Interchange is the fee that the merchant’s bank (i.e. the acquirer) pays to the customer’s bank (i.e. the issuer) when a credit or debit card transaction occurs. This fee is crucial for the functioning of the card payment system and compensates the issuer for the risk and operational costs involved in approving and processing card transactions.

The interchange fee is one component of the overall fee structure associated with card transactions and forms a significant portion of the total cost borne by merchants for accepting card payments. Interchange rates are set by card networks such as Visa and MasterCard and can vary based on several factors, including the following:

  • the type of card used (e.g., credit, debit, rewards),
  • the type of transaction (e.g., card-present, card-not-present)
  • the merchant’s industry (e.g., retail, travel, hospitality)

Merchants should be aware of the interchange rates applicable to their transactions as it directly impacts their cost of doing business.

The impact of interchange fees extends beyond the financial institutions involved, directly affecting both consumers and merchants. For merchants, higher interchange fees can lead to increased costs of accepting card payments, which may compel them to raise the prices of goods and services to maintain their profit margins. This scenario can especially impact small businesses, which often operate on thinner margins compared to larger companies.

On the consumer end, while individuals do not pay interchange fees directly, the potential increase in the prices of goods and services can lead to higher overall spending. Furthermore, interchange fees help fund rewards programs offered by many credit card issuers, which means consumers using rewards cards can benefit from cashback, points, or miles, indirectly influenced by the structure of these fees.

Thus, while interchange fees are a critical element of the financial system enabling secure and convenient card transactions, they have a nuanced influence on the broader economy, affecting pricing structures and possibly the purchasing decisions of consumers.