When a consumer makes a purchase using a credit or charge card, a small portion of the price is paid as a fee (known as the merchant discount), with the merchant keeping the remainder. There are typically three parties who split this fee amongst themselves:Acquiring bank: the bank which processes credit card transactions for a merchant, including crediting the merchant's account for the value charged to a credit card less all fees. Issuing bank: the bank which issues the consumer's credit card. This is the bank a consumer is responsible for repaying after making a credit card purchase. The issuer's share of the merchant discount is known as the interchange fee. Network: the link between acquiring banks and issuing banks. These banks have relationships with a network, rather than with each other, for fulfilling card purchases. This allows a card issued by a community bank in Peru to be used at a shop in South Africa, for instance, without requiring the banks to have a direct relationship with each other. The two largest networks in the world are Visa and MasterCard. American Express operates its own network.
The average merchant discount in the United States is 1.9%. Of this, approximately 0.1% goes to the acquirer, 1.7% to the issuer, and 0.09% to the network.
Most Prime and Superprime card issuers use the majority of their interchange revenue to fund loyalty programs like frequent flyer points and cash back, and hence their profit from card spending is small relative to the interest they earn from card lending.