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Take On Payments, a blog sponsored by the Retail Payments Risk Forum of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, is intended to foster dialogue on emerging risks in retail payment systems and enhance collaborative efforts to improve risk detection and mitigation. We encourage your active participation in Take on Payments and look forward to collaborating with you.

Take On Payments

October 15, 2018


An Ounce of Prevention

Benjamin Franklin coined the phrase "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," and after attending late September's FinovateFall 2018 Conference in New York City, I find this aphorism as relevant today as it was in 1735. The conference showcased 80 demonstrations of leading-edge financial technology over two days with presenters representing five continents. Demos touched on a wide range of technologies and solutions, including game-based marketing and financial education; "lifestyle" mobile banking applications that integrate social media, news, e-commerce, and financial management to deliver personalized recommendations; lending and home buying; and integration with intelligent personal assistants. What stood out to me most were the many possible technologies offered to authenticate users, cards, and mobile transactions, each with the potential to prevent payments fraud.

As card payments continue to dominate consumer transactions in the United States, usage is increasing in other countries, and remote purchases gather steam, the demand for fast, reliable identity and payment authentication has also grown. So has the even greater demand from consumers for frictionless payments. But how does technology reward the good guys, keep out the bad ones, and prevent cart abandonment or consumer frustration? Here are just a few examples of how some of the fintech companies at the conference propose to satisfy these competing priorities.

SMS—While one company proclaimed that SMS was designed for teenagers and never intended for use as a secure messaging means, another proposed a three-factor authentication method that combined the use of a PIN, Bluetooth communication, and facial recognition via SMS sent to account holders to identify a possible fraud event in real time. Enhancing this technology was artificial intelligence that analyzes facial characteristics such as smiling or frowning.

Biometrics—Developers demonstrated numerous biometrics options, including those using unique, multifactor, non-gesture-based biometric characteristics such as the speed and pressure we use to swipe our mobile devices. Also demonstrated was the process of linking facial recognition to cards for both in-person and e-commerce purchases, as well as "liveness" tests that access the mobile phone's gyroscope to detect slight physical movements not present when a bot is involved. Another liveness test demonstrated was one in which people use their mobile devices to shoot videos of themselves reciting a number or performing randomized movements. Video content is then checked against identity verification documents, such as driver's license photos, that account holders used at setup. The developers noted that using video for liveness testing helps prevent fraudsters from using stolen photos or IDs in the authentication process.

Passwords—Some developers declared that behavioral biometrics would bring about the death of the password, and others offered services that search the corners of the dark web for compromised credentials. Companies presented solutions including a single, unique identification across all platforms and single-use passwords generated automatically at each login. One of the most interesting password technologies displayed involved the use of colors, emojis, numbers, and logos. This password system, which could be as short as four characters, uses a behind-the-scenes "end code," where the definition of individual password characters is unique to each company employing the technology, rendering the password useless in the event of a data breach.

As I sat in the audience fascinated by so many of the demos, I wished I could go to my app store to download and use some of these technologies right away; the perceived security and convenience, combined with ease of use, tugged at the early adopter in me. Alas, most are white-labeled solutions to be deployed by financial institutions, card networks, and merchant acquirers rather than offered for direct consumer use. But I am buoyed by the fact that so many solutions are abiding by the words of Ben Franklin and seek to apply an ounce of prevention.

Photo of Ian Perry-Okara  By Nancy Donahue, project manager in the Retail Payments Risk Forum  at the Atlanta Fed

 

October 15, 2018 in biometrics, cards, cybersecurity, emerging payments, fintech, innovation | Permalink

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July 30, 2018


Are You at Risk from Zombie Credit Cards?

Do you have any infrequently used credit cards hiding in the back of a drawer? Maybe a card you applied for to get a discount on a new washing machine? Or a card you used frequently a few years ago that has been superseded by a newer card with better rewards or a lower interest rate? You know, the kind of card you might think is dead but isn't quite.

I had a card like that in the back of a drawer, until my bank canceled it a few weeks ago. The bank pointed out that I hadn't used the card in years but offered me the opportunity to reactivate.

No, thanks. I don't need the extra exposure of a forgotten card that has long outlived its usefulness. It's enough trouble keeping track of the cards I do use.

When it comes to inactive credit cards, it turns out I'm not alone. The 2016 Federal Reserve Payments Study finds that, of general-purpose credit cards issued to consumers, 42 percent were not used to make at least one purchase a month during 2015. As a percentage share, this is about the same as 2012, when 44 percent of credit cards were not used at least once a month. ("General-purpose" cards use one of the four major credit card networks, while "private-label" cards can be used only at a particular merchant or limited set of merchants.)

In 2015, there were 192 million consumer general-purpose credit cards outstanding and inactive. That's about four inactive credit cards for every five adults in the United States. (The adult U.S. population in 2015 was 247 million.)

Of course, inactive cards are not necessarily abandoned cards, as mine was. Perhaps their owners reserve them for a special purpose, or keep them around for times when particular retailers offer discounts. Perhaps they are backups in case primary cards are compromised. Or perhaps they serve as an emergency credit cushion—a "just-in-case" line of credit.

Nevertheless, these account numbers are out there. Mine could be sitting in the database of a magazine that is automatically renewed every year or maybe attached to an expired membership at a website I don't use anymore. It's good to have that card canceled, to avoid the risk that the card will rack up charges, zombie-like.

So what about those infrequently used cards at your house? Are you holding on to an older card because a longer lifespan card could possibly improve your credit score? If not, today might be a good day to cancel and then cut them up.

Photo of Claire Greene By Claire Greene, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

July 30, 2018 in cards, consumer fraud, data security | Permalink

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July 23, 2018


Learning about Card-Not-Present Fraud Mitigation

Over the last year, I have had the pleasure of working with Fed colleagues and other payments industry experts on one of the Accredited Standards Committee's X9A Financial Industry Standards workgroups in writing a technical report on U.S. card-not-present (CNP) fraud mitigation. You can download the final report (at no cost) from the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) web store.

As this blog and other industry publications have been forecasting for years, the migration to payment cards containing EMV chips may already be resulting in a reduction of counterfeit card fraud and an increase in CNP fraud and other fraudulent activity. This has been the trend in other countries that have gone through the chip card migration, and there was no reason to believe that it would be any different in the United States. The purpose of the technical report was to identify the major types of CNP fraud and present guidelines for mitigating these fraud attacks to the various payments industry stakeholders.

Graph-image-b

Source: Data from Card-Not-Present (CNP) Fraud Mitigation in the United States, the 2018 technical report prepared by the Accredited Standards Committee X9, Incorporated Financial Industry Standards

After an initial section identifying the primary stakeholders that CNP fraud affects, the technical report reviews five major CNP transaction scenarios, complete with transaction flow diagrams. The report continues with a detailed section of terms, definitions, and initialisms and acronyms.

The best defense against CNP fraud from an industry standpoint is the protection of data from being breached in the first place. Section 5 of the report reviews the role that data security takes in CNP fraud mitigation. It contains references to other documents providing detailed data protection recommendations.

Criminals will gather personal and payment data in various attacks against those who don't use strong data protection practices, so the next sections deal with the heart of CNP fraud mitigation.

  • Section 6 identifies the major types of CNP fraud attacks, both attacks that steal data and those that use that data to conduct fraudulent activities.
  • Section 7 reviews mitigation tools and approaches to take against such attacks. The section is subdivided into perspectives of various stakeholders, including merchants, merchant acquirers and gateways, issuers and issuer processors, and, finally, payment card networks.
  • Section 8 discusses how a stakeholder should identify key fraud performance metrics and then analyze, report, and track those metrics. While stakeholders will have different elements of metrics, they must each go to a sufficient level so the results will provide key insights and predictive indicators.

The report concludes with several annex sections (appendices) covering a variety of subjects related to CNP fraud. Suggestions for the improvement or revision of the technical report are welcome. Please send them to the X9 Committee Secretariat, Accredited Standards Committee X9 Inc., Financial Industry Standards, 275 West Street, Suite 107, Annapolis, MD 21401. I hope you will distribute this document among those in your institution involved with CNP fraud prevention, detection, and response to use as an educational or reference document. I think it will be quite useful.

Photo of David Lott By David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

 

July 23, 2018 in card networks, cards, consumer fraud, consumer protection, cybercrime, cybersecurity, debit cards, identity theft | Permalink

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July 12, 2018


Behind the Growth in Debit Card Payments

U.S. consumers make more payments with nonprepaid debit cards than with other types of cards (credit and prepaid) combined. The 2016 Federal Reserve Payments Study found that consumers made 57.5 billion payments in 2015 using nonprepaid debit cards.

That's a 26 percent increase over 2012, when consumers made 45.7 billion nonprepaid debit card payments.

No doubt, effects of more favorable economic conditions—including declining unemployment, increasing wages, and greater consumer confidence—were important factors in increased consumer spending from 2012 to 2015. But from a payment choice perspective, such as which method or card to use, what might be driving this increase of almost 12 billion? Two factors related to those choices could be at play:

  • Maybe people started using the cards more intensively. That is, people who owned nonprepaid debit cards started using them more often, making more payments per card per month.
  • Maybe people started using the cards more extensively. That is, more people owned and actively used a nonprepaid debit card or more people owned and actively used multiple cards.

For this discussion, an "active" card is defined to be one that is not expired and had purchase activity or bill pay associated with the card during at least one month of the year 2015 or, for the 2012 estimate, at least one transaction during the month of March 2013. Note that the difference between the 2012 and 2015 estimates could, in part, be related to the different definitions of the measurement periods. (The Federal Reserve Payments Study also measures nonprepaid debit, credit, and prepaid cards that are in circulation but not used.)

Let's look at the numbers:

  • In 2012, there were 173.9 million active consumer nonprepaid debit cards in circulation. These cards are linked to a transaction account at a financial institution and can be used to make purchases at the point of sale.
  • In 2015, there were 209.6 million active consumer nonprepaid debit cards. That's an increase of 21 percent over the three years.
  • In 2012, U.S. consumers made 21.9 purchases per month per active nonprepaid debit card. In 2015, on average, across the months, they made 22.8 per card. That's almost flat—an increase of just four percent in the number of payments per card per month over three years.

These numbers overall tell us that increases in payments per card is not the main driver of this phenomenal increase in the number of nonprepaid debit card payments (see the chart). Note that payments per card is an average of various behaviors. Some people could be using their cards more—for example, new debit card owners may be moving from using cash or prepaid cards. Others could be using their cards less—for example, new owners of credit cards may be moving away from debit cards.

Number-of-non-prepaid-debit-cards-increases-chart

Rather, the increased number of active cards seems to be the source of the jump in the number of nonprepaid debit card payments. Here are some factors that could relate to the greater numbers of cards:

  • The U.S. population ages 18 and older grew from 240 million to 247 million during this time, a three percent increase (American FactFinder search).
  • The percentage share of consumers with a bank account (and thus able to own a nonprepaid debit card) increased from 91.8 percent in 2011 to 93 percent in 2015 (FDIC Survey of Banked and Unbanked Consumers [2012 estimate not available]).
  • By birth year, the share of people more likely to own a debit card increased. Young people born between 1995 and 1997 turned 18 between 2012 and 2015—about 14 million of them (American FactFinder search). At the same time, the population of people born before 1940 declined by about 4 million between 2012 and 2015.

Whatever the source of the increase in the number of cards, we see here that typical behavior for an active nonprepaid debt card is around 23 purchases per month. How many times per month do you use your card or cards?

Photo of Claire Greene By Claire Greene, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

July 12, 2018 in cards, debit cards, payments study, prepaid | Permalink

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June 25, 2018


Down but Not Out

As I noted in my last post, consumer habits are sticky when it comes to cash. Despite the many ways to pay, consumers make almost one-third of payments (by number) in cash. But sometimes cash just isn't an option. You can't use cash to buy a snack on an airplane, for example. This week, I look at factors about merchants that constrain consumers' payment options, including their unwillingness to accept cash for in-person payments or their inability to accept cash for online payments. (My colleague Doug King touched on cashless locations a couple of weeks ago.)

At the in-person point of sale, merchants' willingness to accept a payment instrument could affect the prevalence of cash. Consumers obviously cannot use cash when merchants will not accept it. Recent headlines (here and here) suggest that some quick-service restaurants, coffee shops, and food trucks may be growing reluctant to accept cash. As an example, here's a picture of a sign on a San Francisco food cart in late May.

20180612_RPO_TOP_Cashless_image The flip side of a merchant's unwillingness to accept cash is the merchant's willingness to accept card payments for ever-lower dollar values. And indeed, the average dollar value of card payments is dropping. For instance, the average dollar value of an in-person, non-prepaid debit card purchase fell from $35 in 2012 to $32 in 2016 (Federal Reserve Payments Study: 2017 Annual Supplement). This trend could indicate that merchants are increasingly agreeable to accepting cards for small-dollar transactions.

Consumers show they are aware of evolving merchant acceptance. The 2017 Survey of Consumer Payment Choice reported that consumers rate credit and debit cards highest for acceptance, with cash coming in third. The survey asked respondents to rate how likely each payment method is to be accepted by stores, companies, online merchants, and other people or organizations.

At the online point of sale, cash is not an option. (However, Doug mentioned in that same post that at least one online retailer is trying to make cash possible.) The share of purchases made online is still small—just about 12 percent of retail goods and services by number (2017 Survey of Consumer Payment Choice). Yet over the past four years that share has steadily increased. Data about remote card purchases in the Federal Reserve Payments Study (2017 Annual Supplement ) show the growing importance of online purchases. As Jessica Washington noted in her post in early May, remote card purchases grew more rapidly from 2015 to 2016 than did in-person card purchases, measured by both number and value.

Despite these developments, cash continues to dominate quick purchases. In October 2016, consumers paid for about half of their fast food purchases with cash. They used cash for 62 percent of convenience store purchases (2016 Diary of Consumer Payment Choice).

Cash has had staying power over decades of technological innovation. It may be down, but it isn't out.

To learn more about consumer payment choices and preferences, visit the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's new consumer payments web pages that house a variety of surveys, studies, and research reports on the topic.

Photo of Claire Greene By Claire Greene, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

 

June 25, 2018 in cards, currency, debit cards, emerging payments, mobile payments, online retail | Permalink

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June 11, 2018


Consumer Habits and Cash Use

As my colleague Doug King pointed out last month, cash is not going away anytime soon, Yanny/Laurel notwithstanding. By number, almost one-third of U.S. consumer payments were made in cash in 2017. Every year since 2008, the Survey of Consumer Payment Choice has found that cash is consumers' most popular or next-most-popular way to pay.

Many factors underlie cash's resilience, including access, current shopping habits, consumer ratings, and demographics.

Universal access. Paypal's chief financial officer commented to the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, "I don't think we will ever be entirely cashless, maybe in large part because I don't know if we will ever be in a world that every person has a smartphone or a mobile device."

Shopping habits. Most purchases—nine in 10—are made in person, not online (2015 Survey of Consumer Payment Choice). And when shopping in person, consumers prefer cash for small-dollar transactions. Two-thirds of U.S. consumers report that they prefer cash for in-person payments of less than $10 (2016 Dairy of Consumer Payment Choice). Forty percent prefer cash for in-person payments between $10 and $25.

Consumer ratings. Consumers say cash is the most cost-effective way to pay. The Survey of Consumer Payment Choice asks respondents to rate the cost of using a particular payment method, taking into account that fees, penalties, interest paid, etc. can raise the cost of a payment method, while discounts and rewards can lower it.

Demographics. People with fewer payment options use cash. That includes low-income people who have less access to credit cards as well as people without bank accounts who have no access to non-prepaid debit cards. It also includes millennials, who used cash for almost 30 percent of their payments in 2016 (Diary of Consumer Payment Choice).

You probably already know that card payments dwarf cash payments—almost 60 percent of consumer payments are made with some type of card, whether it's debit, prepaid, or credit. Yet cash persists. Recently, a new acquaintance told me he "never" uses cash. As evidence, he reported that he had no cash in his pocket, explaining "that's because I used my last $2 to buy coffee this morning."

Hmm. What does this say about the health of cash? What Dave Lott wrote in 2016 is still true today: not dead yet.

Next post: Merchant acceptance and the use of cash

To learn more about consumer payment choices and preferences, visit the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s new consumer payments web page that houses a variety of surveys, studies, and research reports on the topic.

Photo of Claire Greene By Claire Greene, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

June 11, 2018 in cards, currency, debit cards, emerging payments, mobile payments, payments | Permalink

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May 29, 2018


Laurel or Yanny? Cash or Card?

The latest and greatest trend on the Internet is the debate over whether you hear a recorded voice say "Laurel" or "Yanny." While I don't intend to get into the science of the phenomenon, I do find it fascinating (and completely ridiculous) that anyone would hear "Yanny." As I was thinking about this current crazed conundrum, the payments geek in me started to relate the Laurel-versus-Yanny debate to the payments industry.

It seems that we in the Retail Payments Risk Forum get asked at least monthly when the United States will become cashless. Our short answer is "never." Some people still prefer to pay with cash for many items, especially small-dollar purchases. In fact, a hamburger chain launched a cashless location during the past year only to find out that some of its customers were not happy that they were unable to pay with cash. And a large online retailer just announced a partnership that will allow its customers to use cash for purchasing gift cards to use on its website.

On the flip side, there are those (and I am smiling at one of my Risk Forum colleagues) who wince at the thought of making a paper-based payment, including cash, for anything. Here in the United States, we have embraced payments choice for consumers. And while I might be someone who prefers to pay with a credit card, I have close friends who prefer debit cards. I even know a few people who prefer to use their mobile phones.

Science can explain why people might hear a word differently. Perhaps we also need science to understand the factors that have a role in driving payment preferences—factors that might include past behavior and experiences, socioeconomic status, and incentives. Nevertheless, the fact remains that you will have your Laurels and your Yannys in payments, and oftentimes the two sides won't understand why the other would ever want to pay with their preferred method.

Research can get caught up in the hysteria that surrounds emerging payments and fintech and overlook established forms of payments. But let the Laurel-and-Yanny debate serve as a reminder that differences among consumers in payment preferences will always exist. Let's not lose sight of those established forms of payments that remain vitally important to commerce, even as the industry races to implement new technologies and systems.

To learn more about consumer payment choices and preferences, be on the lookout for the June 1 launch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's new consumer payments web pages that house a variety of surveys, studies, and research reports on the topic.

Photo of Douglas King By Douglas A. King, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

May 29, 2018 in cards, fintech, mobile payments | Permalink

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May 21, 2018


Heading toward A New Era of POS Portability?

At recent conferences I've attended, exhibitors in the point-of-sale (POS) terminal and acquiring business were all showing off their portable devices. With one of these, a restaurant server could take a payment at the table or a retail employee could conduct a transaction in a store aisle. The exhibitors said that these devices allow for a more high-touch, personalized customer experience than traditional counter-top POS devices. In fact, while walking the exhibit floor, I noted that countertop POS devices were extremely hard to find.

The theme of POS portability was also evident in the session rooms. Multiple panel discussions and keynote speeches focused on the Payment Card Industry's (PCI) PIN-on-glass security standard, which would give already-in-the-marketplace devices for using mobile phones and tablets as card readers the ability to use PIN-based authentication. In essence, the standard allows customers to enter their PINs on merchants' commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) devices—such as bring-your-own-device tablets or phones—rather than on PCI-certified devices that a merchant owns or leases through its acquiring relationship. PIN on glass has been widely implemented in Australia and, based on what I've heard at these conferences, it is probably one to three years from making any headway here in the United States.

I first wrote about portable POS devices in the restaurant industry nearly six years ago. Since then, I can count on my hands the number of times I've swiped or dipped my card at a portable POS terminal (and several of these interactions occurred in Mexico). Most experiences were positive. On numerous occasions, I've used my card with a COTS device, also with mostly positive experiences. I have honestly never envisioned using or yearned to use a PIN for these transactions.

Little has changed in the way of mobile POS adoption since I wrote that post. So, do I believe we are moving towards a new era of POS mobility? Yes, but very slowly. With the proliferation of independent software providers and their mobile-based solutions for payment processing, I think the industry is now better positioned than it was six years ago for a change. However, I learned from speaking with others in the industry that the conversion process remains time consuming and costly. As far as PIN on glass goes, will the consumer be an obstacle to adoption? I'm not convinced that consumers will be comfortable entering their PIN on someone else's mobile device.

What is your take on the future of POS portability?

Photo of Douglas King By Douglas A. King, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

May 21, 2018 in biometrics, card networks, cards, debit cards, emerging payments, mobile payments | Permalink

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May 7, 2018


Evidence of the Digital Age

Are you one of the estimated 90 percent of Americans who have shopped online over the past year? According to the most recent data published by the Federal Reserve Payment Study, remote payments grew faster than in-person payments by both volume and value. For example, from 2015 to 2016, remote general-purpose credit card payments grew at the rate of 16.6 percent, compared to 7.9 percent for in-person credit card payments. (See the chart.) Remote spending drove almost all of the growth of the general-purpose prepaid card during 2015–16, according to the study. If we had any doubts before, this growth shows us clearly that we're in the digital age, a time in history when digital technology has become ubiquitous.

General-purpose-card-payments-growth-rates

The shift from in-person payment to remote payment is certainly telling a story that will affect our future conversations and research. We need to take into consideration that as remote payments grow, they will become less and less connected to a physical card. Eventually, consumers may stop considering them to be card payments at all. They will likely start thinking first of their ability to make a payment with a digital account, with subsequent transactions eligible to ride a number of different payment rails, like ledger transfers, ACH, or other faster payments models.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that total ecommerce sales for 2017 were about $453.5 billion, an increase of 16 percent from the year before and accounting for 8.9 percent of total sales in 2017. Last year the Department of Commerce reported ecommerce sales have been growing nine times faster than traditional in-store sales since 1998. And remote payments will continue to accelerate. Consider the top retail trends of the year, according to research from the National Retail Federation:

  • Online purchase, store pickup: Stores are adding lockers for easier pickup.
  • Talking tech: Virtual assistants are rapidly growing in popularity and are ready and able to help customers make purchases.
  • Showrooms without inventory: Stores offer browsing, testing, and fitting, with the customer subsequently making the purchase online. This approach helps showrooms reduce their overhead and give consumers customized options.
  • Membership clubs: Stores collect customers' money upfront (sort of like prepaid) and send merchandise later, depending on what analytics have taught them about their customers and consultative sales touchpoints.

Future Federal Reserve Payment Studies will continue to track shifts in payments. However, we may need to adapt the ways we discuss these types of payments as the digital-first age leads to innovative transaction accounts with subsequent remote payments untethered from plastic cards.

Photo of Jessica Washington By Jessica Washington, AAP, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

May 7, 2018 in cards, debit cards, prepaid | Permalink

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April 30, 2018


Cash Discount Programs: The Flip Side of Surcharging?

In a recent post, I reviewed the structure of credit card surcharging programs that a panel discussed at the Southeast Acquirers Association conference earlier this year. Since that post, some of my colleagues who have encountered cash discount programs asked me if they were simply the flip side of credit card surcharging. While there are some similarities in the requirements of the two programs, there are some key differences.

Cash discount programs became legal across the United States in October 2011, following the passage of the Durbin amendment of the Dodd–Frank Act. That amendment permitted merchants to offer a discount to cash (or check) customers as an incentive to use those payment methods instead of cards. The way it works is that the merchant charges a service fee to all transactions that the merchant then reverses or discounts if the customer pays with cash or check.

The sample receipts below illustrate the difference between a purchase made with a payment card and a cash payment from a merchant who uses a flat service charge pricing option.

Images-of-reciepts

Unlike surcharges, which apply only to credit card payments, service fees are applied against all types of card payments. And while surcharge program fees are always a certain percentage of the transaction, a cash discount program can use a flat fee (usually based on the average ticket size) or a percentage of the transaction amount. Businesses with a wide range of sales values would best be served using the percentage model, while a flat fee works better for businesses with relatively consistent ticket sizes. Credit card surcharge program rates are capped at 4 percent of the transaction amount, but cash discounting has no restriction. Of course, the higher the service fee the more likely the customer will be to notice and possibly move to another merchant who does not have such a program.

As with surcharges, the cash discount merchant must prominently display consumer notices at the entry points of the store as well as at the register about the service charge—that the customer can reduce or avoid by using cash. In addition, the sales receipt must explicitly display the service charge and, when applicable, the cash discount.

Among the possible benefits, merchants can lower their effective card processing expenses by collecting the service charge. Colleagues at the Boston Fed authored a discussion paper titled "Why Don't Most Merchants Use Price Discounts to Steer Consumer Payment Choice?" in late 2012 that reviewed a number of factors that might cause merchants to think twice about implementing a cash discount program. I believe the factors they reviewed are as relevant today as they were at the time of the paper. As for the credit card surcharge, the merchant has to consider customers' potentially negative response to such a fee, especially if they believe that the merchant has already built much of the cost of payment acceptance into the goods and services.

Merchants have to register credit card surcharge programs with the card brands prior to implementation. However, cash discount programs have no such requirement, so their adoption rate among the merchant community is difficult to quantify. One indicator may be from the Federal Reserve's 2015 Diary of Consumer Payment Choices. According to an analysis of the data, the national sample of respondents indicated they received a cash discount on 1.9 percent of their non-bill transactions that had a median value of $20. Interestingly, in a breakdown by industry type, transactions at automobile/vehicle-related and entertainment/transportation businesses were more likely to offer a cash discount—of 8.2 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively.

What has been your experience with cash discount or credit card surcharging programs? Did such a program cause you to change your initial form of payment?

Photo of David Lott By David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

April 30, 2018 in cards, payments | Permalink

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