Offering alternative payment methods for your customers can help bring in a wide range of business, but with it come additional fees, hassles, and risk. Adding on a convenience fee can be a good way to help offset those costs.
However, before you implement convenience fees at your business, it’s important to understand exactly what they are and how they work. I’ll walk you through the basics, how they differ from other charges, and the pros and cons of implementing them for your business.
What Is a Convenience Fee?
A convenience fee is an additional charge added for customers paying with alternative, non-standard payment methods. These allow you to help offset the cost of processing these non-standard methods, while also providing an easy payment option for customers.
Convenience fees are most commonly associated with online, by mail, or over the phone card payments. These payments, also known as card-not-present transactions, are considered riskier and often incur higher processing fees as a result.
For example, if your standard payment option would be to purchase your products through a brick-and-mortar storefront, but a customer wanted to complete an order over the phone, you could add a convenience fee for that payment.
Convenience Fee vs. Surcharge
Sometimes used interchangeably, a convenience fee and a credit card surcharge are not the same thing. They have different uses and different sets of rules for implementation.
A convenience fee is only added to non-standard payment methods. The customer is charged for the privilege of paying in an alternative way. In contrast, a credit card surcharge can be applied to any credit card payments – standard or not – as a way for you to offset processing fees.
Convenience charges are generally allowed by law in most places, whereas there are more restrictions on credit card surcharges. In the US, for instance, convenience fees can be charged in all 50 states, but surcharges are illegal or restricted in 13 states. However, like convenience fees, there are some card-specific rules on surcharges as well.
If you want to impose a convenience fee or a surcharge, be sure to check your local laws to ensure legality, as well as understand the specific card network rules.
Can You Charge Your Customers a Convenience Fee?
Because convenience fees are legal in most locations, you can implement them relatively easily. However, there are some specific rules set forth by the major credit card companies that limit how and when convenience fees can be applied:
- American Express merchant rules state that a merchant cannot, “impose any restrictions, conditions, disadvantages, or fees when the Card is accepted that are not imposed equally on all Other Payment Products, except for electronic funds.” As long as convenience fees are applied equally, they would generally be allowed.
- Visa only allows for convenience fees for alternative payment methods that are not in-person transactions. It must also only be a flat fee amount, not a percentage, and must be applicable to all alternative payment types equally.
- Mastercard allows for the broadest range of convenience fees for alternative payments, including in-person and recurring transactions, as long as the fee is applied equally to all payment types.
- Discover does not have any specific rules regarding convenience fees, but their rules specify that surcharges are allowed provided that all cards are treated equally. Since they don’t specifically prohibit convenience fees, so long as they are applied equally like surcharges, they would be accepted.
As these all stipulate that the fee has to be applied equally across the board, you could use Visa’s rules as a basis for your convenience fee charges, to ensure you were complying with the regulations. That means you generally can’t charge convenience fees for online-only businesses and that they would have to be a flat fee, as opposed to a percentage.
Additionally, it’s important to note that convenience fees also have to be disclosed to customers before the transaction. That allows the customer to choose an alternative, standard payment method, cancel the transaction, or accept the convenience fee as is.
Convenience Fees: The Pros and Cons for Your Business
- You can recoup some money from processing alternative payments.
- Customers are willing to pay for ease and convenience.
- You can promote easier payment methods such as cash.
- They may turn some customers off from doing business with you.
- Convenience fees raise your effective prices.
- Different card companies have different regulations in place regarding convenience fees.
The Bottom Line: Should You Charge Convenience Fees?
Convenience fees can be great for making up some lost business expenses, but they can also be a hassle and can turn off customers. If your business is solely online, adding a convenience fee won’t work.
However, if you operate a brick-and-mortar store and are willing to accept alternative payment methods, such as over the phone, they can be a great thing. Just be sure to fully understand the card network rules for implementing them and find a balance between your financial interests and customer value.
Whether you add convenience fees or not, Pay.com can help you sort out all your payment methods in one user-friendly dashboard. It’s easy to select the payment methods you want to accept, and there are even options for non-standard payments. For example, if a customer orders over the phone, you can easily add their information directly in the Pay Virtual Terminal.