The other night I was out for a quick bite to eat and one of my favorite local Missoula places. I've been there over a hundred times, but when my bill came this particular evening, it had an extra charge. I was being charged a fee for card processing. Literally, a fee to spend my own money. I needed to find out why and to see if this was even legal.

Merchant Processing Fees

According to Forbes, Merchant Processing Fees are charges that the merchant is responsible for each time a credit card is accepted. These include payment processing, interchange, and assessment fees. These fees can range from 1.5% - 3.5% depending on the type of card and transaction.

As you can see, these fees can rack up a pretty hefty bill very quickly. Some businesses with razor-thin margins simply can't keep up. You can see the alternatives. Either raise prices, close the business, or pass the charge on to you.

Is This Legal?

The short answer is yes. Very few states like Maine, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma have banned passing the credit card processing fee on to the customer.

What About Debit Cards?

According to, it is illegal to charge a processing fee for Debit Cards (at least for Visa and Mastercard Debit). Now, that doesn't mean the merchant isn't getting charged processing fees and still trying to pass it on to you. Some merchants will simply lump a standard percentage across the board on all card transactions, so pay attention.

What Can You Do? 

Well, as I said, these charges are (mostly) legal. Living in Montana is great because we don't have a sales tax, but now if this becomes common, it's going to be just as bad or worse in my opinion. If you simply don't want to pay the fees, I get it.

Before ordering ask the merchant if they charge a fee. If so, you can take your business elsewhere.

Ask them if it's for both credit and debit. If they just charge for credit, use your debit card obviously. If they try to charge you for debit, you can always fight it with the merchant or get the money back from your credit card company, but both will be time-consuming, and frustrating.

Just go somewhere else, or use the ATM. Remember, cash is still king.

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