From loyalty programs to the true cost of credit cards

Moving past the cost of loyalty programs to credit cards

My last blog covered how the costs of all the loyalty programs are passed along to all consumers – even those who don’t belong to such programs. Credit card costs have been in the news a great deal in 2013 and even received a mention in the Speech from the Throne that opened the new Session of Parliament.

Most readers will remember the Competition Bureau finding earlier this year in FAVOUR of credit card fees being passed along to all consumers rather than just those who use the cards. The issuers of the credit cards were, of course, ecstatic with the ruling – merchants not so much and consumers not at all, but then, cynic that I am, did anyone really expect the Bureau to side with consumers over large financial institutions – both national and international in scope?

So let’s do some math (sorry). For simplicity, I will use a card issued in three flavours – a basic, no-fee, no-reward format (Bronze), a fee-based card that also provides extra loyalty bonuses in the form of “points” redeemable for merchandise gifts from the issuer’s pre-selected catalogue (Silver) and the third is a Gold card (also fee-based but at nearly twice the level of the Silver card) that gives points that can be redeemed for travel – allegedly unlimited travel without blackouts and restrictions.

Having operated business that accepted credit cards, I know all too well the costs involved. First the merchant pays a fee to be able to accept each type of credit card. Then they have to rent at least one of those ubiquitous terminals that work at least some of the time. Their banking institution will sometimes charge an additional processing fee to handle the credit card vouchers while other card issuers have a fixed-fee arrangement (as a percentage of the TOTAL amount charged, including tips and taxes!).

A typical fee schedule for this hypothetical card series would look like this:

Card User Charge Merchant Charge
Bronze $0 annual fee 1.75% of total amount charged
Silver $120.00 annual fee 3.15% of total amount charged
Gold $225.00 annual fee 4.65% of total amount charged

I am NOT quoting fees for ANY specific credit card currently in use. These are illustrative only and roughly represent a mid-point of charges currently at work in our economy. Each card issuer and supporting financial institutions are completely free to set (and change) their own fee schedules.

With these fees charged to the merchants and vendors on the total amount put on the purchaser’s card, it is no wonder that the card companies and issuing institutions are raking in obscene profits at the expense of both the merchant and consumers – regardless of their incomes.

If you were a merchant, how much of these merchant costs would you include? 1.75%? 3.15%? 4.65%? Plus somewhere the cost of “buying into” the use of the card and terminal rental has to be included – the merchant can’t afford to take any loss with margins being so tight!

Most users today have either a Silver- or Gold-type credit card so the merchant has to plan for at least the Silver fee and a large percentage of the Gold fee – say 4.15%? On everything. Whether the purchaser pays in cash, uses a debit card (there are fees for these cards too but are usually less than .60% depending on merchant volume) or a credit card. Oh, the merchant also pays GST and possibly PST on top of these fees!

The low and modest income person or family who can’t qualify for any credit card, well, they are all still is paying the fees. Is this fair? This says nothing of the usury interest rates of sometimes more than 24% being charged on any outstanding balances.

Make sure you understand the costs and how they affect you!

Ian Whiting

Ian R. Whiting CD, CFP, CLU, CH.F.C., FLMI (FS), ACS, AIAA, AALU With more than 40-years of experience in the industry, Ian has qualified 3 times for MDRT, completed LUATC in 1979, the LUAC Financial Planning Skills Course and attended numerous Schools in Agency Management and Sales Management through LIMRA. He obtained his CLU in 1987 while also completed his IFIC qualification and completed his Fellowship in the Life Management Institute with a specialty in Financial Services in 1988. In 1989, he completed qualifications for his Chartered Financial Consultant designation. In 1992, he qualified as an Associate of the Academy of Life Underwriters (Head Office underwriter qualification) and in 1993 he completed his Associate, Customer Service designation program through LOMA. In 1997, he qualified as a CFP and also completed his courses and exams to obtain the Associate, Insurance Agency Administration designation. In 1999, he completed the study and examinations to qualify as a Trading Officer, Partner and Director for Mutual Funds with the BC Securities Commission. As a result, he is also qualified as both a Branch Compliance Manager and Head Office/Provincial Compliance Officer. He served for nearly 18 years with the Canadian Forces (Air) Reserve (reaching the rank of Captain) primarily working with Air Cadets and was award the Canadian Forces Decoration (CD) in 1982. Long known as a maverick and forward thinker in the financial services world, Ian enjoys the challenge of learning new material and planning for the future evolution of his chosen profession.