MasterCard International said it would move in March to a lower interchange fee in its purchasing card program.

This is the first time a card association has broken out corporate card interchange fees from consumer cards, MasterCard said. The new rates have not been set.

Steve Abrams, MasterCard's senior vice president for corporate products, called the interchange adjustment "a major breakthrough" and one that "meets the needs of the market."

Credit card interchange fees, also known as card-issuer reimbursements, are paid by the merchant's bank to the cardholder's bank to compensate for funding costs and other expenses.

MasterCard's new fee structure is designed to increase the number of banks participating in its purchasing card program and to encourage merchants to capture more data for corporations at the point of sale.

Observers said that the $400 billion a year purchasing market is alluring but has been tough for bank card issuers to crack because of the large amount of spending detail corporations want captured and transmitted for tax preparation.

MasterCard's new fee structure also creates a lower rate for large- ticket transactions, those of $10,000 or more, captured on MasterCard purchasing cards. When it introduced the card in 1991, MasterCard targeted transactions of $5,000 or less but now wants to increase the card's utility.

To date, members of the Purchase, N.Y., card association have issued 200,000 purchasing cards. MasterCard said volume has been growing 15% to 18% month over month.

Visa U.S.A. has not yet made a similar announcement, but observers predicted that the San Francisco association would follow MasterCard's lead.

American Express Co. has a different rate schedule for purchasing cards, "which are a notch lower than our consumer and corporate card products," said spokeswoman Christine Levite. "We generally bundle our pricing to the merchants based on what their average volume is."

Philip A. Skarston, vice president for marketing at Procard Inc., a marketer of purchasing card software in Colorado, said MasterCard is "right on the money with regard to incentives to capture additional data."

However, he noted that merchants or suppliers, in this case, have an even greater incentive. If a large corporation wants more information, it is in the vendor's best interest to capture it, he said. "MasterCard's simply making it easier for the vendor to make the decision."

The desired data include the tax amount of the transaction and the customer code. If a merchant can also capture 1099 tax identification numbers and merchant classification, plus line-item detail, the interchange fee is even lower.

Being able to price on something other than what type of terminal a vendor has, Mr. Skarston said, "indicates an advance in MasterCard's systems capability."

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