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Credit Card Surcharge: Understanding CRA Rules, Sales Tax (GST/HST), and Exemptions for Canadian Businesses

A person tapping a credit card

Samantha Chen

Research Lead


Credit card surcharges have become increasingly relevant, serving as both a potential cost savings measure as well as an opportunity for savvy businesses seeking to optimize their financial operations.

Rescue’s mission is to demystify and streamline the process of implementing credit card surcharges for SMEs. We understand that dealing with the intricacies of financial regulations can be daunting. That’s why we’ve dedicated ourselves to providing compliant, easy-to-use credit card surcharge solutions tailored for the unique needs of SMEs. Our innovative approach combines state-of-the-art payment technology with a comprehensive understanding of the legal landscape, ensuring that your business not only survives but thrives in today’s competitive marketplace, all while adhering to the latest industry standards and regulations.

Understanding Credit Card Surcharges:

What is a Credit Card Surcharge?

We know we have covered this a lot, but here is a short summary. A credit card surcharge is an additional percentage (typically 2.40%) that a business may choose to apply to transactions where a customer chooses to use a credit card as a payment method. This surcharge is directly related to covering credit card processing fees, which are costs incurred by businesses for the ability to accept credit card payments. Essentially, a surcharge helps offset the expenses associated with these transactions, making it a strategic tool for financial management of a business. As a remind, surcharging is not currently allowed in the province of Quebec.

Merchants have recently been asking us about the GST/HST implications around these surcharges. Let’s take a quick look at what the CRA has said.

Navigating the legalities of credit card surcharges requires a keen understanding of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) guidelines and the Excise Tax Act. These regulations, along with the rules published by the Card Brands, determine how and when a surcharge can be applied, ensuring fairness and compliance in the market.

CRA Guidelines

The CRA stipulates clear guidelines for the application of credit card surcharges, emphasizing the importance of transparency and adherence to consumer protection standards. Businesses must stay informed about these regulations to avoid legal pitfalls and maintain good standing with both customers and regulatory bodies.

GST and Sales Tax Considerations – Surcharge as a Financial Service

When it comes to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and sales tax, things can get a bit more complex, especially considering the varied tax landscapes across Canada. It’s crucial for businesses to understand these regional nuances to ensure accurate tax collection and reporting. Being well-versed in these tax implications is not just about compliance; it’s about smart business practice that contributes to the financial health and reputation of your enterprise.

In this 2023 published article, the CRA provides the following statements:

“In this situation where a merchant allows a customer to use a credit card as a method of payment in return for the payment by the customer of a credit card surcharge, for GST/HST purposes, the merchant is viewed as providing a service to the customer that falls within paragraph (i) of the definition of financial service in subsection 123(1), which pertains to certain services relating to credit card transactions

Under the GST/HST, a supply of a financial service is an exempt supply, unless it meets the conditions for being a zero-rated supply, which is a supply that is taxable at the rate of zero percent. In either case, no tax is payable on a supply of a financial service…

The situation in which a customer chooses to pay by credit card and thereby incurs a credit card surcharge is considered to be comparable to the situation in which a customer chooses to pay by instalment and thereby incurs a financing charge. In the case of a credit card surcharge, it will generally be treated as consideration for a separate supply of a financial service where it is shown and charged separately from the consideration for the property or service purchased with the use of the credit card and from all other fees or charges that may be payable by the customer. “In that circumstance, the credit card surcharge will not be subject to the GST/HST.

Credit Card Networks and Surcharge Rules

The landscape of credit card surcharging is heavily influenced by the rules set forth by major credit card networks like Visa and Mastercard. These networks have specific guidelines outlining how and when a business can add a surcharge to credit card transactions. For SMEs, understanding these rules is critical to avoid non-compliance, which can lead to penalties or revocation of credit card processing privileges.

Visa and Mastercard Rules

Visa and Mastercard, among other credit card networks, have established clear regulations regarding surcharging. These rules often include limits on the surcharge amount, disclosure requirements to customers, and the types of transactions that are eligible for surcharging. Staying updated with these regulations ensures that SMEs can leverage the benefits of surcharging without falling afoul of network policies.

The Surcharge Imposed is Not Greater Than Our Cost of Acceptance

To ensure that a merchant remains compliant, both from the Card Brands perspective, but also from the application of GST/HST on surcharge amounts, a merchant must ensure they are following network rules relating to surcharging. By having a complaint system, where the surcharge amount is equal to your cost of acceptance, merchants will remain on the right side of both the CRA and the Card Brands.

Implementing Compliant Surcharges with Rescue Payments

Rescue Payments emerges as a vital ally for SMEs in this complex landscape. Our services are designed to ensure seamless compliance with both credit card network rules and broader legal requirements, including the Excise Tax Act and CRA regulations.

Compliance Made Simple

We specialize in demystifying the intricacies of these regulations, providing a straightforward path for SMEs to implement surcharges legally. Our systems are updated in real-time to reflect any changes in legislation or network rules, providing peace of mind and freeing up valuable resources that can be better used in other areas of your business.

Advantages for SMEs

By partnering with Rescue Payments, SMEs can enjoy the financial benefits of adding surcharges while minimizing the risk of non-compliance. Our solutions not only help manage credit card fees effectively but also enhance overall operational efficiency. This means more time focusing on growth and less time worrying about regulatory compliance.

Key Takeaways: Credit Card Surcharge in 2024 for SMEs

The landscape of credit card surcharges is continually evolving, and staying informed is crucial for the success and financial health of SMEs in Canada. Here are the essential points to remember:

  • Understanding Credit Card Surcharges: It’s vital for SMEs to comprehend what a credit card surcharge is and how it relates to the broader context of credit card processing fees. A surcharge is not just an additional cost but a strategic tool for offsetting transaction fees.
  • Navigating Legal and Regulatory Frameworks: The regulations set by the CRA, as well as the rules from credit card networks like Visa and Mastercard, play a significant role in how surcharges can be applied. Familiarity with these rules is non-negotiable for legal compliance and operational smoothness.
  • The Impact of Taxes: GST and other sales taxes are important considerations when implementing surcharges. Understanding the tax implications in different regions of Canada is essential for accurate financial planning and compliance. By ensuring that your surcharge does not exceed your cost of acceptance, you can stay on the right side of the tax codes.
  • The Role of Payment Processors: Rescue Payments is more than just service providers; we are your partners in ensuring compliance and efficiency. Choosing the right payment processor can make a significant difference in how easily and successfully SMEs can implement and manage credit card surcharges.
  • Embracing Technological Solutions: In 2024, leveraging advanced payment solutions that align with current regulations and consumer expectations is key. Tools that simplify the surcharging process and ensure compliance are invaluable assets for any SME.

By keeping these points in mind, Canadian SMEs can effectively navigate the complexities of credit card surcharges, turning a potential challenge into an opportunity for financial optimization and business growth.

Important Notice: The information provided above is intended for general informational purposes and should not be considered as financial or tax advice. Every business’s situation is unique, and laws and regulations are subject to change. As such, it is crucial for merchants to consult with a qualified accountant or lawyer to obtain advice tailored to their specific circumstances. This will ensure full compliance with all legal and tax obligations and help in making informed decisions for your business.

Want advice on setting up a surcharge program?

We host weekly live trainings teaching you how to get the most out of your surcharge program, and if you want to get learning right now, you can download our Surcharge Canada Guide.

Download the Surcharge Canada Guide
Surcharge Canada Guide