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Dealership credit card fees explained

Powersports Business contributor Mark J. Sheffield, a former dealer principal who now steers dealership owners in the right direction as a 20-Group facilitator for Spader Business Management, provides dealers with a timely piece on credit card fees.

There’s a reason why the ability to compare and shop credit card merchants are so complex. It is designed that way. In building a system that involves a multitude of parties and layers within the system, it’s easy to find areas where costs and fees can be added in, ones that are easy to overlook. Do you remember the movie where the guys modified a computer system so that the small amounts rounded off from transactions were deposited into their banking account? They thought that it would generate a few bucks, but quickly turned into millions of dollars. That movie could have easily been about the credit card industry. Each day you accept credit and debit cards, some of your profits are siphoned off by a third party.

While it’s almost impossible for a business not to accept credit cards, there are many steps that can be taken to minimize the cost of processing those cards. Understanding the costs and processing fees can also go a long way to helping dealers to negotiate reasonable rates. Dealers need to understand there are differences between credit and debit cards and the costs associated with each one, but for simplicity, in this article, I’m only going to focus on credit cards.

Costs for processing credit cards fall into four primary categories. There are other incremental fees, but these are the key item to focus on.

• Transaction fee – most processors charge a fixed cost per transaction, and this will normally be the same regardless of the amount charged.

• Interchange fee – this fee is a percentage set by the credit card association that is deducted from each transaction and a portion of this fee goes to the issuing bank. A standard bank-issued card will typically have a lower interchange rate than a rewards or points type card.

• Assessment fee – the Assessment fee is charged on the total of your monthly sales for each credit card brand and the entire amount is paid to the card associations (Visa/MC/AmEx/Etc.)

• Processing fee or Markup – These are the direct costs paid to your merchant processor, essentially, this is the money they use to pay for their reps, fund their technology, and what’s left over is their profit.

There is a myriad of other fees that creep into the system. Processors might have a monthly statement fee, equipment fees, customer service fees, risk fees, chargeback penalties, and many others. Business owners should also be aware that there are hundreds of interchange classes, and varying interchange/assessment classes are two of the primary reasons why it can be so hard to compare processing costs.

It’s important for business owners to understand that the same card can incur different fees depending on how the transaction is processed. The lowest cost per card is typically obtained when the card is chip-enabled, the business has PCI-compliant equipment, and the customer’s zip code and address match up with what the processor has on file. Everything you do that deviates from the best-case scenario costs you more. The zip code in your DMS doesn’t match up with the customer’s billing zip code. That’s an additional fee. You swiped the card instead of inserting it and using the chip, there is a penalty for that. Your team manually entered the card number instead of swiping it, which will cost you. The highest cost you can pay is manually entering the card number and the address in your system not matching up with the billing address.

What can a business do to reduce the costs (essentially a business tax) associated with accepting credit cards? Here are some of the tips I give to dealers.

• Have a basic understanding of how credit card processing works

• Know that in most cases, interchange and assessment fees are not negotiable. You are probably paying the same base rate for each card type that Wal-Mart pays.

• Limit how much you will allow a customer to charge on a card (especially when it comes to purchasing a vehicle). There’s no legal reason you can’t do this.

• Make sure your equipment is up to date and that it complies with current standards.

• Have your staff confirm the customer’s correct address and zip code and enable the address matching feature. Doing this can also help to reduce fraud.

• Negotiate for a pass-through rate on interchange and assessment fees (i.e. you pay what your merchant pays without a markup). The only money your processor should be making on your account is the processing fee, and you want that to be as low as possible.

• Don’t fall for the old “whatever you are paying, we can beat your current rate” sales pitch. It’s easy to do for a single billing cycle based on the cards that were processed during a single month, but over time you’ll probably end up paying more. A lot of these fly-by-night companies will quickly deploy their rate-creep mechanisms, and each month you’ll pay just a little bit more than the prior month.

• There is no such thing as free equipment; that cost is just buried in your monthly bills. In most cases, purchasing the equipment you need is the best option.

In 2016 the Supreme Court ruled on a case that essentially legalized businesses adding on a surcharge to each transaction, thus the customer pays the processing fees. While Visa and Mastercard don’t like merchants doing this, the law is the law. If you choose to go down this road, just make sure you abide by the restrictions the cardholders have outlined for these surcharges. There are a few things you need to do when it comes to surcharging, but the key ones are to notify the card issuers, charge a flat/reasonable fee, and have that amount broken out on the charge slip. Just adding 3% to the selling price isn’t compliant with what you should be doing, and I don’t think many powersports dealers want to be cut off by Visa and Mastercard. There are other restrictions by state, so make sure you have done your research.

I recommend that each month a dealer calculate what their “effective card processing rate” is. Take the total merchant processor charges for a month and divide that by your total credit card revenue for the month. While different cards incur different rates, over time, monitoring this rate will help you to identify rate creep.

• 1.8%-2.1% – Solid rate, probably about as low as you are going to negotiate it down to

• 2.2%-2.4% – Middle of the road – Just work on some of the tips from above to make sure you aren’t doing things to drive up the rate

• 2.5%+ – If you are doing a lot of mail order with manually entered cards, then this rate is about where most dealers end up. However, if you aren’t processing a lot of manually entered cards, then it’s time to renegotiate your rate. If you run a lot of American Express transactions, then this can also increase your overall rate. Most AmEx customers have other cards, you just have to ask for them.

If you are collecting a lot of payments from customers who are not in your dealership, you might benefit from some of the card processing mechanisms offered by companies like Revvable or Kenect. These companies provide a system where you can send the customer a request for mobile payment. Payment links improve security, reduce risks to the dealership (you don’t have to handle the customer’s card #), and you benefit by paying a fixed processing rate for each transaction. These systems also offer in-depth reporting which can help to minimize the chances of internal fraud.

We are also starting to see new merchants promising to “eliminate credit card fees”. Since the interchange and assessment rates are not negotiable, this is impossible. It’s being done by the equipment for these processors surcharging the customer. If you run a $100 transaction through your DMS, and key $100 charge into the card equipment, the customer will sign a receipt for ~$103.50. The merchant processor will pay the associated fees and keep the difference. The business will be funded the full $100. The effective rate for these programs is typically on the high side, and some dealers are seeing a lot of pushback from consumers. If you choose to go down this road, think it through, because once you have signed the contracts there is not an easy way to get out of them.

With some time and energy, a dealer can reduce their processing costs to a reasonable level. Now that you better understand how this racket works, it’s up to you to do some research and to make the best decision for your dealership.

Mark J. Sheffield has spent the last 30 years working in and around the powersports industry. Although heading toward retirement, he still tackles occasional projects that interest him. If you’d like to see more of what he has to say, then check out his blog at

Don’t miss Mark’s two different presentations at the 2022 Powersports Business Accelerate Conference, being held Nov. 14-16 at the Caribe Royale in Orlando. A total of 93 dealership owners/staff who represent 134 dealership locations in 29 states have signed up. As always, see them all listed below.

Click here to register for the 2022 Accelerate Conference.

Click here to view the 2022 Accelerate Conference schedule.

Sponsors of the 2022 Powersports Business Accelerate Conference are as follows.

Diamond: Torque Group

Platinum: ABRG | WPS

Gold: FIN GPS SecurityNational Powersport Auctions (NPA)RollickRevvable and MotoTV Networks.

Silver: Volcon ePowersportsCycleTraderSynchronyZiiDMSVIP Video & MarketingUnited States Warranty CorporationPerformance Brokerage ServicesSpeed LeasingAppOneDealership Performance 360 CRMARIDealer SpikeRider’s AdvantageOctane | Roadrunner FinancialSheffieldConstellation Dealership Software, Protective, Morgan Stanley, Horsepower Financial, Piaggio Group Americas, Motorsports Marketing Group and HardCabs.

Dealerships being represented at the Accelerate Conference include:

• Flip My Cycle, Fayetteville, NC

• Crossroad Powersports, Upper Darby, PA

• St. Paul Harley-Davidson, St. Paul, MN

• Wild Prairie Harley-Davidson, Eden Prairie, MN

• Southern Thunder Harley-Davidson, Southaven, MS

• Team Powersports, Raleigh, NC

• Team Powersports, Garner, NC

• Hawg Powersports, Savannah, GA

• Hawg Scooters, Columbia, SC

• Simply Ride, Eden Prairie, MN

• Great Western Motorcycles, Statesville, NC

• Red Hills Powersports, Tallahassee, FL

• Logan Motorcycle Sales, Logan, WV

• Hatfield McCoy Powersports, Belfry, KY

• Powersports Plus, Albany, GA

• Ag1 Farmers Co-op Powersports, Livingston, TN

• Power Pac Equipment & Motorsports, Marshfield, WI

• Erv’s Sales & Service, Tomahawk, WI

• Country Sports, Inc., Wisconsin Rapids, WI

• West Virginia Motorsports, Princeton, WV

• Moto Primo Motorsports | Indian Motorcycle of Lakeville, Lakeville, MN

• Extreme Power Sports, Gaylord, MI

• Sunrise Cycles, Norfolk, VA

• Powersports St. Augustine, St. Augustine, FL

• Hall’s Motorsports Trussville, Trussville, AL

• Gables Motorsports & Marine, Wesley Chapel, FL

• Orlando Harley-Davidson Historic Factory, Orlando, FL

• Laconia Harley-Davidson, Meredith, NH

• Texarkana Harley-Davidson, Texarkana, TX

• G.N. Gonzales, Baton Rouge, LA

• Tom Wood Powersports Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN

• Twister City Harley-Davidson, Wichita, KS

• Woods Cycle Country, New Braunfels, TX

• BMW Motorcycles of Richfield, Richfield, MN

• Route 66 Harley-Davidson, Tulsa, OK

• Twin Cities Harley-Davidson North, Blaine, MN

• Indian Motorcycle of Lafayette, Lafayette, IN

• Hall’s Motorsports Birmingham, Pelham, AL

• Durango Harley-Davidson, Durango, CO

• Foothills Motorsports, Piedmont, SC

• Davis Motorsports of Delano, Delano, MN

• Extreme Torque Motorsports, Moncton, NB

• U Motors Motorsports & Marine, Fargo, ND

• Village Powersports, Homosassa, FL

• Freedom Powersports, Fort Worth, TX

• 561 Powersports, Lake Park, FL

• Twin Cities Harley-Davidson South, Lakeville, MN

• Hall’s Motorsports Eastern Shore, Daphne, AL

• Mall of Georgia Indian Motorcycle, Buford, GA

• Tom Wood Powersports – Anderson, Anderson, IN

• Wildcat Harley-Davidson, London, KY

• U Motors Motorsports & Marine, Detroit Lakes, MN

• Jet City Harley-Davidson, Renton, WA

• Indian Motorcycle of Lexington, Lexington, KY

• Ducati Motorcycles of Richfield, Richfield, MN

• Extreme Torque Motorsports, Fredericton, NB

• Freedom Powersports Huntsville, Huntsville, AL

• Lang Equipment L.L.C. Wausau, Rothschild, WI

• Nick’s Powersports, Dickeyville, WI

• Hall’s Honda, Mobile, AL

• U Motors Motorsports & Marine, Pelican Rapids, MN

• Freedom Powersports Canton, Canton, GA

• Brinson Powersports, Corsicana, TX

• Mad River Harley-Davidson, Sandusky, OH

• Freedom Powersports Burleson, Burleson, TX

• Extreme Torque Motorsports, Woodstock, NB

• Lang Equipment L.L.C. Marshfield, Marshfield, WI

• Pioneer Motorsport, Chaffee, NY

• Pensacola Harley-Davidson, Pensacola, FL

• Mosites Motorsports, North Versailles, PA

• Hall’s Motorsports Mobile, Mobile, AL

• Lang Equipment L.L.C. Wausau, Rothschild, WI

• Broward Motorsports Hollywood, Hollywood, FL

• B’s Moto Lab Bel Aire, KS

• Broward Motorsports Fort Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale, FL

• Brinson Auto Group, Corsicana, TX

• Broward Motorsports West Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, FL

• Destination Cycle, Kerrville, TX

Broward Motorsports Tequesta, Tequesta, FL

• NextGen Powersports & Watersports, Clear Lake, WI

• Broward Motorsports Treasure Coast, Hobe Sound, FL

• Hall’s Motorsports Emerald Coast, Crestview, FL

• Del Amo Motorsports Redondo Beach, Redondo Beach, CA

• Brinson Powersports of Athens, Athens, TX

• Texas Harley-Davidson, Bedford, TX

• Del Amo Motorsports Long Beach, Long Beach, CA

• Jim’s Motorcycle Service, Inc., Alvin, TX

• Del Amo Motorsports Orange County, Santa Ana, CA

• Del Amo Motorsports South Bay, Chula Vista, CA

• Del Amo Motorsports Los Angeles, Paramount, CA

• Spyke’s KTM, Lafayette, IN

• Harley-Davidson of Waco, Waco, TX

• Hall’s Motorsports NOLA, New Orleans, LA

• Orlando Harley-Davidson South, Kissimmee, FL

• Pocono Mountain Harley-Davidson, Tannersville, PA

• Adventure Harley-Davidson, Dover, OH

• Rock-N-Roll City Harley-Davidson, Cleveland, OH

• Airtec Sports Rice Lake, Rice Lake, WI

• Rubber City Harley-Davidson, Cuyahoga Falls, OH

• Freedom Powersports Burleson, Burleson, TX

• Airtec Sports Roberts, Roberts, WI

• Freedom Powersports Dallas, Dallas, TX

• Lumberjack Harley-Davidson, Nacogdoches, TX

• Airtec Sports Menomonie, Menomonie, WI

• Freedom Powersports Denton, Denton, TX

• Airtec Sports Menomonie, Holcombe, WI

• Freedom Powersports Decatur, Decatur, TX

• Airtec Sports Birchwood, Birchwood, WI

• Freedom Powersports Farmers Branch, Farmers Branch, TX

• Extreme Power Sports, Opelika, AL

• River Valley Power and Sport Rochester, Rochester, MN

• Freedom Powersports Hurst, Hurst, TX

• Republic of Texas Indian Motorcycle, McKinney, TX

• Freedom Powersports Lewisville, Lewisville, TX

• Extreme Motorcycles, Columbus, GA

• Freedom Powersports Weatherford, Weatherford, TX

• Big Tex Indian Motorcycle, Denton, TX

• Powersports Plus, Americus, GA

• BMW Fort Worth, Hurst, TX

• Gables Motorsports & Marine, Miami, FL

• BMW Motorcycles Huntsville, Huntsville, AL

• Texoma Harley-Davidson, Sherman, TX

• Rocket City Indian Motorcycle, Huntsville, AL

• Freedom Powersports McDonough, McDonough, GA

• Hall’s Motorsports Mississippi, Ocean Springs, MS

• River Valley Power and Sport Red Wing North, Red Wing, MN

• Harley-Davidson of Waco, Waco, TX

• Roughneck Harley-Davidson, Longview, TX

• Mid-Ohio Powersports, Mount Vernon, OH

• Northeast Motorsports, Lebanon, ME

• Bob Weaver Motorsports & Marine, North Tonawanda, NY

• Lucky Penny Cycles Houston, Houston, TX

• Lucky Penny Cycles Dallas-Fort Worth, Bedford, TX

• Harley-Davidson of Mason City, Mason City, IA

• Cedar River Harley-Davidson, Charles City, IA

• Powerhouse Motorsports, Plainville, CT

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