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Smart Bulletin No. 017

Brands (Visa/Mastercard) to Permit Merchant Surcharges


DateVersion History Action Log - Summary of Action/Changes
January 27, 2013Implementation of Smart Bulletin #17
August 16, 2023Revised to update for administrative changes.
March 22, 2024Revised for administrative updates

Effective Date

This Smart Bulletin becomes effective upon issuance and shall remain in force until modified or rescinded.

Business Line(s) Affected

Purchase, Travel, Fleet, and Integrated


This bulletin addresses surcharges merchants may choose to impose for accepting credit cards and GSA SmartPay charge cards.


Surcharges are fees that a retailer chooses to add to the cost of a purchase when a customer uses a charge card or credit card product. As a result of the settlement between a class of retailers and brands on January 27, 2013, merchants in the United States and U.S. Territories will be permitted to impose a surcharge on cardholders when a charge card or credit card is used as a form of payment.

Please note that not all merchants will choose to impose a surcharge, and each state may have its own policy regarding surcharge allowability.

In accordance with brand rules, the following limitations apply to merchant-imposed surcharges:

  • The surcharge amount is limited to the specific and negotiated acceptance rate of a merchant and the networks; meaning that merchants are not allowed to profit from choosing to assess surcharges. For example, if a merchant’s negotiated acceptance rate with VISA and MasterCard is 3%, the merchant is allowed to impose a surcharge of no more than 3% of the total transaction value. Please note that the total surcharge rate a merchant can impose cannot exceed 4% in any State.
  • Merchants are prohibited from imposing different surcharge amounts for different networks. For example, a merchant cannot impose a 3% surcharge for a VISA or MasterCard network product and a 2% surcharge for a non-VISA or MasterCard network product. In this example, the merchant would only be able to add a surcharge of up to 2% for all charge cards and credit cards accepted.
  • Merchants must post clear notice and signage of imposed surcharges, which includes brick and mortar locations and ecommerce portals.
  • All surcharges must be documented as a separate transaction line item in receipts. For more information, please refer to VISA and MasterCard policy at:


A/OPCs should ensure cardholders and other charge card management personnel are aware of the possibility of surcharges when making purchases using GSA SmartPay charge cards. If a merchant is imposing a surcharge, the cardholder may choose to consider another merchant that offers the same or similar item(s) to avoid paying the surcharge.

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