Businesses encouraged to accept Canadian debit cards

Published on Wed, Jun 20, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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­­­Thousands of Canadian dollars flow into Whatcom County every day, and the county’s chamber of commerce wants local businesses to take greater advantage of this source of business.

Bellingham/Whatcom County Chamber of Commerce and Industry has partnered with Montana-based NXGEN Payment Services to spearhead the Canada Certified program, which enables local businesses to accept Canadian PIN debit cards. Chamber president Ken Oplinger said he hopes the program will allow more county businesses, especially in Blaine and Birch Bay, to tap into the growing number of Canadians traveling south to purchase U.S. goods and services.

Although most businesses can accept U.S. debit cards, Canadian cards require a number pad to enter the PIN, a feature lacking in the U.S. system, NXGEN business development officer Brian Strodtbeck said. U.S. debit cards can be run as credit but Canadian cards cannot, forcing many Canadians to pay with cash, check or a credit card, which would tack on significant fees.

A study commissioned by Visa and Mastercard found 65 percent of Canadians use their debit cards to purchase items, NXGEN national association manager Anne Britz said. This habit tallies with Canadians’ general aversion to credit card debt and makes the ability for local businesses to accept Canadian debit cards a must, she added.

NXGEN’s push to get local businesses “Canada Certified” is two-fold: NXGEN will help business set up the necessary hardware and software in addition to organizing community specific promotional campaigns. NXGEN hopes this comprehensive approach will encourage business owners to get certified.

“We believe this program makes Canadians feel more at home,” Strodtbeck said.

To get individual businesses up and running, Strodtbeck and other NXGEN technicians will work with owners to determine the most economical way to upgrade their cash registers to accept the debit cards. Sometimes this requires software reprogramming, which would cost about $90, or purchasing an all-new pay terminal, which costs between $300 and $400. NXGEN’s systems will also  show the purchases in Canadian and U.S. dollars on the receipt, Strodtbeck added.

The promotional side of the program includes a “Canada Certified” sticker businesses can put in their windows and inclusion in community-specific Canada Certified Facebook pages where the businesses can post deals and special offers, Britz said. NXGEN will also work with local media outlets to set up special advertising deals for Canada Certified businesses; all of which is included in the program at no extra charge.

The Canada Certified program got its start in January in Montana where NXGEN is based. Brian Jenkins owns an electronic store in a shopping mall in Havre, Montana, about 20 miles south of the U.S./Canadian border. Jenkins said he’s glad his business can accept Canadian customers wanting to pay with their debit cards.

“It has really helped us because we don’t have that ‘no’ factor anymore,” Jenkins said.

 A recent move to a shopping mall closer to the Canadian border has doubled Jenkins’ Canadian trade, and he said he’s glad he’s able to take advantage of more of it.

The hardware and software improvements necessary to accept Canadian debit cards hit a snag when the new software proved incompatible with the store’s existing program, but Jenkins said NXGEN was very responsive in dealing with the issue.

Overall, Jenkins said becoming Canada Certified has been a huge plus for his business and he has made a point of recommending the program to other businesses in his area.

“I would like to see people in my community do better, and if this program can help them then I’m more than willing to share information about it,” Jenkins said.

For more information on the Canada Certified program, visit or call Strodtbeck at 406/730-7649.