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Why Doesn’t Sam’s Club Accept Visa Credit Cards?

Written by Nickel - 108 Comments

Have you ever wondered why Sam’s Club doesn’t accept Visa-branded credit cards? I mean, they accept MasterCard (and Discover!), so why not Visa? It’s understandable that they don’t accept Amex, as many merchants avoid Amex due to their relatively high merchant processing fees.

But Visa and MasterCard credit cards have similar processing fees, so why accept one and not the other? As it turns out, Walmart (who owns Sam’s Club) has a deal with MasterCard for discounted processing fees. While they’ve decided not to limit people’s options at regular Walmart stores, they accept MasterCard over Visa at Sam’s Club as a cost-cutting measure.

What about Discover? As it turns out, Sam’s actually has their own Sam’s Club Discover Card that can be used not only at their warehouse clubs, but also at other locations that accepts Discover.

Published on March 31st, 2010 - 108 Comments
Filed under: Credit Cards

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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108 Responses to “Why Doesn’t Sam’s Club Accept Visa Credit Cards?”

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  1. 1
    BillyOceansEleven Says:

    I didn’t know Wal-Mart had a sweetheart deal with Mastercard. I had heard before that typical processing fees are normally higher for Visa branded cards than Mastercard (although not as high as AMEX), so I always attributed it to that.

  2. 2
    Bender Says:

    BTW – large merchants can negotiate these fees (so what is true for one merchant may not be true for another).

  3. 3
    BG Says:

    A lot of the big retailers have started getting fancy when you swipe a card. My local grocery store (not wal-mart) knows my card is a debit card and hence will default to a PIN-based (debit) authorization — same for their gas pumps. You have the option of running it through as credit/signature, but I stick with whatever they pick for the default. Kudos to those retailers to save a few bucks!

    Whenever I go into a convenience store, they always ask: “Credit or Debit?”, and I always reply “doesn’t matter to me”, and they _always_ run it through as credit. Hopefully these cashiers are trained to run it through the method that is cheapest for them (for my typical $10-$15 purchase amount), but I doubt they are…

  4. 4
    RB Says:

    The Sam’s club here in my area accept Visa, I’ve used my Visa debit card and ran it as “credit” many times.

  5. 5
    Nickel Says:

    RB: No matter how it gets run (PIN or signature) it’s still a debit card.

  6. 6
    Ron Says:

    It’s beyond me why a retailer would want to limit their customer’s ability to put money on the company’s bottom line, especially when a payment option is so ridiculously common everywhere else.

    Considering the volume that Sam’s runs, you’d think any credit processor would be more than happy to cut a sweetheart deal on Amex OR Visa.

  7. 7
    Tyler Says:

    Sam’s Club didn’t start accepting MasterCard until recently – 2007 or so? Prior to that it was only cash, check, or Discover.

  8. 8
    kseahag Says:

    The person in front of me at Sam’s tried to pay with a visa. The cashier explained Sam’s only accepts mastercard or discover (because Sam’s issues discover cards they must acccept all discover cards). However they will accept ANY debit card.

  9. 9
    smartcredit Says:

    Sam’s Club started accepting Mastercard only a year or two ago. I have a Sam’s membership and have both MC and VISA. My VISA card gives better cashback rebates than my MC, so I use my VISA to buy Walmart gift cards at Walmart. These gift cards can be used at Walmart, Sam’s and Sam’s gas pumps. This is how I get around using MC or Discover at Sam’s.

  10. 10
    RCP Says:

    Very similar to Costco — they only accept AMEX, cash, checks, or debit cards.

  11. 11
    kitty Says:

    ” You have the option of running it through as credit/signature, but I stick with whatever they pick for the default. Kudos to those retailers to save a few bucks!”

    The interesting thing is: I’ve read and thought that debit cards have smaller interchange fees than credit cards especially reward cards. Yet, a local French pastry shop accepts credit, but not debit. They also have a sign to please be considerable to their expenses and reserve credit cards for larger purchases i.e. over $20 or so which is fine with me as I really like the place and want them to be around forever. But I am really curious why they don’t accept debit – are debit fees not as small as I thought. One day I’ll ask, I am staying away for now – trying to lose a few pounds by summer.

  12. 12
    Terry Says:

    This never occurred to me – I don’t go to Sam’s Club and wouldn’t know where the nearest one is – but this sounds like exactly the sort of deal Walmart would do.

  13. 13
    Terry Says:

    Apparently I live in one of the two states devoid of Sam and his Club.

  14. 14
    Eric Says:

    Well lucky for me I don’t shop at Sam’s Club (Costco!) and Walmart was smart enough not to pull the same trick at their stores.

  15. 15
    Samantha Says:

    Yesterday (April 24) my visa debit card was refused at SamsClub. I’ve used it at Sams since the beginning of the year with no problems – heck I used it four days ago at a SamsClub without any issues!

    The cashier didn’t know anything about it, except to repeat over and over that they don’t take visa cards, only debit cards. My debit card had the words DEBIT CARD very clearly printed on it. And, yes, there was plenty of money in the account to cover the purchase. There’s nothing wrong with the card – I used it 10 minutes later at a grocery store.

    The people at the member desk (customer service) didn’t know why it wasn’t working either although they did admit that there were several people that had the same problem with their visa debit cards earlier that day.

    Is anyone surprised that SamsClub would change the rules and not tell anyone?

  16. 16
    John Frum Says:

    So why would Wal-Mart implement this policy only at Sam’s Club, and not at Wal-Mart?

  17. 17
    Mike Marshall Says:

    Wal-Mart tried to force both M/C and Visa into lowering their rates. M/C agreed and Visa did not. At one point Walmart did not accept Visa at all, but it started to cost them too much business, so they opened it up to Debit cards only.

    Debit card transactions are a flat rate, usually .50 per transactions, while credit card transactions are more, anywhere from 2-4% of the transaction (depending on a lot of different factors). The cost savings to Walmart/Sams Club would be significant.

    If you use a Debit card as a “credit card” and sign the receipt rather than put in your PIN, it does cost Walmart/Sams Club more, but this is also a decision on their part to accept this.

  18. 18
    Nickel Says:

    Mike: Around here, Walmart accepts all major credit cards (MC, Visa, and Amex).

  19. 19
    billy bob Says:

    boycott Sam Walton !!! Walmart’s partnerships with the Chinese are taking jobs away from Americans.

  20. 20
    Doc Says:

    I just joined a local Sams Club, thanks for the info. BTW a quick correction, RCP Says: Costco does not accept debit cards, “not true” in fact they only accept debit (of any issue) and Amex. Im looking forward to using my MasterCard at Sams.

  21. 21
    Pat Kelly Says:

    My husband’s business has a visa card and we are Sam’s Club members. Because I do most of the shopping for supplies, I only shop at Sam’s for a limited amount of items, such as paper dispenser towels and I have to be sure to have a business check with me. As a result, I buy most other office supplies from other vendors such as Office Depot, where I don’t have to make a special trip to the office to pick up a check or wait for my husband to bring home a blank check. So Sam’s may be saving on card fees by not accepting Visa, but they are losing out on business too. We have one credit card for the office and have no interest in getting an additional Discover or Mastercard. They should re-think this policy.

  22. 22
    Jim F Says:

    I do the same as Pat Kelly. Paper supplies, cups, and some cleaning supplies from Sams, then all other supplies from Office Depot. Fascinating that you can pay with visa at sams gas pumps but not inside their stores. Sams is losing lots of sales because of their greed need!!!

  23. 23
    geekbearinggifts Says:

    According to their website, Sam’s Club accepts Visa credit cards online, but not in the store. You can see a list of accepted payment methods here:

  24. 24
    azmedic85308 Says:

    Sam’s just lost $1300 from me today (LED tv and a car seat) because of this silly policy.

  25. 25
    frustrated Says:

    This is just one more reason to avoid any Wallmart owned company. Just had this same thing happen on church purchases. 160 of purchases just went down the tubes. I guess it was worth it to Sams’s Club but 3% on 160 is 4.80 a small amount. So someone else will get the business.
    Personally I have never liked the Wallmart family of stores, it is stupid little stuff like this, aside from the mess and dirt, that simply turns me off.

  26. 26
    John Says:

    SAMs doesn’t accept visa for one reason. To be price leaders. If SAMs decided to take visa, cost goes up, prices go up. If you were to shop at every store in town and buy 100 items at sams, 97 of them would be the best price ( every day price, not a sale price) that being said, why would you not want to shop at sams, there is a reason 48 million people shop at SAMs. Because they save money. Instead of being mad at a company who’s number one goal is to save people money so they can live better, be mad at the visa corp. For charging companies millions of dollars to use the credit that they over extend to people in hopes those will either miss a payment and default. Because that’s how they make money, not by saving people money and wanting repeat shoppers because of that fact…..

  27. 27
    AW Says:

    John -

    The prices aren’t that great on most items at Sam’s Club (or Walmart). I get much better prices with coupons combined with sales at other stores. Walmart’s motto is just to get sales it’s not their guiding principle or mission statement. Other smaller businesses can afford to accept VISA and so could Sam’s Club if the chose to do so.

  28. 28
    Dave Says:

    I often find great values on electronics at Sam’s Club. However, I like to use my Visa Credit Card to double the regular manufacture warranty. This is an issue because Sam’s Club doesn’t except Visa Credit.

    Well there is a loop hole in the payment system. You can use a Visa Credit and other payments online that normally aren’t accepted in the store. Also, select pick up at club and then they will have your shopping done for you.

    It’s crazy to deny one type of payment in person but still offer it as a store online.

  29. 29
    basuranegra Says:

    A lot of people shop at Sam’s not for the prices but for items that are not available elsewhere. And these are mostly high ticket-high quality items. Just as is the case with Costco. In fact, this was always the case with Costco, since the days of Price Club (Costco merged with Price Club in 1993). Members were signing for the quality and availability of goods not found elsewhere. Selling gas at club prices has attracted a broader clientele and opening up the membership to everyone (you had to be affiliated with a member organization to become a member earlier on) has done wonders in expanding the customer base.

    But it is true, that although people associate the warehouse clubs with quantity worthy of big families (or businesses) the number or single or two people households that are members of the clubs is astonishing. We go for the quality. We certainly don’t need the quantity…

    As for the credit card acceptance issue, I just checked because a colleague told me that Sam’s accepts Mastercard. So far I have had a Discover (which is free to have) exclusively for Sams, although I use a Visa for gas there. I don’t use the Discover anywhere else because the card’s incentives suck. It is the worst in points and rewards. I have the ‘Travel’ Discover and just about the only semi-OK reward is when used to pay travel expenses. But it does not offer the extras Visa and Mastercard offer for tickets and car rentals (free insurance), so I only redeem for the very very occasional hotel stay. Now that I know I can use my Mastercard I will only use the Discover until the next level award.

  30. 30
    steve jones Says:

    sams club sucks as being customer friendly with paying for your purchase. I drove 12 miles to a sams and was paying with a VISA card,,,, the same card that is more popular than any card in the world. Those dicks don’t except this card. you talk about being pissed. i drove 24 miles round trip without any purchase. you go to the mother store walmart and can buy all day long useing visa. SAMS SUCKS.

  31. 31
    andrew Says:

    I’ll stick with Costco and my awesome 3-2-1% cashback Costco AMEX card OR my 2% across-the-board cashback Fidelity AMEX card OR my 1.5% across-the-board cashback Fidelity VISA card thank you very much.

    Sorry Sams Club, I would switch from Costco and give you my THOUSANDS of $$$ per year that Costco now gets but only if I can use my AMEX or VISA. Your loss…. retards.

  32. 32
    Paulie Says:

    As of August 2001, a local Walmart is telling customer that they (not unlike their affiliate SAM’S CLUB) are no longer accepting CREDIT payment (Visa, etc). Instead, they are only accepting DEBIT + PIN purchases.

    Sam’s Club has been telling me this for over a year, every weekend I make a grocery purchase, but IT IS COMPLETE BULL$HIT. All you need to do to pay using a Visa credit card is (1) swipe card, (2) press CANCEL, (3) choose CREDIT. That’s all there is to it.

    I actually had a cashier call over the store manager who then proceeded to engage me in a heated argument that it “was impossible” to make a CREDIT payment in Sam’s Club. I asked him ALOUD why they are lying to customers (I had lots of customers listening) and then proceeded with my aforementioned steps to his dismay.

    Today, a Walmart goon told me the same story; “Sorry, we don’t accept Visa any longer – only DEBIT PIN purchases”. I verbally protested and she MIRACULOUSLY rang the $240 order as CREDIT … telling me “You’re lucky I’m doing this for you”. I laughed saying “and you’ll do it again next time”.

    This situation is truly getting out of hand. Even a local gas station (unrelated to Sam’s) immediately prompts for a PIN NUMBER after swiping my card. No instructions (on screen or otherwise) telling you how to process as CREDIT. Yet, the CANCEL BUTTON produces the same result; prompts me for credit and then asks for my ZIP CODE to (poorly) authenticate the card’s ownership.

    My prediction for the near future is that retailers will begin to add the merchant fees onto their customer’s bill who choose / prefer to pay with credit.

    As a reminder, a DEBIT purchase REQUIRES *available* funds, in order to be approved at the register. In this economy, this will become a HUGE issue for many patrons. As I don’t always have sufficient funds in my realted account (EG: It’s Sunday and I am buying groceries but I’ll get paid the next day Monday), I won’t be able to shop if stores don’t allow me the luxury of a credit purchase where the amount is physically withdrawn 1-2 business days after the transaction date.

  33. 33
    Brey Says:

    Just switch to BJs! They accept all credit cards- even AMEX. They take debit and food stamps too. The prices are comparable to Sams but with better sales. Plus you can stack BJs coupons with multiple MFCs. I bought a 4 pk of Degree deoderant. Originally $7.99 but after my $2 BJs coupon, my two $1.00 MFcoupon, and my buy one get one free coupon I ended up paying 49 cents for 4 big sticks of deoderant. I’ve paid 60 cents for 4 tubes of colgate and I got a rotisserie chicken for $1.00. It’s worth the membership fee for milk alone. At Walmart a gallon of Hood Milk is $4.58. At BJs I get a Land O Lakes gallon for $2.48! I love BJs!!!

  34. 34
    tracy Says:

    I just had to walk out of Sam’s without the things I wanted. They didn’t accept my visa/debit card…wouldn’t even run it. I’d been shoping for two hours and had about a mounths worth of food in my cart. Wow just wow…

  35. 35
    Sams-Walmart-Hater Says:

    @Tracy: I had this exact thing happen to me recently with a cart overflowing with products. I walked out as well. The cashier was angry but too bad for them. What ever happened to the phrase “The customer is always right”?

    This happened in Tampa, Florida. I’d like to encourage others who blog here to list the city/state as well. If Walmart and Sams (same owner) start losing business or gaining HUGE amounts of negative publicity, perhaps this situation will improve in favor of the consumer. With their power position, however, it’s extremely unlikely. BOYCOT SAMS and WALMART!

  36. 36
    bob Says:

    Just use the credit to buy walmart card and then use that at sams

  37. 37
    bob Says:

    Just use the credit to buy walmart card and then use that at sams

  38. 38
    Costco Policy Says:

    Costco (Wheat Ridge, CO) have changed their policy — no debit or credit cards, only American Express and cash.

  39. 39
    basuranegra Says:

    Costco never accepted anything but Amex, cash and checks from its members and only cash from non-members (shopping with member friends).

  40. 40
    chris Says:

    Went to Sam’s, shopped for 2 hours and acculated about $400-500 in my cart. Went to get a membership and check-out, was told they do not accpet visa. Left my full cart at the counter, walked out, drove 5 minutes down to BJ’s. Done deal… will never go back to Sam’s again.

  41. 41
    Stephanie Leclerc Says:

    Just went to buy a tv with my credit card(visa) at sans and they would not except it? Really…,,,, ?????!!!!

  42. 42
    Phil Pedro Says:

    Just went to Sams in Winston Salem NC. Wanted to get the wife a entertainment center with fireplace and some Tiffany lamps and a few other items. Total bill was $1400.00, swiped my Chase Freedom VISA, got the “We don’t accept Visa here, well I don’t accept your answer! Left a very heavy load at the register and drove across the street and bought the same items from Lowe’s! Sam’s sucks nearly as bad as Walmart! My wife loves shopping there but I have stepped in there for the last time…I would rather kick my own ass as to shop at Walmart or Sam’s Club! At least my ass will get a break now!

  43. 43
    Todd Blackwell Says:

    I just got the shocker of the year(for me at leadt). I went in Sam’s and loaded up a buggy with around $1000 worth of christmas presents. I also planned to go back after ringing that stuff up and get a smoker and a 42″ TV which would have been another $800. When the cashier told me they don’t take Visa credit I was dumbfounded. I had never heard of such a thing. They lost the $1800 sale. Then I thought I’d just go to Wal Mart and buy the stuff BUT I changed my mind. I decided I would stop making major purchases from WalMart or Sam’s. It amazes me that Sam’s would give up their customer base that only carry the Visa credit card.

  44. 44
    Brandon Says:

    I’am a cashier at sams and what i cant stand is when we tell you we dont take visa or amex you get pissed off at us its not our fault we dont take it yall act like we make the decisions for the company i wish us employees could be as rude as you sams club members.

  45. 45
    Connie Says:

    I’m closing my membership with Sam’s Club and opening one at Costco. They don’t discriminate against us VISA card holders!

  46. 46
    Scott Says:

    The original sweetheart deal was between Sam’s and Discover. Originally Discover was the only one willing to give Sam’s Club cheaper discount rates, and so then Sam’s Club only accepted Discover cards, cash and checks. Then later MasterCard decided it was willing to lower their rates too to get in on the action.

  47. 47
    Carla Says:

    Waited at customer service 40 freaking minutes today to open a membership. After the application, picture etc, was told no Visa. With this economy they turn customers away? there was no one in line, not many in the store. Good luck to them, don’t whine when you have to close stores. Opened one at BJs.

  48. 48
    Cashier@Sams Says:

    What a lot of cashiers do not know is that you can use a Visa card, ONLY if the card specifically says “Debit” on the card. You can use it as a debit/PIN transaction, OR if you choose to run it as credit, simply press cancel and select credit. Sam’s Club does not accept Visa CREDIT cards, however it does accept Visa DEBIT cards ran as a credit or debit.

    I know this because I am/was a trained cashier. At the Sam’s Club I work/worked at, cashiers were not trained to know why we do not accept Visa Credit cards, just that we don’t accept them. (Cashiers often mistake this as Sam’s Club does not accept any Visa card whatsoever. That’s not the case!!)

    I politely explain to the member/customers that we cannot run the Visa Credit card, but we are more than happy to accept Discover, Mastercard, and ALL debit cards. This includes Visa debit cards to be ran as credit.

    Now with that said, as a cashier it hurts me personally being yelled at by members because of something I did not do. I never came up with the rules, I just have to abide by them. Why do customers yell at me when I’m trying to explain a policy that not even I agree with?

  49. 49
    Brandon Says:

    I know members can run there visa debit as a credit I dont agree with us not taking visa either we lose a lot of business because of this I just hate fact that members think that us cashiers make the rules. Dont yell at me call corporate and talk to them about.

  50. 50
    Matt Says:

    Sams Club just lost another customer. My membership expires the end of this month and I won’t be renewing it. I have a credit card that’s Visa, and a Visa debit card at a local credit union that’ll only work when run as a credit card. So, the $300-400 a year I spent there for the last 2 years will go somewhere else.

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