A user's guide to credit card surcharges | June 2018
credit card surcharge fee

A guide to credit card surcharges

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A credit card surcharge is added on top of a purchase to cover the merchant’s processing fees.

You’re paying at the counter with your credit card. The merchant says, “Credit card transactions come with a $0.35 extra charge.” What’s that all about?

This is called a credit card surcharge. Though it’s annoying, there’s a reason merchants add it: to cover their costs.

What is a credit card surcharge and when is it applied?

Credit cards are a form of convenience. Instead of carrying loads of cash or writing checks, you can simply swipe (or dip) a card.

This convenience typically doesn’t cost you anything. Instead, the merchant pays for your convenience. Each time you use your card, they pay a processing fee — typically around 2% of each transaction — to the bank that issued your card.

For the merchant, this processing fee can make it difficult to turn a profit. As a result, they may pass along the cost to you by adding a credit card surcharge. This is an extra fee that’s added onto your transaction.

When will I see a surcharge — and how much will it be?

You’ll rarely see surcharges at large retailers. But you could see them at mom-and-pop establishments, where bottom lines are more sensitive to credit card processing fees.

Merchants should only add a surcharge equal to what it costs them to process a card transaction. According to merchant credit card agreements, card surcharges tend to max out at around 4%.

Credit card surcharges vs. convenience fees

You could be assessed convenience fees when you use a credit card, but they’re not the same thing as surcharges.

A surcharge is a fee that covers the cost of a card transaction. Meanwhile, convenience fees are charged for payment methods that a merchant usually doesn’t accept. For example, a merchant might charge a convenience fee when you pay over the phone instead of online.

Are merchants allowed to add credit card surcharges?

For the most part, merchants aren’t barred by federal or state law from adding surcharges. Whether they can or can’t has more to do with agreements they have with their card processors.

According to the Durbin Amendment of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, retailers are allowed to add a surcharge on credit card transactions. They are not allowed to add surcharges on debit card or prepaid card transactions.

Merchants are allowed to require minimum purchases for credit card purchases — up to $10.

Not all merchants can add surcharges

Surcharges are illegal across the board in these states:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New York
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas

The legality of these states’ surcharge bans may be in question, though. That’s because a March 2017 Supreme Court ruling said these bans can be challenged in courts for impeding merchants’ free speech.

  • California’s surcharge ban was challenged in federal court, and the state is currently disallowed from enforcing it. That’s why you may see retailers adding surcharges, even when it’s technically illegal.
  • The Supreme Court decided against a ruling that upheld New York’s surcharge ban. The case has been sent back to the Second Circuit of the US Court of Appeals.

Time will tell what will come of surcharge bans. Given the Supreme Court’s ruling, these bans are on shaky ground.

Can merchants add surcharges whenever they want?

Merchants are allowed to add surcharges whenever allowed by federal and state law. If they do, however, they must clearly notify customers with conspicuous signage or distinct terms in written agreements before charging customers.

What if a merchant’s surcharge is too high?

Though credit card processors cap surcharges to 4%, merchants often charge a flat fee — such as $0.35 — per card swipe. If you’re paying for something that costs only a few dollars, this flat fee could equate to a large percentage of your purchase. For example, a $0.35 fee on a $5 drink is a 7% surcharge.

Before reporting the merchant to their credit card processor, consider bringing surcharge rules to their attention. Visa has a surcharge guide, as does Mastercard. If you find that surcharges continue to be a problem, you can contact the relevant card processors.

Visa merchant inquiry form

Mastercard “Report a problem shopping” form

How to avoid credit card surcharges

Credit card surcharges can be annoying, and they add up over multiple purchases. Here are a few ways to avoid them.

  • Carry cash. Not all small merchants add surcharges, but retailers are increasingly adopting surcharges to cover processing costs. To avoid the extra fees, use cash. Retailers are technically not allowed to add surcharges on debit transactions, but not all of them know — or choose to follow — the rules.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no. If a merchant adds a surcharge, they must notify you before your purchase.
  • Stop buying from retailers that charge convenience fees. You can always “shop with your feet” by taking your business elsewhere.

Credit card surcharges generally aren’t a big problem in the United States, but they’ve become a significant issue in other countries. Australia passed tough laws against surcharges, for instance, and in July 2017 the UK banned surcharges outright.

In the end, consumer awareness may be the best defense against these fees.

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Rates last updated June 24th, 2018
Name Product APR for Purchases ( Purchase Rate ) Intro APR for Balance Transfer Annual fee Product Description
Amex EveryDay® Credit Card
14.74% to 25.74% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months
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24.49% variable
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Designed to help build credit history with no deposit required and access to benefits.
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Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card
14.74% to 24.74% variable
0% Intro APR for 12 statement closing dates (with whichever is greater, $10 or 3% balance transfer fee)
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Earn more cash back for the things you buy most.
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
14.74% to 25.74% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months (with whichever is greater, $5 or 3% balance transfer fee)
$0
Earn $150 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. You will receive the $150 back in the form of a statement credit.
Luxury Card Mastercard® Black Card™
16.49% variable
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Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card
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Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® Credit Card
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$75 annual fee for the first year ($0 to $99 thereafter)
With this card you get a 23.9% variable APR.
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The First Access VISA® Credit Card
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Access credit even if you have poor or limited credit history.
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Luxury Card Mastercard® Gold Card™
16.49% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles (with the amount of each transfer, $5 or 3% balance transfer fee)
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Credit One Bank® Visa® with Free Credit Score Tracking
17.49% to 25.49% variable
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Get 1% cash back rewards on eligible purchases including gas, groceries, and services such as mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV, terms apply.
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Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card
14.74% to 24.74% variable
0% Intro APR for 12 months (with whichever is greater, $5 or 3% balance transfer fee)
$95
Earn 15000 Membership Rewards Points after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
Chase Freedom Unlimited® credit card
16.49% to 25.24% variable
$0
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase – it's automatic. No minimum to redeem for cash back.
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card
17.49% to 24.49% variable
$95
Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and 1.5 points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
Quicksilver® from Capital One®
14.49%, 20.49% or 24.49% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months (with 3% balance transfer fee)
$0
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
Chase Freedom® credit card
16.49% to 25.24% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months (with whichever is greater, $5 or 5% balance transfer fee)
$0
Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card
16.49% to 24.49% variable
$0
20,000 online bonus points offer. Ditch the restrictions of typical airline rewards cards. Any airline, any hotel, anytime. No blackout dates.
Chase Slate® Credit Card
16.49% to 25.24% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months (with $0 for transfers in first 60 days. Then $5 or 5% balance transfer fee)
$0
Jumpstart your financial fitness! 60 day introductory balance transfer offer, save on interest, and get your free monthly credit score.
Venture® from Capital One®
14.49%, 20.49% or 24.49% variable
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 50000 bonus miles once after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card
14.49%, 18.49%, or 24.49% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months (with whichever is greater: $10 or 4% balance transfer fee)
$0
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on all purchases. See Rates and Fees
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Megan Horner

As the assistant publisher of credit cards at finder.com, Megan is passionate about helping you compare and find the best credit cards for your situation, whether that is earning great rewards or improving your credit score. In her previous position, Megan worked as an assigning editor at Credit Karma, where she focused on editing and publishing educational articles on credit cards. Megan started her career as a writer at a comparison website, so she has a longstanding background in surfacing the best deals and helping people make decisions. In her spare time, Megan likes to hike, camp, surf, and read.

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Important Information*
Deserve® Classic Card
Deserve® Classic Card

APR

24.49
variable

Annual fee

0 For the first year
More info
Luxury Card Mastercard® Gold Card™
Luxury Card Mastercard® Gold Card™

APR

16.49
variable

Annual fee

995 For the first year
More info
The First Access VISA® Credit Card
The First Access VISA® Credit Card

APR

29.99
variable

Annual fee

75 For the first year
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Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® Credit Card
Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® Credit Card

APR

23.9
variable

Annual fee

75 For the first year
More info
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