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Card Brand Fees

How Card Association Fees Work For Small Businesses

Card brand fees are part of your payment processor’s wholesale costs when you accept credit and debit card payments at your business—so, one way or another, they’re part of your costs too. Yet, card brand fees can be hard to identify, even harder to understand, and annoyingly difficult to distinguish from a payment processor’s markups.

That puts merchants at a disadvantage when it comes to choosing the right payment processor and evaluating their overall processing costs. Our aim here is to cut through the fog surrounding card brand fees, so you can make the smartest decisions for your business.

How Northwest Can Help

We work with payment processors to negotiate low rates for our clients. This includes transparent interchange-plus pricing that clearly identifies the card brand fees you’re paying to process credit and debit card payments.

If you’re interested in exploring our service and setting up a Free Credit Card Processing Consultation, click the button below.

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What are Card Brand Fees?

Card brand fees are fees paid to the card associations like Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express when your business accepts credit and debit card payments. Because each card association or card network has a hand in facilitating transactions involving their branded cards, the money they collect from card brand fees serves to cover their costs and generate profit.

Card brand fees generally take two forms:

  1. Fees that apply to the gross sales volume for all transactions of a particular type; and
  2. Fees that apply to individual transactions (often called per-item fees).

For example, Visa charges an “acquirer service fee” of 0.14% on all credit sales involving Visa branded cards, but Visa also charges a per-item fee of $0.0195 for each credit card transaction. This pattern applies generally to the other card brands, including MasterCard, Discover, and American Express, and there are a slew of card brand fees you’ll only encounter in specific situations, such as when you process a payment using a card issued outside of the United States.

Card brand fees go by a lot of names in the payments industry—all used interchangeably—including card association fees, card network fees, assessment fees, or simply “assessments.” We’ll use all those terms, too, so that you’ll master them for when the time comes to discuss your rates and other credit card processing fees with your payment processor.

Card Brand Fees & Pricing Structures

Like interchange fees, card brand fees or card association fees are part of every payment processor’s wholesale costs, which means they figure into the fees you’ll pay to process credit and debit card payments. However, your processor’s pricing structure will determine the extent to which you’re aware of the card brand fees you’re paying, as well as the form in which you pay them.

Here’s a rundown of how your card network fees fees will appear (or not appear) on your merchant statements with different credit card pricing structures:

  • Flat rate pricing. If you’re on a flat rate pricing model, you’ll pay the same overall rate for most transactions (usually with a sightly higher rate for card-not-present transactions), and possibly some monthly fees depending on the processor or payment service provider (PSP) you choose. Since your flat rate will include any wholesale costs your processor is paying and won’t change, you won’t see interchange fees or card brand fees itemized on your merchant statements, and there’s essentially no way to figure it out on your own.
  • Tiered pricing. If you’re on a tiered pricing plan, you’ll pay different transaction rates depending on which tiers or “buckets” a particular transaction falls into, with card-not-present, higher risk, and rewards cards typically generating higher rates. Some processors will include card brand fees into the mix when determining the different rates for your different pricing tiers, but some processors will separate card brand fees off from transactions and itemize them alongside their own service fees. This is where knowing the names of the most common card brand fees becomes important.
  • Interchange plus pricing. If you’re on an interchange plus pricing plan, the processor will typically pass interchange fees and card brand fees through at cost, and then tack on its own transaction and service fees (often called markups). This means you’re likely to see every type of credit card processing fee you’re paying itemized and distinguished on your merchant statements, which is what makes interchange plus pricing the most transparent pricing model around.

Why Learn About Card Brand Fees?

Knowing about card brand fees isn’t that useful for merchants on flat-rate pricing models, and only marginally useful if you’re on a tiered-pricing plan. The real value of understanding how to identify card brand fees comes into play when you’re on an interchange plus pricing plan, which is the pricing structure we recommend for most merchants, large or small.

Why? Because the card payment industry is a nickle-and-dime you to death sort of business, and interchange-plus pricing allows you to monitor all of the tiny, incremental fees you’re paying to accept credit card payments. Since card brand fees are non-negotiable and don’t differ from processor to processor, there’s nothing you can do to change them, but being able to identify them matters because less scrupulous payment processors have been known to mark up these fees, or else disguise their markups by giving them names misleadingly close to the names of card brand fees.

Knowing the names and costs of the most common card brand fees, in other words, is a tool in your arsenal for making sure your payment processor treats you right.

Visa Network Fees

In the tables that follow, we identify and briefly describe the most common card network assessment fees for Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express, starting with Visa.

There’s no reason to try to digest all of these fee names in one sitting. Instead, think of this page and these tables as an ongoing resource for helping you distinguish card brand fees from your processor’s markups. It will always be here when you need it.

Fee Name Description
Visa Acquirer Service Fee

Visa applies this fee to your gross monthly volume of Visa credit and debit transactions. It’s 0.14% for credit card payments and 0.13% for debit card payments.

Visa Acquirer Processing Fee

This fee applies to each US-based credit card and non-pinned debit card transaction: $0.0195 for credit cards and $0.0155 for debit cards.

Visa International Service Assessment

If you’re a US-based business and accept card transactions from a card issued outside the US, you’ll pay a 1.00% fee on volume (if settled in US currency) or a 1.40% fee (if settled in non-US currency).

Visa International Acquirer Fee

A surcharge of 0.45% that also applies when a US-based business accepts transactions from cards issued outside the US.

Visa Credit Voucher Fee

Applies to all refunds issued in the US if the issuing bank or cardholder is in the US: $0.0195 for credit card payments and $0.0155 for debit and prepaid cards.

Visa Fixed Acquirer Network Fee (FANF)

Charged quarterly or monthly, the FANF is a flat fee. The fee varies based on factors including monthly volume, transaction type, business type, etc.

Visa System File Transmission Fee

Every transaction you submit for settlement incurs a $0.0018 fee.

Visa Transaction Integrity Fee

When a debit or prepaid Visa transaction fails to meet Custom Payment Service (CPS) requirements, you are charged a $0.10 fee.

Visa Misuse Authorization Fee

Any transaction that is authorized but ends up canceled, timed-out, or improperly reversed will cost you $0.09 (e.g., the transaction is authorized without being cleared).

Visa Zero Floor Limit Fee

When you submit a settlement transaction without first submitting proper authorization, you incur a $0.20 fee.

MasterCard Network Fees

Fee Name Description

MC Acquirer Brand Volume Fee

MasterCard charges 0.13% on gross monthly volume of sales transactions for all transactions and tacks on 0.01% for credit card transactions equal to or over $1000.

MC Acquirer License Fee

This fee can vary, but it’s usually around 0.075% on volume. It could be charged individually or tacked on to the acquirer brand volume fee.

MC Cross-Border Fee

Applies when US-based merchants accept transactions on cards issued outside the US, and comes to 0.60% for transactions settled in US currency and 1.00% if settled in non-US currency.

MC Network Access and Brand Usage Fee


This $0.0195 fee gets charged for all US-based authorizations.

MC Address Verification Service


Charged when you use MasterCard’s AVS service during a transaction to verify the cardholder’s address. The charge is $0.005 for card-present transactions and $0.01 for card-not-present.

MC Account Status Inquiry Fee

Charged when you inquire about the validity of a card’s information (address or verification code) without processing a transaction. The fee is $0.025 if you’re in the same region as the cardholder & $0.030 if you’re in a different region.

MC SecureCode Transaction Fee

This fee is charged if you use MasterCard’s SecureCode anti-fraud tool as part of a transaction. The fee is $0.03.

MC Digital Enablement Fee:

This 0.01% fee (applied to volume) applies to all card-not-present transactions

MC Processing Excellence Fee

A variable fee that applies to transactions that don’t comply with best practices (such as an excessive number of declined authorizations).

MC Global Wholesale Travel Transaction B2B

This fee switches things up for users of MasterCard’s B2B card products. In that case, you’ll pay 1.57% on volume instead of the typical assessments.

Discover Network Fees

Fee Name Description

DC Assessment Fee

Discover charges 0.13% on all gross transaction volume.

DC International Processing Fee

This 0.55% fee applies to volume and gets charged when you accept a payment in the US from a Discover card issued outside of the US.

DC International Service Fee

This 0.80% fee applies to volume and also gets charged on transactions in the US that involve cards issued outside of the US.

DC Data Usage Fee

This $0.0195 applies to each authorization.

DC Network Authorization Fee

This $0.0025 also applies to each authorized transaction.

American Express Network Fees

Fee Name Description

AMEX Assessment Fee

American Express charges 0.15% on gross transaction volume.

AMEX International Assessment Fee

This 0.40% fee on volume applies to transactions involving AMEX cards issued outside of the US.

AMEX CNP Surcharge

This 0.30% fee applies to volume and gets charged on all card-not-present (CNP) transactions (e.g., E-commerce & manually keyed-in transactions).

AMEX Technical Non-Compliance Fee

This 0.75% fee applies to volume and gets charged when you fail to meet American Express’s standards for card acceptance.

Get a Free Credit Card Processing Consultation

We know all too well that getting the hang of how assessment fees and other card processing fees affect your overall processing costs can be frustrating. That’s why we offer a Free Credit Card Processing Consultation and the option to sign up with a payment processor through us. We offer interchange-plus pricing, and we can even monitor your monthly merchant statements, by request, whenever you need it.

If you’re already a Northwest client, you can request your free consultation by signing into your online account. If you’re new to Northwest, select from one of the options below:

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