Three Tiered Pricing: Qualified, Mid-Qualified and Non-Qualified

Three Tiered Pricing: Qualified, Mid-Qualified and Non-Qualified

This post is going to tackle the confusing language, fees, and sliding scale behind tiered pricing.

Here’s the situation… You’ve signed your business up for a merchant account. I’m sure you finally think you’ve read through all the fine print, and you feel like you have a pretty good handle on all the confusing terms, pricing structures, and fees. BAM! THREE TIERED PRICING! 

Why aren’t my processing fees the same month to month?What does qualified mean? How are some of my customers qualified and some aren’t? Why do I get charged different rates at different times? Is there anything I can do to save money? 

Let’s talk about pricing tiers!

Most credit card processors operate within a three tiered pricing structure. Each of your credit card transactions (or more accurately, each of your customer’s credit cards) falls into one of three tiers. Processors assign different rates to the different tiers based on certain risk factors. 

Other categorization systems do exist, but the three-tier approach is the most common pricing model.

How does a three-tiered pricing model work?

It’s actually pretty simple…

Credit card transactions are sorted into three tiers: Qualified, Mid-Qualified and Non-Qualified

Customer cards can fall into these tiers based on the type of card being used as payment, how promptly the transaction is settled, or other risk factors (which we’ll talk about later).

What do donuts have to do with tiered pricing? Not much… but who doesn’t love donuts?!?


If you own a brick and mortar store, most of your credit card transactions will be swiped or read by a terminal (CP, or card-present). Online merchants primarily rely on internet-based transactions and a payment gateway (CNP, or card-not-present).

When you sign up for a merchant account with a credit card processor, the types of transactions your business processes, determines your QUALIFIED rate.

Most major consumer credit and debit transactions, and therefore, most of your transactions as a business, fall into the QUALIFIED category. For this reason, most processors quote this discount rate when you ask about account pricing.


As you can probably guess, MID-QUALIFIED, or partially-qualified, discount rates apply to cards and transactions that don’t meet the standards for a fully qualified transaction.

Acquirers can label a transaction “mid qualified” when:

* Your customer’s card is a rewards card
* You or one of your employees key a card number into the credit card terminal instead of swiping it
* Transactions are not batched out within 24 hours of the transaction

Since MID-QUALIFIED transactions have a higher processing rate, consider what types of cards your customers typically use when you’re evaluating different processors.


A transaction falls into the NON QUALIFIED category if it does not qualify for one of the above mentioned rates.

An acquirer can label a transaction as NON QUALIFIED if:

* Your customer uses a certain card type that has greater risk
* The transaction has missing or incomplete information
* You or your employees fail to settle a daily batch of transactions within the allotted time frame (typically 48 hours)
* Your customer is using a federal or state government issued card, a corporate issued card, or a cart issued outside of the United States

Keep in mind that an AVS (Address Verification System) match has no bearing on the rate schedule. Having the AVS “match” DOES help to prevent fraud, but that’s an entirely different conversation.

Why do banks implement a tiered pricing model?

To limit liability, acquiring banks pass liability and potential cost onto the merchant in the form of tiered pricing.

Every time a transaction is processed, there is associated risk for the processing bank. Acquirers worry about chargebacks and fraud impacting interchange cost. Additionally, when a card issuing bank offers higher “rewards” or “cash back” points to their customers, this drives up the interchange costs (there is no free lunch).

Any Questions?

We’re happy to help clear up any confusion about tiered pricing. Or anything else for that matter! Contact us HERE.

If you’re looking for a FREE QUOTE,  click that big orange button below! We’ll evaluate your business needs, go over all possible fees, and walk you through savings at every tier.

I’m ready to learn more!

If you’ve made it this far into our blog, you’ve probably learned that we like to take the confusing jargon out of the payment processing industry. We interpret confusing terms into “real people” talk and put the power of understanding BACK into the business owners hands. If you enjoyed this post, you’ll probably enjoy these too…

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