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4838 Rocking Horse Circle, Suite 203
Fargo, ND 58104

Experienced Financial Consultants

Our consultants have similar professional and educational backgrounds to those at generalist strategy consulting firms but with a significant advantage: 100% of our work is dedicated to maximizing the value of your business in the card payments industry.

Cards Access is a authorized brokerage agency that works with top industry leaders to offer comprehensive solutions to business of all sizes.

Our mission is to increase efficiency of accepting payments while driving down costs.

Our low cost structure allows us to pass on the savings to merchants to cut their costs. We are growing on this front, making merchants happy and saving them money every day.

The retention of our customers is higher than the standard lifespan, typically the industry sees roughly 30% customer churn per year. We have low customer churn because we offer fantastic payment processing services and competitors struggle to undercut our pricing.

Our version

We Listen and Serve

We listen to our partners; we listen to our merchants and the work to meet their needs. We realize if we don’t hear the needs of our merchants and meet them we will not succeed.

Security, transparency, and integrity

Our partners and merchants can rest assured that their security is our top priority, what we say is honest, and we are as clear and concise as possible.

Customer First Approach

It’s not just customer first, it’s that we put the best interest of our customer (whether partner or end-merchant) in the forefront of all our actions.

Constant Improvement

Whether it’s the cutting edge in technology point of sale station or a complete revamp of how we handle support, Cards Access strives to constantly improve and be innovative.

Passion to charity

We encourage our staff, partners, and our customers to make a difference in the community.


Frequently asked questions

Flat fees cover the operating expenses and generate profits for the payment networks. Processing credit card transactions requires specialized, complex, and connected computer systems that work flawlessly 24/7. It also requires many employees to manage and implement. This massive network of computers and humans costs a lot of money to build, maintain, and secure. These operating expenses are generally fixed. For example, Visa reported its 2019 operating expenses at $7.98 billion, an increase of 4 percent from 2018.

The flat fee that accompanies every transaction is the Payment Network’s way of recouping operating expenses. A large transaction (e.g., a diamond ring) uses about the same level of computing power as a smaller one (e.g., a cup of coffee). Thus a flat fee ensures that the Payment Network can cover its expenses and generate a (sizeable) profit, regardless of the transaction amount.

Percentage-based fees mostly go to the Issuing Bank to compensate for granting credit.

Indeed, a purchase with a credit card is similar to a loan. When buyers fail to pay their credit card loan (the minimum balance due), the Issuing Bank will typically charge about 21 percent interest.

The higher the transaction value, the greater the risk for the Issuing Bank. Thus, for taking larger risks by funding larger purchases, issuing banks want a larger fee.

Together, the percentage and late fees translate into a tremendously profitable business for banks.

If Interchange is revenue for the Issuing Banks and a Card Association Fee is revenue for the Card Brands, how do Processors get paid? The answer is Markup Fees, which are the additional fees that Processors charge to merchants above Wholesale Fees.

Markup is charged to the merchant in various ways. Sometimes it’s bundled into Flat-rate Pricing (one single rate, such as Stripe’s 2.9 percent + 30 cents). Sometimes Markup Fees are more transparent. This is Interchange Plus, which is Interchange plus agreed-upon Markup Fees.

Sometimes Markup Fees are baked into the transaction fees. For example, Stripe’s 2.9 percent + 30 cents is higher than the average Interchange rate of 1.8 percent. Thus Stripe’s Markup is roughly 1.1 percent, on average.

Markup Fees can appear outside of the transaction. Often, a Processor will take a lower profit margin on transaction fees to generate higher profits from other services.

Here’s a list of common fees from Processors.

  • Account setup fees.
  • Annual or monthly fees — often called “general fees” or “maintenance fees.”
  • Payment gateway access and setup fees.
  • Point-of-sale hardware fees such as rental, leases, setup, and maintenance.
  • Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance and non-compliance fees.
  • Chargeback fees and fines.
  • Fraud prevention fees.
  • Support fees.
  • Statement fees — for mailing paper statements.
  • Account closure or termination fees.
  • Withdrawal and money transfer fees.
  • Foreign currency exchange fees.
  • Minimum-volume fees.

When choosing a Processor, consider all Markup Fees. Some will be disclosed. Others will be hidden or buried into a transaction fee.

Merchants frequently look only at Wholesale Fees (Interchange and Card Association Fees) when comparing Processors. That’s a mistake because Markup Fees can be expensive. For example, I’ve seen Processors charge $300 for early contract termination.

Remember that Wholesale Fees cannot be negotiated. No Processor can change them. Markup Fees, on the other hand, are negotiable. If you have significant volume, speak to the Processor’s sales team. Demonstrate how a reduction in Markup Fees will help your business become a profitable, long-term partner.

There are three standard merchant pricing models. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Understanding the models will help you find the best pricing for your business. If your Processor puts you into the wrong model, you would likely pay higher than necessary fees.

Model 1. Flat-rate Pricing. The flat-rate model offers merchants easy-to-understand pricing. You’ll receive one Flat-rate Price for all transactions: card-present (in-store), card-not-present (ecommerce), and manually-entered  (mail and telephone orders). It’s the same price regardless of the type of credit card used and the type of product purchased. Examples of Processors with flat-rate plans are Stripe, Square, and PayPal.

Flat-rate Pricing is controversial, but it’s not necessarily bad. Behind the scenes, the Processor calculates and pays all of the various Interchange fees and Wholesale Fees and then adds a markup. The Processor then bundles all of those into one fee.

If a merchant accepts payment for a low-cost card, such as a basic, non-reward Mastercard, the Processor will benefit as it will pay an Interchange rate of about 1.6 percent and charge the merchant roughly 2.9 percent, typically — resulting in a 1.3 percent profit. However, if the merchant accepts a luxury rewards card, the Interchange rate would be much higher and potentially less than the flat rate — resulting in a loss for the Processor.

The controversy surrounding flat-rate payment Processors is that they allegedly break even (avoiding a loss) on high-cost transactions. It’s hard to know because the Interchange rates are hidden.

The pros of Flat-rate Pricing:

  • Merchants know precisely how much each transaction will cost.
  • Simple monthly statements.
  • Ability to create budgets and forecasts and adjust business practices based on known costs.
  • Process premium rewards cards, corporate cards, and luxury cards for the same fee as basic cards.

The cons of Flat-rate Pricing:

  • Processors add Markup Fees to Wholesale Fees. The markup could be significant or minimal. There’s no way of knowing how much markup is added. Some Processors (a few bad actors) reportedly add excessive markups.
  • Hidden fees. Some Processors add Markup Fees seemingly everywhere. Merchants should look closely at all of the fees, not just the flat-rate percentage. For example, check for exorbitant cancellation fees or ridiculous account setup fees.
  • Too expensive. If its customers pay with basic (non-rewards, non-corporate) credit cards, a merchant could overpay for processing.

Model 2. Tiered Pricing. The Tiered Pricing model segments transactions into tiers (buckets). The Processor then prices each transaction based on its tier. The three common tiers are Qualified, Mid-qualified, and Non-qualified.  Each has a different price. However, many processors add subsets, which results in six or more tiers. Such convoluted tiers are often, but not always, opportunities for Processors to increase profits.

In short, Qualified Transactions are low-risk, such as card-present and PIN-supported payments. Mid-Qualified Transactions include mail and phone orders as well as rewards and cashback cards. Non-qualified Transactions are card-not-present, luxury cards, and generally all ecommerce transactions.  Qualified Transactions have the lowest processing cost; Non-qualified has the highest.

Tiered Pricing can be controversial because the Processor determines the tiers. The Card Brands (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover) set only the Interchange fees and Card Association Fees. Furthermore, the Processor decides how to classify each transaction. There’s no industry oversight or regulation over how Processors do this. Thus merchants must understand exactly how their Processor will categorize and charge for each type of transaction.

Another controversy has been the marketing tactics of some processors. Some (but not all) offer merchants wonderfully inexpensive pricing while hiding the fact that it’s for Qualified Transactions only. Merchants should demand answers, in writing, to the following questions.

  • Are you quoting me the Qualified price only?
  • What are your other tiers and their prices?
  • Describe the criteria for classifying my transactions?
  • How would my current transactions fall into each tier?
  • Explain your company’s policy for downgrading transactions from Qualified and Mid-Qualified?
  • Can your company add or change tiers and classification policies? Will you notify me of these changes? How far in advance?
  • What would my monthly statement look like? Will the statement disclose how my transactions were classified?
  • Can I dispute your classification of each transaction?

The pros of Tiered Pricing:

  • Reduces processing costs so long as most transactions are Qualified.
  • Monthly statements are easier to follow than Interchange Plus (described below) but more confusing than statements for Flat-rate Pricing.

The cons of Tiered Pricing:

  • Processors could Downgrade transactions to increase fees.
  • Markup Fees are hidden.
  • Processors with many tiers could produce confusing statements.
  • Understanding how a transaction was classified or downgraded could be difficult.
  • Classification criteria could be hidden.

Model 3. Interchange Plus. Interchange Plus offers the most transparent pricing. The Processor simply passes the Interchange and Card Association Fee directly to the merchant with an agreed-upon Markup Fee. “Interchange Plus” refers to the combination of Interchange, Card Association Fees, and Markup.

Unfortunately, many Processors offer the Interchange Plus model only to high-volume merchants. For example, Stripe requires interested merchants to submit a form, disclosing monthly volume. If the volume is too low, Stripe will start with Flat-rate Pricing until a merchant reaches the minimum transaction volume.

The PROs of Interchange Plus:

  • Transparent pricing with clearly defined Markup Fees.
  • No hidden fees, typically.

The CONs of Interchange Plus:

  • Monthly statements are often long, confusing, and difficult to read because there are hundreds of Interchange fees.
  • Usually offered to merchants with high payment volume.


We provide the best value to our customers by continuously refining our processes and cost structure.