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What Is a Credit Card Convenience Fee? How to Avoid It

By Diana Kelly Levey · October 15, 2022 · 8 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

What Is a Credit Card Convenience Fee? How to Avoid It

If you, like 80% of Americans, use credit cards, you’ve probably been hit with a convenience fee — an additional charge levied by merchants — at some point. Perhaps it was tacked on when you bought concert tickets online rather than at the box office or assessed when you paid your rent online with your plastic. Or maybe you only noticed it when reviewing your monthly bill. Whatever the case, you may well have asked yourself if this is a fair fee and how you can avoid this kind of charge in the future.

We can help! Read on to learn more about credit-card convenience fees, when and why they are charged, and whether you can avoid them.

What Is A Convenience Fee?

A convenience fee is a flat fee that’s tacked on to the cost of your transaction that you, the cardholder, are expected to pay. It is typically charged by merchants when a customer uses a credit card in a payment channel that it’s the usual one for the business. For instance, if a trade school usually accepts payments in-person and you choose to pay online, you might be assessed the additional fee for the convenience of not turning up at their place of business. A convenience fee may be either a small percentage of the transaction’s total or a flat fee charged when you use a credit or debit card with the merchant.

This fee is the result of a lawsuit between retailers and the brands (Mastercard/Visa) that was settled in January 2013. To make a long story short, the verdict permits merchants to add a surcharge when a customer uses a credit card. It helps to understand why retailers fought for this right: When merchants allow a customer to use a credit card as a payment method instead of cash or checks, they (the retailer) are charged a credit-card processing fee for the transaction. When you, the customer, receive a convenience fee, it reflects the merchant trying to offload that processing fee onto you. The convenience fee is what you pay for the “convenience” of being able to use a credit card for a transaction instead of cash or another form of payment. In some cases, a retailer will factor these fees into their business model and won’t pass along the additional charge. That is why you may notice that convenience fees strike you as somewhat random.

Example of a Convenience Fee

In general, the consumer pays a convenience fee when purchasing a product or service in an alternative way than paying in person. One example of a convenience fee is purchasing tickets for a play over the phone or online. Anyone who’s ever reserved seats for the theater knows that you often pay a lot more than the ticket price for the final purchase amount. You may be hit with a credit card convenience fee for this purchase as well as other fees! Buying a ticket in person at a ticket office for a show will often help you avoid convenience fees.

Another example of these convenience fees at work can be found at the gas station. When you fill up your tank, you may notice that the price for gas is about $0.10 cheaper per gallon if you pay with cash than with a credit card.

Why Do Convenience Fees Exist?

Many credit card holders already get hit with an annual fee and monthly interest fees; so why do you have to pay even more money for using plastic as a payment method? The main reason you’re getting stuck with these convenience fees is because the merchants have to pay processing fees to payment networks. The payment networks or payment processors work with the financial institutions that issue your cards (like SoFi), and the card network (Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express) to make sure the transaction is secure and processed smoothly. The bank that issues the cards often charges the merchant a fee for allowing them to accept this card – a credit card processing fee. Sometimes, payment networks also charge the merchant a fee. Often, credit-card processing fees cost the merchants between 2% and 4% per transaction. That’s why the merchant might pass those fees on to you, the consumer, as a convenience fee.

This is also another reason some small businesses may not accept credit cards at all: They don’t want to have to pay the fees associated with taking them or pass them on to you.Other merchants choose not to accept certain credit cards, like Discover or American Express, since those companies tend to collect higher fees per purchase.

Credit Card Company Rules on Convenience Fees

Here’s the breakdown for how some of the major credit-card brands handle fees.

Brand

Rules for Merchants on Convenience Fees

Visa

Merchants can add convenience fees on all nonstandard payment methods, except for income tax payments in some states.

Retailers are required to register the surcharge with the payment network. They must also display a notice of the surcharge at the point of sale — both in-store and online. You’ll usually see the additional fee on your receipt.

Mastercard

Only select government agencies and educational institutions can charge credit card convenience fees.

Retailers must register the surcharge with their payment network. They must also display a message about the surcharge at the point of sale — both in-store at the checkout and online. You’ll usually see the additional fee on your receipt as well.

American Express Only government agencies, educational institutions, utility companies, and rental companies can charge credit-card convenience fees.
Discover The retailer cannot charge convenience fees to Discover cardholders unless it charges the same fees to those using credit cards from other card issuers.

Convenience Fees vs Surcharge Fees: What’s the Difference?

When thinking about the additional charges you wind up paying, you may have wondered what the difference between convenience fees and surcharge fees are. Let’s explain.

A surcharge fee covers the cost of you having the privilege of using a credit card. It’s added before taxes. Sometimes called a “checkout fee,” it is usually a percentage of the sale and it’s optional for the merchant to add a surcharge fee onto a transaction. Each specific credit card company has rules about surcharge fees.

Credit card surcharges are prohibited by law in 10 states. If you’re a merchant doing business in Colorado, Utah, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas, you’re not allowed to add a surcharge to a purchase. So if you’re a customer in those states and paying with a credit card, you might be able to avoid some additional fees.

In comparison, a convenience fee covers the cost of doing a transaction with a credit card instead of another payment method. Sometimes this is charged as a percentage of the transaction. Other times, it is charged as a flat fee, regardless of the cost of the products or services purchased. A retailer might add $3 to $5 to the transaction completed with a credit card, regardless of what or how much was purchased.

How Can Convenience Fees Be Avoided?

When you’re trying to avoid credit card convenience fees, you can choose to pay with a method other than plastic, such as cash, check, or money orders at some merchants. For example, if you’re paying for college tuition, you might be able to set up an online payment using an electronic check, money order, or personal check. At some schools, this could save you nearly 3% per payment transaction. If one semester of college tuition was $5,000, avoiding a convenience fee charge could save you about $150.

That being said, if you have a high-rewards credit card, conducting an expensive transaction might be beneficial if you can get cash back.

So, it’s important to scan for notices about convenience fees. When making a purchase at a bricks and mortar location, look at the point of entry and at the checkout area to see if they have messages posted about surcharges or convenience fees. You could always ask before purchasing a product or service if paying by cash will save you money. This often works well in service businesses. If you’re paying someone to install or service an appliance in your home, for example, paying with cash could save you a chunk of money if it allows you to avoid fees. If you are purchasing something online, look carefully at the charges before hitting “purchase.” Credit card fees are fairly common today, so you want to be alert to how they can crop up – and avoid them when you can!

The Takeaway

Knowing that credit card convenience fees (and surcharge fees) exist, whether they are legal in your state, and how to avoid them can help save you money in the long run. Oftentimes, these fees are added at the merchant’s discretion, and you may — with a little sleuthing and a work-around or two — be able to avoid them. Using a credit card can be an expensive proposition, so it’s good to know how you can trim some of these additional charges. Using cash or a check can sometimes be the most economical path forward.

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SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

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Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


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