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What is a transaction fee, and why is it necessary?

Credit card transactions and other online payments always come with transaction fees, which is why you need to be aware of them as a service provider. Learn why they’re necessary and how to anticipate their impact on your payments.

Person paying an invoice on a phone with a transaction fee

What is a transaction fee, and is it really necessary? Everyone’s seen transaction fees apply to card transactions and purchases. But when it comes to running a business, you may worry about these fees eating into your profit. You might be wondering what they’re really for and if there’s a way to avoid them while accepting payments.

Regardless of what payment processor you use to manage client payments, you will always incur transaction fees. These fees are for the service of facilitating the payment and often differ depending on the transaction type. It’s smart to be aware of how transaction fees work and how your processors’ fees affect your business and the services you offer. 

Learn more about how these fees are calculated and how you can prepare for them when accepting online payments. 

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Why payment processors collect fees

Transaction fees are part of the payment process because that’s how processors earn money. In exchange for the service of processing payments, the processor charges a fee. Just as you require payment for the delivery of your services, so does the payment processor to cover the costs of facilitating the payment. 

These costs include processing equipment and software, employee salaries, and other overhead expenses. By charging a fee for each transaction, the processors are able to stay in business and continue providing their services.

How payment processors calculate fees

Transaction fees are typically a percentage of the total transaction amount, plus a fixed fee. For example, a processor may charge 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. This means that for every $100 processed (paid or transferred from client to provider), the processor will collect $2.90 in fees plus an additional $0.30 per transaction.

Different payment processors may also add fees, such as:

  • Interchange fees – Fee amounts that are encrypted and levied by payment processors, such as credit card companies. They represent a percentage of the total transaction cost and are usually split among the merchant, issuing banks, and networks for covering their costs in processing transactions.
  • Authorization fees – Often charged by payment processors when a consumer authorizes their card to complete a transaction. This is usually a flat fee of between $0.10 and $1 per authorization depending on the processor being used. These charges are typically levied either directly by the issuing bank or by a credit card company such as Visa, Mastercard, or American Express.
  • Gateway processing fees – Charged by payment gateway providers such as PayPal, Stripe, and Authorize.net for connecting a merchant’s online store to their payment system. These fees typically range from 1% to 4% of the transaction amount plus an additional $0.25 to $0.50 per successful checkout, depending upon the processor being used.
  • Currency conversion or cross-border fees – Charged by payment processors based on the currency being processed and sometimes also for transactions between countries. Payment processors such as PayPal, Stripe, and Skrill typically levy fees for currency conversions. Many banks worldwide, however, do not charge additional conversion fees for international payments using their own networks/payment systems.
  • Chargeback settlement fees – More of a risk incurred than a regular fee, these are typically charged by payment processors or issuing banks to merchants involved when a consumer’s credit card is used to make fraudulent purchases.

Depending on your merchant agreement and individual business needs, some of these fees may apply to you and some may not. Be sure to read all the fine print before committing to a payment processor so that you understand fully which fees they charge and how these will affect your bottom line.

Pro Tip: HoneyBook’s payment processing includes one simple transaction fee, with an additional, optional charge if you’d like to leverage instant deposits. There are no additional fees, which makes it a great option for independent businesses. 

Why fees vary for different transactions

There are a few reasons why different types of transactions command varying fees.

First, businesses have different fee structures with their payment processors. Some processors charge a flat rate per transaction, while others take a percentage of the total amount. Some providers offer tiered pricing, where lower fees are charged for transactions below a certain threshold (e.g., $100) and higher fees for those above it.

Second, the type of card you use can also affect fees—for example, American Express cards typically have higher fees than Visa or Mastercard. This is because payment processors usually consider them a riskier investment for businesses. Amex cards generally have higher interest rates and late fees, meaning that there is a greater chance the cardholder will default on their payments.

Finally, the total transaction amount also affects how much the fee will be. Generally speaking, larger transactions will have higher fees than smaller ones. As mentioned, payment processors make money on a percentage of the total transaction amount. So, the larger the transaction, the more money they make from fees. That said, there are usually minimum fee amounts assessed per transaction regardless of size—so even a small purchase might have at least a few cents added on.

Types of transactions that include fees

Today, people have a lot of payment options to choose from, which means that transaction fees can vary. Payments using ACH (Automated Clearing House), credit cards, and electronic money transfer services are the main types of transactions that include fees.

ACH payments

For ACH payments, money transfers directly from one bank account to another without involving a third party such as a credit card. These transactions tend to have lower transaction fees, but they usually take longer to process than credit card transactions.

Overall, ACH payments can be beneficial if you’re looking for a lower transaction fee. However, the time to transfer can affect your cash flow each month if you take on a majority of ACH payments. Furthermore, ACH transfers involve a bit more risk since you can face nonpayment due to a closed account or insufficient funds. 

Credit card payments

Credit card payments come with their own advantages compared to ACH options. Typically, they transfer faster than ACH payments. However, because there’s a bit more involved in credit card payments, their transaction fees are slightly higher. 

Payment processors commonly also charge separate fees for cardholder-entered and card-on-file transactions. That means that you’ll be charged differently for one-off transactions versus long-term payments over time that are easier to collect when your client’s card is on file. 

Credit card payments are usually easier on the client side, which makes them preferable. In fact, in a recent study, 80% of customers preferred paying via credit card, compared with 31% who preferred paying with ACH transfer. 

Pro Tip: Among HoneyBook members, we found that card-on-file payments are 20% more likely to be paid on time. It takes the guesswork away from you and your clients, making it one of the most appealing types of transaction.

Industry-standard fees for common payment processors

Curious how the biggest player in the industry are applying transaction fees? See how Stripe, PayPal, Square, and HoneyBook compare. We’ve pulled each company’s cardholder entered fees so you can take a look below.

  • Stripe offers a pay-as-you-go setup, forgoing recurring fees with a 2.9% + $0.30 transaction fee per successful card charge 
  • PayPal, being one of the most mature platforms around, has a stratified transaction fee structure that also follows the percentage + fixed fee format. Fees depend on whether the transaction is domestic or international, and also in which country/territory it was made. For merchants, the amount they receive also changes the percentage PayPal takes off the top, although the fixed fee remains as is. For standard credit and debit card payments, they charge 2.99% + the fixed fee.
  • Square charges a standard processing fee of 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction for cardholder-entered payments..
  • HoneyBook charges 2.9% + $0.25 for cardholder-entered transactions, with no additional fees.

While transaction fees are one of the most important factors to consider as you’re choosing a payment processor, take a look at the additional tools each processor offers. Some might include invoicing, fraud monitoring, and other benefits, while others will stick with just payment processing. 

If you want to take your payments even further, consider an all-in-one clientflow platform that allows you to capture leads, vet them, book them (and accept payment), then manage your projects. 

Accept payments and manage your entire clientflow with HoneyBook

As an independent service provider and business owner, you’ve got a lot on your mind, and issues like transaction fees should be the least of your concerns. But, like every other part of your business, it is something you think about and want to get right. 

The same goes for how you onboard clients, set up your workflows, issue an online invoice to a client, and complete projects. HoneyBook not only can help you run a cost-effective business by offering some of the most competitive transaction fees, but the online payment software also supports every step in your clientflow. 

From the first hello to final payment, HoneyBook empowers independents with the tools to automate, connect, and customize the processes and client experience that work best for their business. 

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