Understanding Debit Card Processing Fees

4 min read • Sep 10, 2021 • Barry Eitel

Debit cards continue to be a pillar of the modern payment ecosystem. A 2019 study by the Federal Reserve found that 31% of consumer purchases were paid for with a debit card. While they look almost indistinguishable from credit cards, debit cards function essentially like cash in practice. For consumers, they’re the best of both worlds—the simplicity of credit cards coupled with the hassle-free nature of cash.

For small businesses, though, debit cards function more like credit cards because you’ll be charged a variety of fees each time a debit card is swiped at your establishment. However, the fee systems for both types of payment are different—and in many cases, the popularity of debit cards is well worth the fees.

Debit Cards vs. Credit Cards

Debit cards look like credit cards, but the similarities mostly end there. As the moniker suggests, debit cards debit money out of an account, typically a checking or savings account at a bank or other financial institution. When a purchase is made, the funds are deducted directly from the buyer’s account. In this way, debit cards are similar to cash.

Credit cards, on the other hand, involve financial institutions—like banks or credit card companies—extending credit to a consumer. Purchases are made on this credit, and the consumer makes repayments to the credit card issuer.

In a sense, debit and credit cards work in opposite ways for consumers—while credit cards run up credit, debit cards debit funds out of an account. For small businesses, though, accepting payments is fairly similar for both credit and debit cards.

Why Are Small Businesses Charged Debit Card Fees?

Both debit and credit cards require sellers to pay a range of fees every time a transaction occurs because a lot of entities are involved whenever a card is used—and all of these entities want something in return for their services.

3 main groups expect to get paid when someone uses a debit card at your business: banks, credit card companies, and debit card processors. The fees charged by these companies can be a combination of flat fees and percentages based on the purchase price.

Types of Debit Card Fees

The 3 types of fees usually charged on every debit card transaction are interchange fees, assessments, and processor’s markup fees. Interchange fees are charged by the bank that issued the debit card to the customer. Card companies, like Visa or Mastercard, charge the assessments. Debit card processing companies, like STAR or NYCE, charge the processor’s markup.

Several factors can alter the fee amounts, like the size of the bank that issued a debit card and the type of business you own. Whether a PIN or a signature is used when a debit card transaction occurs also impacts fees.

Mobile Payment Processors

Mobile payment processors, also known as Payment Service Providers (PSPs), are increasingly becoming a very popular way for small businesses to accept debit and credit card payments. You’ve probably come across businesses that use PSPs like Square and Stripe.

“Most payment service providers use a flat rate structure for pricing,” explains review site Ecommerce Platforms. “Basically, this ensures that you pay the same amount for every transaction, no matter what the card type might be. There’s no monthly fee to worry about, and other costs beyond transaction costs are usually nonexistent too.”

PSPs have become popular because setup is usually cheaper and easier than with traditional merchant account systems. Many PSPs try to charge simple, transparent fees. However, other systems may prove to be less expensive over the long run as your business scales up.

How Much Are Debit Card Fees?

Debit card fees can vary broadly depending on the debit card used, your merchant category, and whether a PIN is used during the transaction. According to data from 2018, the average interchange fee was $0.23. As a percentage of a purchase, the average interchange fee was 0.57%. These averages are for both signature and PIN transactions. Assessment fees mostly range from 0.11% to 0.13% of each debit transaction. Processor’s markup fees can range from 0.75% to 0.9% of each transaction, plus $0.13 to $0.22. Some of these companies might charge businesses annual fees along with their other fees on every transaction.

What Is Right for Your Small Business?

Deciding whether or not you want to accept payments other than cash is a big step for your business—but most businesses accept multiple forms of payment, as you’ve probably noticed in your shopping experiences. Knowing the costs associated with accepting cards is very important—especially if yours is a smaller business, as the costs can impact key aspects of your business (like your pricing strategy). Generally, if you’re set up to take credit cards, you should be able to take debit cards as well.

Barry Eitel

Barry Eitel has written about business and technology for eight years, including working as a staff writer for Intuit's Small Business Center and as the Business Editor for the Piedmont Post, a weekly newspaper covering the city of Piedmont, California.