What you need to know

Multiple entities are responsible for the complete end-to-end processing of your card transactions. Your pricing reflects fees earned by each of the parties to enable the most secure, efficient transactions possible.

To help you understand how payment processing works, minimize your card acceptance costs and keep customer card data secure, we’ve included some important basic information you should know.



When performing a payment transaction, you must request authorization from the issuer to accept a card for payment. It helps determine if the card number is valid; the card hasn’t been lost or stolen; and there are sufficient funds to cover the transaction. An authorization code does not guarantee that a transaction will not be disputed later.

An authorization request is made either through the POS device or by calling the Voice Authorization Center at the number on your POS device. When you process a card, you may get one of several authorization responses: approval; decline (ask for alternate payment form); referral or card auth (call the Voice Authorization Center); and decline pick-up (do not return the card).


Sending payment information to us for processing (Batch and Settlement)

A group of transactions is called a batch, and the process for sending these transactions to us is called settlement. When you settle a batch, you send all of your card transactions to the servicer for payment. Transaction information goes through clearing networks to the corresponding issuer so they can charge the cardholder. Then funds for the transaction are deposited into your settlement or DDA account. During settlement, you are paid and cardholders are billed for previously-approved transactions.

It’s important that you settle your transactions each and every day to obtain the most favorable pricing. You will not be funded for transactions until they have been settled. Note that higher rates could apply to transactions not settled the same day. To settle the daily batch:

  • Total the day’s transaction receipts and credit transaction receipts.
  • Verify that the transaction receipts equal the POS device totals.
  • Close the Batch according to the instructions for your POS device.

Getting Paid

The following process shows how you’ll be paid for your transactions. Allow two or more business days (excluding holidays) for the full process to complete (unless you are set up for next day funding).

  • Your business: Sends all approved, un-settled transactions (known as the open batch) in the POS device to the servicer host.
  • Servicer host: Sends Visa and MasterCard card transactions (and, if applicable, Discover Network Transactions) to interchange and other card transactions to the appropriate issuer (e.g., American Express transactions to American Express). If the transactions are not sent to interchange, go to step 4.
  • Interchange: Sends transaction data to the appropriate issuer.
  • Issuer: Posts the transaction to the cardholder’s account. The issuer either sends to interchange the difference between the transaction amount and the interchange fee charged to the servicer, or sends the funds to your Demand Deposit Account (DDA) (see step 7).
  • Interchange: Sends the difference between the transaction amount and the interchange fees to the servicer host.
  • Servicer Host: Sends a message to the Automated Clearing House (ACH) to pay you for the transactions.
  • Automated Clearing House (ACH): Sends the funds from the servicer to your DDA via electronic transfer. Fees are debited from your DDA on a monthly or daily basis.

Cost of accepting payments (Interchange and Downgrades)

The cost of accepting card payments is driven primarily by interchange. When you settle your transactions each day, Elavon’s network routes them to the respective card associations (like Visa®, MasterCard®, Discover® Network and UnionPay) and debit networks through interchange. Card associations and debit networks establish the rules and manage the interchange of all transactions, for which they charge fees to offset their costs. Interchange fees are paid at the time the transaction is exchanged.

Although interchange fees are applied to all credit card processors equally, they fluctuate in amount based on a variety of factors. Card associations quote the lowest rate for a transaction, assuming that a number of requirements (which vary according to the card type, the type of business accepting the card payment, and the transaction channel) are met. Transactions that meet all of the requirements for your industry are charged the “qualified rate.” If one or more of these requirements are not met, the transaction is categorized at a more expensive interchange level, known as a “downgrade.”

Some common causes of downgrades include manually entering or requesting voice authorization for a significant number of transactions rather than use a POS device; or you routinely settle transactions more than 24 hours after they are authorized.


When there's a dispute (Chargebacks and Retrievals)

chargeback is a transaction disputed by the cardholder or card issuer. Businesses must be able to provide proof that the disputed transaction is valid and in accordance with Visa/MasterCard regulations or risk having their account debited for the disputed amount.

If you receive a chargeback, we will debit your DDA for the amount of the transaction, including any applicable currency fluctuations, and send you a chargeback notice. This notice includes the details of the transaction as well as specific instructions on how to respond. A business receiving a chargeback notice must provide proof that the transaction is valid and satisfactory to the rules/regulations of Visa/MasterCard to get money back. Receiving a chargeback notice can also mean extra processing time and cost to you, a narrower profit margin, and possibly a loss of revenue. That’s why it’s important to carefully track and manage the chargebacks that you receive, avoid future chargebacks, and know your representment rights.

After being notified by a cardholder about a disputed transaction, the cardholder’s issuing bank may order a copy of that particular sales draft through us to determine what occurred at the point of sale. This is called a copy request or retrieval. A retrieval request most often occurs when a cardholder loses their copy of the transaction receipt, does not remember the transaction or questions the transaction for any reason.


Best Practices

  • To avoid chargebacks, act promptly if contacted directly by the cardholder to resolve a dispute.
  • If the cardholder does not contact you, respond to inquiries with as much information as possible about the sales transaction in question.
  • Limit one authorization for each settled transaction.
  • Obtain an authorization code. Refuse to process a transaction when you receive a declined code during authorization.
  • To verify cardholder account status, perform a zero value account verification transaction instead of $1.00 authorization transaction.
  • Include a description of the goods or services on the transaction receipt.
  • Deliver merchandise or services before charging the card.
  • Include the CVV2/CVC2 and AVS codes for card not present transactions, if applicable.
  • Submit transaction receipts on the same day the transactions are authorized.
  • Make sure an imprint appears on a manual transaction receipt or that the relevant transaction information appears on the terminal-generated transaction receipt.
  • Do not accept expired cards or cards having effective dates after the date of the transaction.
  • Void authorizations within your outstanding batches if they are not going to be settled.
  • Call for Voice Authorization if you are still suspicious of the cardholder, card, or transaction after receiving an approval code.


Understanding the merchant processing industry can get confusing at times. There are many different elements that make up a merchants fees for processing, the biggest of which is called Interchange. These are fixed rates, discount rates and discount per item (DPI) that the issuing banks charge all processors for over 300 different card types, transaction methods and industries. In addition to Interchange, you have Dues and Assessments that are being charged by the associations, as well as the processors margins.


Full Disclosure Pricing

At Ultimate, we pride ourselves on total transparency: There are many ways in our industry to price merchants, from Qualified, Mid-Qualified and Non-Qualified rates to Tier III or Tier IV pricing. Here at Ultimate we price all our merchants with a 100% Pass through Interchange Plus Pricing, the most detailed and transparent pricing model in our industry.

We tell the whole truth up front, and disclose all costs, including those you would never think of asking about. We will not offer teaser rates, low qualified-only rates, or other tricks that will end up costing you more on your “Effective Rate” – the bottom-line amount you actually pay every month.


The Durbin Amendment


Regulation II, an overview

The Durbin Amendment places the Federal Reserve Board in charge of debit card interchange. Specifically, the Fed was told to craft rules for setting “reasonable” interchange fee assessments by debit card issuers and ensuring merchants have the freedom to select clearing networks.

Financial institutions with assets under $10 billion are exempt from the new rules, which were published by the Fed in July 2011 as Regulation II. The new regulation takes effect Oct. 1, 2011. To allow for potential programming hurdles, issuers of certain types of prepaid debit cards (such as health and benefits cards) get an additional six months to comply with the network choice provisions, the Fed said. These are the industry’s new marching orders per Regulation 11:

  • Debit interchange is capped at 21 cents plus 0.05 percent of the ticket.
  • Issuers that abide by prescribed fraud prevention policies and procedures can charge 22 cents plus 0.05 percent of the ticket.
  • Prepaid cards that are all-electronic are exempt from interchange caps; exempt programs cannot offer check privileges or direct deposit of payroll.
  • Merchants must be given the option to select from at least two competing processing networks for routing debit card transactions.

In addition, the Fed said it will publish annually average debit card fees assessed by both large and small card issuers.


Interchange plus vs Tiered pricing


The EMV Mystery