American Express cards are accepted at thousands of retailers, including department stores, airlines, petrol stations, and major hotels – but you will come across places that refuse payment by Amex.

Many small businesses won’t accept American Express, and the reason for this is simple: Amex charge high merchant fees.

All credit cards charge their merchants processing and administration fees for accepting their cards, but Amex is known for charging a higher fee than other credit cards.

Generally with most cards, this fee is around 1-1.5%, but with Amex, it can be as high as 3-4%. For some small businesses, their profit margins are so small that they find it’s not worth the time, expense and paperwork to accept Amex.

In the past, Amex justified their higher merchant charges by positioning themselves as a corporate card for business clients, rather than a card designed for everyday consumers. They offered terms and features that were attractive to businesses, such as detailed data on the nature of card transactions, allowing for easy monitoring and attribution of company expenses. It was a service that, until recent years, their competitors didn’t provide, and it helped Amex to build a large corporate client base.

Businesses traditionally make use of higher credit card limits than regular consumers, so merchants were willing to accept higher fees from Amex, as business customers would usually spend more money. A company credit card with several cardholders can easily clock up tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of airline charges, hotel stays, meals and other business expenses in an average month.

By comparison, research from debt education charity Credit Action shows that UK consumers are carrying an average debt of £4,508 on their credit cards.

However, it’s not just businesses that refuse Amex – occasionally, Amex elects not to extend its service to certain merchants.

Amex in the UK have taken steps to prevent their customers from using their cards to gamble online, over fears that people might run up bad debts, and that it may open up more opportunities for fraud to be committed. It’s difficult to monitor as the internet is a global marketplace, but a similar policy exists with Amex in the United States.

Peter Carville is a freelance article writer who writes for Financial Facts about the current financial news and the credit crunch.

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