Merchants may have been hearing over the past few months that some agents are claiming they can provide American Express transactions at the same low Qualified Rate as swiped Visa and MasterCard transactions. Well, yes and no. It had a lot to do with which network is handling the transactions, at least at the moment, and also what platform the transactions are being processed on.
Let me simplify this a bit. The first thing merchants should know is that only Global Payments affiliated providers are offering this low rate option for AMEX, not First Data network affiliates and probably not Paymentech, either. Merchants with a POS system that requires a First Data connection are currently out of luck unless they change systems. The good news is that merchant services providers like North American Bancard, Total Merchant Services and other processors that use the Global Payments network are already offering the reduced American Express rates to their new clients and rolling them out to existing clients.
For users of mobile "pay as you go" apps like Phone Swipe, PayAnywhere or Square, which use a simple swipe rate for all their card transactions, AMEX is already going through at the lower rate, which is 2.69% for NAB's Phone Swipe or 2.75% for Square. That is already less than most merchants had been paying for AMEX charges. But what of the promised 1.69% (or less) Qualified Rate for merchants on tiered processing?
This is where it gets muddy, but don't worry: it is still a lot cheaper than before. When a merchant has a standard contract and all its monthly fees, they also get much lower rates to offset those fees and, if they are processing over $3,000 each month, ought to see a net savings that improves as volume offsets the monthly fees. Such merchants may have a Qualified credit card rate of anywhere from 1.08% (plus dues and assessments and network fees) on up to around 1.79% or even more, depending on how the account was set up. What is happening now is that American Express is being priced at the same percentage as the other cards, but with a small catch.
The catch is that the other associated charges are slightly higher than the other card brands. Visa, MasterCard and Discover (and also the new PayPal card) all have additional little fees sneakily tacked on and passed through to merchants for things like "brand usage," "network access," "assessments," and more. And these tiny amounts add up. The fact is, each brand of card determines its own fees and to make it possible to sell lower rates, the processing companies take those out of their Qualified Rate and just pass the cost along to the merchant at the end of each statement, all lumped together. This is where merchants will notice that, yes, while their AMEX transactions have the same low rates, they still end up costing slightly more.
The bottom line, though, is that for merchants who take a lot of American Express cards, this new program can lead to a significant savings on the bottom line. Need another bonus? Turns out that the AMEX charges will also post along with the other card brands now, as well, which could be next day or within 48 hours, no longer requiring the additional day or two that American Express sometimes takes to make the deposits. All told, this is a lot of good news for merchants who are set up with the right plan and the right company.
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