical and complicated. In many cases, there is a delay of several days before funds are deposited into a merchant’s bank account. Because credit card fee structures are very complicated, smaller merchants are at a disadvantage to analyze and predict fees.
Finally, merchants assume the risk of chargebacks by consumers.
For more information on how Credit Card Processing works, view our step-by-step guide here.