How Does Payment Processing Work? 

March 31, 2022

While the credit card transaction process may seem to take place instantaneously, a lot happens behind the scenes to ensure the payment is accurate and delivered on time. 

Discover who is involved in each step of the credit card transaction process and how payment processing works. 

Who Is Involved?

The customer and merchant aren’t the only players involved in a credit card transaction. Below are several of the key institutions that work behind the scenes to process credit or debit card payments.

  • Issuing Bank—The issuing bank is the cardholder’s financial institution to pay for a good or service. This can be anything from a local credit union to a large global bank.
  • Merchant Bank—A merchant bank is a bank the merchant uses to process the payment. 
  • Card Associations—These are the companies that issue credit and debit cards. The largest include Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express. These card networks set interchange rates and security guidelines for processing their cards. 
  • Payment Processor—These are companies that process card transactions. They connect merchants, merchant banks, issuing banks, and card networks together while managing the entire payment process. 

How Does Payment Processing Work? 

All payments are processed in two steps:

  1. Authorization
  2. Settlement and funding

Authorization

After the cardholder presents the credit card to the merchant, the card is either swiped, inserted, or tapped against a secure terminal  to verify the card and approve the potential transaction. This is called authorization.

During this authorization process, the merchant’s card reader contacts the merchant’s payment processor with a request for payment authorization—the payment processor contacts the appropriate card associations, which connect to the issuing bank. The card information is shared with the issuing bank. 

Issuing banks will decline authorization attempts if the information is invalid, expired, or inaccurate. They can also choose to decline authorization if there are signs of fraud, identity theft, or if there are insufficient funds in the cardholder’s account. 

If the issuing bank approves the authorization attempt, an approval is sent through the payment processor to the card association, back to the merchant bank, and finally back to the merchant. 

The entire authorization process typically only takes a few seconds to complete. 

Settlement and Funding

Now that the payment has been authorized, the merchant can transfer the funds. This is done through something known as settlement and funding.

After authorization, a merchant will use their payment processor to send a large batch of authorized transactions to a card association. Typically this batch includes every authorized payment from a single business day. Some larger organizations send batches more frequently to reduce batch size and prevent potential delays. 

The card associations share the batch information and communicate with the issuing banks, who then charge the cardholder’s account for the appropriate amount. That charge is sent back from the issuing bank to the card association and finally to the merchant bank, where it is deposited into the merchant’s account. 

In the past, settlement and funding were manually processed, which meant that it took days to resolve each batch. Now, this is an automated process, so it is usually handled overnight. 

What Does Processed Pending Payment Mean? 

If payment is “processed pending” or simply “pending,” it means that it has been authorized, but not settled or funded.

How Long Does It Take a Credit Card Payment to Process? 

A single credit card payment usually only takes one business day from authorization to funding. In some cases, it can take as long as three business days. 

CORE Payment Processing

CORE offers streamlined payment processing. Learn more about our payment processing solutions.  

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