The Price Of Convenience Is There Such A Thing As Free Credit Card Processing

In our modern world, where convenience reigns supreme, credit card processing has become an essential mechanism for businesses to accept payments seamlessly. But behind every smooth credit card transaction is a complex system connecting various entities—most of whom take a cut out of the transaction.

Traditionally, merchants would shoulder these costs in the form of credit card processing fees. However, these costs often add up. That’s why businesses are increasingly implementing a surcharging program to offset the costs of credit card processing, essentially enabling merchants to benefit from free credit card processing. 

In this post, we’ll explore what surcharging entails and how it helps you tap into zero percent credit card processing. 


  • Surcharging is a method for businesses to offset credit card processing costs by passing them on to customers.  
  • When implementing a surcharging program, businesses follow local regulations, ensure legal compliance, determine surcharge percentages and communicate transparently. All of these steps are made easy by a surcharge-compliant credit card processor like CardX by Stax.
  • The benefits of surcharging include cost recovery, competitive pricing, financial flexibility, and payment method diversification. By implementing surcharging effectively, businesses can maintain profitability, allocate resources to growth, and offer customers a variety of payment options.

You Can’t Opt Out of Credit Card Payments

Opting out of credit card processing altogether is not a viable option. Even for small businesses with cash-loving customers, the writing is on the wall. Cash made up just 19% of all in-person payments in the US in 2021, down from 23% in 2019. Considering the dramatic shift in how consumers transact post-COVID, the card payment movement is continuing full steam ahead.

As such, many merchants have sought a solution that allows them to alleviate the burden of credit card processing fees.

Surcharging is a solid alternative, enabling businesses to shift the weight of processing fees onto customers. Nothing comes free, but it can be passed on. To understand surcharging, you have first to understand credit card processing costs.

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The Cost of Credit Card Transactions

Credit card processing goes through many parties to deliver the instant service merchants, and customers expect today. Let’s go through how they’re processed and charged, their impacts on businesses, and how they could be minimized.

Different types of credit card processing fees:

  1. Interchange fees: Interchange fees are a significant component of credit card processing costs. These fees are set by card networks like Visa, Mastercard, and Discover and are paid by the merchant’s bank to the customer’s bank for each transaction. The interchange rates are typically a percentage of the transaction amount, along with a flat fee. This way of charging is called interchange-plus (the interchange rate plus the flat fee).
  2. Assessment fees: Assessment fees are charges imposed by the card brands themselves. They are typically a small percentage of the transaction value and contribute to the operational expenses and profitability of the card networks.
  3. Payment processor fees: Payment processors, such as merchant service providers or independent sales organizations, facilitate credit card transactions. These processors charge various fees for their services, including transaction fees, monthly fees, and incidental fees like chargeback fees or batch fees.

The impact of credit card processing fees on small businesses

For smaller businesses or those with low-profit margins, credit card processing fees can eat into revenue and reduce overall profitability. Higher interchange fees and payment processor fees can directly affect a company’s ability to remain competitive, invest in growth, or offer competitive pricing to customers.

Understanding Surcharging 

Surcharging refers to the practice of adding a small fee or surcharge to a customer’s transaction when they choose to pay with a credit card. Merchants get the lowest fees for credit card processing by passing on the costs associated with processing that particular payment method.

Benefits of zero-fee processing for small businesses:

  1. Cost recovery: Surcharging offers a means to recover credit card acceptance costs.
  2. Competitive pricing: Surcharging lets business owners offer competitive pricing to customers who choose to pay with alternative methods, such as cash or debit card transactions.
  3. Financial flexibility: Businesses can gain the financial flexibility to allocate funds towards business expansion, enhance products or services, or improve customer experience.
  4. Payment method diversification: Surcharging incentivizes customers to explore alternative payment methods, such as cash or debit cards, which do not incur additional fees.

Surcharging: Is It Free Credit Card Processing For Small Businesses?

For many, credit card surcharging is considered a path to free small business payment processing as it nullifies the fees for merchants. The process goes like this: 

The customer selects the credit card payment option, and the merchant initiates the transaction through the payment terminal. The payment terminal connects to the payment processor or acquirer to process the transaction.

At a surcharge-equipped terminal, the point-of-sale system automatically applies the predetermined surcharge percentage to calculate the surcharge amount. If the transaction amount is $100 and the surcharge percentage is 3%, the surcharge amount would be $3.

The payment terminal adds the surcharge amount to the original transaction amount, presenting the total. In our example, the total transaction amount would be $103. There is also a monthly rate that a business pays to have this ability, but it usually is far less than the cost of traditional payment processing.

The payment terminal securely communicates the transaction details, including the total amount, to the payment processor or acquirer, and the statement is printed detailing the transaction activity, including the surcharge amounts collected.

Zero-Fee Credit Card Processing Case Study

OR Hope is an organization in the healthcare sector offering regenerative health services. Given their customer base, credit card transactions were commonplace, and their monthly fees eventually climbed to $3,000+ a month. $3,000 that could have been reinvested into the business, their team, and their patient care experience.

So, OR Hope decided to implement surcharging, and the team made sure the customers were aware of what the program is and why it’s being implemented. 

Through clear communication, their customers understood just how much OR Hope was spending on covering customers’ credit card costs. They were then empowered to make more conscious decisions about how they pay their invoices, exploring their options of debit card transactions, ACH, or wire transfers.

When customers decided to use credit cards, OR Hope leveraged CardX by Stax to facilitate the process.

Through CardX, the surcharging amount is automatically added to the sale as a separate line item. OR Hope doesn’t have to do the calculations and reprogram their POS system for every transaction. CardX’s card reader and virtual terminal automate everything and ensure compliance.

By implementing a zero percent processing system through CardX by Stax, OR Hope saw their fees drop from $3,000 per month to almost zero. They were able to save money on their operational costs and invest this back into their staff and their business.

How Customers Perceive Surcharging

For all the great benefits of surcharging, the potential risk of unhappy customers may turn off some merchants. However, as with the example of OR Hope above, when communication is done well, customers understand that surcharging is not only a reasonable compromise but can also benefit them more than an across-the-board price increase to cover these costs.

Creating a positive perception

Bringing customers on board the idea of surcharging is relatively simple, but it does require a plan and a commitment to being thorough.

  1. Help them to understand the purpose: By clearly communicating that surcharging is intended to cover the costs associated with accepting credit card payments, businesses can easily help customers understand why the additional fee is applied.
  2. Offer transparent disclosure: Transparency allows customers to make informed decisions about their preferred payment method and the associated costs. Visible signage, online notifications, and disclosure during the checkout process all ensure there are no surprises and customers can understand the concept before they are asked for payment.
  3. Create a value perception: Highlight the advantages of credit card transactions, such as security, rewards programs, or purchase protection. Rather than just communicating how credit card processing costs hurt small businesses, balance the message with why credit card transactions are worth the surcharge amount.
  4. Enhance the customer experience: Introduce a competitive pricing strategy, train staff to deliver exceptional customer service, and offer different payment options to give customers the feeling that they have flexibility.

How to Implement a Surcharging Program

Implementing a surcharging program requires careful consideration and adherence to legal and compliance factors. Additionally, businesses should assess the cheapest payment processor specializing in and supporting surcharging. In this section, we outline the steps to adopt a surcharging program, highlight important legal and compliance factors, and explore what to look at for the cheapest payment processing providers.

Surcharging steps from A to E

  1. Research: Research local regulations and guidelines surrounding surcharging, including legal requirements, permissible surcharge percentages, and any restrictions or exceptions that may apply.
  2. Ensure legal compliance: Adhere to the laws and regulations of the region, and if in doubt, consult with legal experts or industry associations to verify compliance and understand any reporting or disclosure obligations.
  3. Determine surcharge percentage: Follow the legal and regulatory allowances and work with a zero-fee payment processor for small businesses, like CardX, which will automatically have this set up according to the regulations of the business’s region.
  4. Communicate: Clearly disclose the surcharge amount to customers before they make a purchase. Display signage at the point of sale, online, and verbally (or by popup online) during the checkout process.
  5. Select a surcharge-compliant credit card processor: Partner with a zero-cost credit card processing provider like CardX that specializes in and supports surcharging. Look for the lowest fee credit card processors that offer regionally compliant solutions, PCI compliance, and a strong surcharging reputation.

Legal and compliance factors to consider:

  1. Each of the major card networks (e.g., Visa, Mastercard, Discover) has its own rules and guidelines for surcharging, particularly around signage.
  2. Local laws and regulations govern surcharging in each jurisdiction. Some regions may have restrictions on the surcharge amount, types of transactions, or payment methods that can be surcharged. Colorado, for example, caps surcharging rates at 2% or the actual costs the business pays for processing.
  3. Reporting obligations may be required for surcharging programs. Some jurisdictions require periodic reporting on surcharge amounts or disclosures made to customers.

Selecting the Right Credit Card Processing Company

The right merchant account provider is crucial to implementing an efficient surcharging program. When evaluating potential providers, there are several factors to consider.

  1. Transparent pricing: Look for a merchant account provider that offers transparent pricing structures and clearly outlines their fees.
  2. Flexible contract terms: Seek providers that offer flexible contract terms. That means no lock-in long-term contracts or hefty termination fees.
  3. Payment processing services: As well as credit card surcharging, the provider must also have strong payment processing services for alternative payment methods, including debit card transactions and a point-of-sale solution equipped to accept cash.
  4. Security and compliance: Verify that the provider adheres to industry standards, such as Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliance, to protect sensitive customer data and minimize the risk of data breaches.
  5. Customer support: Look for providers that offer responsive and knowledgeable support teams through multiple channels (phone, email, and chat).
  6. Competitive processing rates: Seek a merchant account provider that offers competitive processing rates for non-credit card transactions.
  7. Quick and easy setup: Opt for providers that offer seamless onboarding and setup processes to minimize disruptions.
  8. Integration capabilities: Consider whether the provider offers integrations with your existing business systems, such as e-commerce platforms, point-of-sale (POS) systems, or invoicing software. This ensures compatibility and smooth data flow between different systems.
  9. Reporting and analytics: Look for providers that offer robust reporting, analytics, and integration tools for valuable insights into transaction volumes, revenue trends, and customer behaviors.

It’s also important to highlight that the size of the business, type of business, and sales volumes will all contribute to determining which provider can offer the best solution. High-risk merchants (those will low sales volumes) will have to consider which provider offers not only the best service while they’re small but which will grow with them as their sales volume increases.

Why CardX by Stax Excels as a No-Fee Credit Card Processor

CardX by Stax is a leading credit card processor that specializes in surcharging solutions for all types of businesses. They offer one of the most cost-effective credit card processing solutions to offset credit card processing fees through surcharging. Their solution is a fully turnkey, compliant, and user-friendly platform that makes surcharging implementation seamless.

When customers choose a credit card, CardX informs them of the fee amount and gives them the option to pay with a no-fee method. Merchants then receive 100% of the amount of their sales.

If the customer chooses to pay with a debit card, CardX automatically detects that it is a debit card and applies no fee. Merchants pay only the low cost of debit card acceptance.

CardX’s solutions include:

In-store point of sale (POS)

In-person, CardX has card terminals to handle EMV card-present transactions as well as contactless payments.


CardX boasts a robust online solution, including a virtual terminal with a click-to-pay integration.

Alternative Cost-Offset Methods

In addition to surcharging, merchants could apply other cost-offset methods. These methods focus on managing the costs rather than passing them directly to customers.

Adjusting pricing:

This approach involves factoring the costs into the overall pricing of products or services. Businesses can set prices that allow for covering the processing fees while remaining competitive – for example, increasing costs 3% across all products and services.

Minimum purchase requirements:

By setting a minimum transaction amount for credit card usage, businesses can encourage customers to combine smaller purchases or consider an alternative form of payment for lower-value transactions.

Cash discount programs:

Businesses can incentivize customers to use cash by offering discounts or special promotions for this payment method. By highlighting the benefits of cash, businesses can encourage customers to opt for a lower-cost payment option while preserving customer satisfaction. This can be tricky to implement

Pros of surcharging Cons of surcharging
Allows businesses to offset credit card processing costs and maintain profit margins. May lead to negative customer perception if not properly communicated or understood.
Provides transparency to customers regarding the costs associated with credit card payments. Compliance with legal regulations and card network guidelines is necessary.
Enables businesses to offer competitive pricing by reflecting the actual cost to process payments. Some jurisdictions impose limitations on the maximum surcharge percentage that can be applied.
Offers financial flexibility for investment and growth opportunities. Certain transactions or payment methods may be prohibited from surcharging.
Encourages diversification of payment methods and reduces reliance on credit cards. Requires careful selection and implementation of a surcharge-compliant credit card processor.


The concept of free credit card processing is an attractive option for merchants, and surcharging is the best way for businesses to alleviate the burden of credit card processing fees. By shifting the responsibility of these fees to customers, merchants can begin to have meaningful conversations about these costs and instead offer competitive pricing and better customer experiences.

While surcharging is not without its challenges, careful implementation and effective communication can help businesses navigate potential customer perception issues. And the best news, securing the cheapest small business credit card processing provider does not mean suffering a cheap service. CardX offers transparent pricing, flexible contract terms, robust payment processing services, security, and compliance measures, along with easy implementation and strong support.

By thoughtfully implementing surcharging and offsetting strategies, businesses can balance cost recovery, customer satisfaction, and sustainable growth in a competitive landscape.

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FAQs about Credit Card Processing

Q: What is surcharging in the context of credit card processing?

Surcharging is a practice where businesses add a small amount to a customer’s transaction when they choose to pay with a credit card. The purpose of surcharging is to offset the costs of credit card processing fees, allowing businesses to maintain their profit margins.

Q: What are the benefits of surcharging for businesses?

Surcharging offers numerous benefits, most notably:

  • Cost recovery: Businesses can recover the credit card acceptance costs.
  • Competitive pricing: It allows businesses to provide competitive prices to customers who choose different payment methods.
  • Financial flexibility: It provides financial flexibility as funds can be allocated towards business expansion or customer experience enhancement.
  • Payment method diversification: Encourages customers to explore alternative payment methods without additional fees.

Q: What is the impact of surcharging on customers?

If not properly communicated, surcharging could lead to negative customer perception. But, when communicated effectively, customers understand that it’s a fair compromise and appreciate the transparency about the costs associated with credit card payments. Ultimately, it provides customers with a sense of control over their preferred payment method and its associated costs.

Q: How do businesses go about implementing a surcharging program?

To implement a surcharging program, businesses need to:

  • Research local regulations and guidelines about surcharging
  • Ensure legal compliance with the laws of their region
  • Determine the surcharge percentage in accordance with legal allowances
  • Communicate the surcharge amount to customers transparently prior to purchase
  • Select a surcharge-compliant credit card processor

Q: What is the role of credit card processors in credit card surcharging?

Credit card processors play a critical role in facilitating surcharging. They provide the necessary systems and tools to add a surcharge securely to credit card transactions. Some processors, like CardX by Stax, specialize in surcharging and provide solutions that automate the process while ensuring regulatory compliance.

Q: Any alternative to credit card surcharging for businesses?

In addition to surcharging, businesses can employ other cost-offset methods:

  • Adjusting pricing: Incorporating the costs into the overall pricing of products or services
  • Setting minimum purchase requirements: Encouraging customers to combine smaller purchases or consider an alternative form of payment for lower-value transactions
  • Providing cash discount programs: Businesses can incentivize customers to use cash by offering discounts or special promotions for this payment method.

Q: Is surcharging considered as free credit card processing?

Yes, through surcharging, businesses can offset their credit card processing fees by passing them on to their customers. This creates an environment where the businesses themselves are not directly bearing the cost, thus leading to what may be referred to as ‘free’ credit card processing for businesses.

Q: Are there any legal and compliance factors to consider?

Yes, each card network has its own rules and guidelines for surcharging, which merchants have to follow. Also, local laws and regulations govern surcharging in each jurisdiction and may have restrictions on the surcharge amounts, types of transactions, or payment methods that can be surcharged. It’s advised that businesses consult legal experts or industry associations for necessary guidelines.