Split payments: Using two cards for one transaction

Often OK in physical stores, using multiple cards difficult online


Split transactions
Split transactions

You’re shopping online and find the perfect wedding gift for your friends, and it’s on sale. You quickly click it into the shopping cart.

Since your credit card balance has grown uncomfortably high, you decide to split the payment between that card and the debit card from your bank, where the balance is uncomfortably low. Seems like a good solution, right?

Probably not.

Most online merchants won’t allow you to split your payment this way. Internet stores may allow you to combine a gift card with a credit card when you make a purchase, but they rarely let customers use two credit cards, or a credit and debit card mix, to do the same. Of the 10 e-tailers spot-checked, we were only able to find one that did (see box).

"In the 17-plus years I’ve been involved with online payments, I’ve never seen a single shopping cart offer me the option to use multiple credit cards at checkout," said Rey Pasinli, executive director at payment processing company Total-Apps, in an email.

While retailers accept a growing array of payment forms, and some brick-and-mortar stores do accept multiple cards for one transaction, shoppers are hard-pressed to find online stores that will allow them to combine two or more cards for one sale. Technology, security and expense are among the probable stumbling blocks preventing e-commerce sites from supporting multiple-card payments, experts say.

Online retail giant Amazon states on its website: “Payment may be split between one of the accepted credit or debit cards and an Amazon Gift Card, but payment can't be split among multiple cards.” Amazon also prevents customers from splitting payment between credit cards and prepaid Visa, MasterCard and American Express cards.

While Target stores allow customers to use more than one credit card per sale -- “Our checkout registers can process multiple credit cards in one transaction,” among other “multiple payment method sales,” the company’s website says -- the e-commerce site “only accepts one credit card payment per order.”, however, does allow customers to combine a credit card with up to four Target GiftCards or eGiftCards for one order, the website says.

A company spokesman confirmed that doesn’t accept multiple credit cards for online transactions and does support use of a Target GiftCard plus a credit card, but had no other comment on the subject. Amazon didn’t respond to requests for comment about its split-payment policies.

Verification issues
Gift cards don’t require the same verification that credit cards do, according to Pasinli. “The primary inhibitor is a technical issue. Merchants typically use a third-party shopping cart vendor to help facilitate the checkout process. Invariably, these shopping carts are configured to only accept a single credit card at checkout," Pasinli said.

Pasinli said another challenge involves Address Verification Services (AVS), an anti-fraud tool that allows merchants to see if the submitted billing address matches that on file with the card issuing bank. If a consumer uses multiple cards, each would need to be validated by AVS. “Coding a shopping cart to dynamically do this would require some pretty sophisticated programming,” he said.

Things can get extremely complicated once you start adding another variable into the checkout process.

-- Rey Pasinli

Gift cards, on the other hand, don’t require AVS or CVV (Card Verification Value), so it’s easier for online merchants to accept them alongside a credit card, rather than multiple credit cards. In addition, merchants anticipate that people may receive several gift cards and combine them for a large purchase, Pasinli noted. A consumer using 10 separate credit cards with $2,000 limits to buy a $20,000 Cartier watch, however, might raise suspicions, he said.

Using multiple credit cards also could complicate the payment process for the consumer. What happens if a consumer uses three cards at checkout and later returns the item? “Which card gets the refund? As you can see, things can get extremely complicated once you start adding another variable into the checkout process,” Pasinli said.

Technical obstacles
Don Bush, vice president of marketing at Kount Inc., an online and mobile fraud prevention technology firm, said that many merchants -- both online and offline -- simply choose not to support split credit cards and multitender transactions because of the various information technology components, operations and systems required.

Many systems -- tax, e-commerce, fulfillment, promotion -- don’t support it, and when retailers need to involve multiple systems in a transaction, “there’s an increased chance of delay, complications and collisions that can cause headaches for both the company and the consumer,” Bush said via email. “All the systems have to collaborate to make sure criminals aren’t working the loopholes between systems, and working with split cards can complicate this even further.”

As for the practice of some retailers allowing more than one credit card for a purchase at a physical store but not online, Bush noted that in-store systems run on different platforms than online systems. “They don’t collect as much data and can cross between gift and credit cards easier.” In a “card-not-present” environment, i.e., one used in phone or online sales, “the systems are not as easily combined and there is a big window for fraudsters to exploit,” he added.

Restrictions on merchants
Combining credit cards for one purchase also could cause problems if it allows a sale to exceed the authorization limits set by a retailer’s credit card service provider. Merchant accounts have a maximum ticket size, Pasinli explained, “so if a merchant has a $2,000 max ticket, they are prohibited from splitting a transaction using multiple cards” to circumvent that max, he said.

All the systems have to collaborate to make sure criminals aren’t working the loopholes between systems, and working with split cards can complicate this even further.

-- Don Bush
Kount Inc.

The blog for Unibul Merchant Services, a credit card acceptance firm for U.S. businesses and nonprofits, warned merchants against trying to get around their ticket max by allowing a split transaction with multiple credit cards, noting that the practice is “explicitly forbidden.”

Retailer authorization limits are part of fraud prevention, the blog notes. And a merchant’s card processing rates are based partly on the risk exposure connected to its authorization limits, Unibul says.

Credit card companies do allow split transactions involving gift or prepaid cards because they can’t be overdrawn, Unibul notes.

Consumers find workarounds
If blogs and Internet forums are any indication, some consumers have found their own ways to work around e-commerce sites’ one-credit-card-only limits, essentially by using credit cards or credit-card-company gift cards to buy retailer gift cards to make a desired online purchase.

A site called EasySplitPay contains articles on how to split online payments at several merchants, and the advice essentially boils down to purchasing gift cards with credit or debit cards.

Outside of online shopping carts, there are some industries where multiple cards might be utilized in a transaction, Pasinli noted. A large wedding catering bill could amount to $50,000, and since most consumer credit cards don’t have that size of a limit, the consumer might utilize five different credit cards with a $10,000 limit each, he said, adding that split payments also would be allowed for areas such as legal services, travel, timeshare, wholesale bulk orders, commercial and construction.


It's hard, but not impossible, to find U.S. e-commerce sites that allow multiple credit cards for one order. did a spot-check of 10 online retailers and found only one that does allow the customer to use two credit cards for one transaction at checkout.

Retailer Allows split transactions online? (and affiliated Yes No No No No No
No No No No
Source: research, April 2016


See related: Survey: 5 in 6 Americans admit to impulse buys, Poll finds craziest places people do online shopping

Published: April 11, 2016

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Updated: 10-23-2016

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