What is the Difference Between Closed and Open Loop Payments?

Business owners must consider what payment systems they accept or use during the course of regular business. One consideration that sometimes goes unaddressed is the difference between closed and open-loop payment systems. The distinction seems fairly straightforward, but there are nuances to consider for each.

In this blog post, we'll explore what sets open-loop and closed-loop payment systems apart and how each one works. We'll also discuss the benefits and drawbacks of both, so you can make an informed decision when deciding which one is best for you. Keep reading to learn more about open-loop and closed-loop payment systems!

How Does an Open-Loop Card Work?

Open-loop cards are payment cards that are accepted by numerous merchants and businesses to pay for goods and services. Open-loop cards are typically accepted anywhere that accepts card payments. These cards are issued by banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions.

Open-loop cards come in a variety of forms. Open-loop cards can be credit cards, debit cards, prepaid cards, gift cards, and more. When using an open-loop card, the transaction is processed, authenticated, and settled using a POS system, online processing, or some other form of processing system. The funds are taken from the card account and credited to the merchant account or the merchant’s processing service for the amount of the transaction.

Open-loop cards are advantageous for several reasons. Namely, the fact that they can be used anywhere they are accepted. This is much more convenient and flexible for cardholders. Of course, they also come with their share of downsides. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of open-loop cards.


Here are some of the biggest benefits of open-loop payment systems:

  • Convenience and flexibility — As mentioned, open-loop cards offer unparalleled flexibility and convenience for making purchases. They make it easy for cardholders to access funds from anywhere, and most merchants accept them as payment.
  • Security — Open-loop cards offer superior security to cash or checks, using encryption to protect information from getting stolen. Cards can also be put on hold, canceled, or charged back if there is fraudulent activity.
  • Rewards — Open-loop cards can offer rewards and incentives such as cash back, travel points, discounts, and more. These rewards tend to be more flexible than the rewards you get from closed-loop payment systems.


While open-loop cards are extremely convenient, they don’t come without downsides. Here are some of the major cons of open-loop payment systems:

  • Fraud and theft — Open-loop cards can be more secure than cash, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to fraud and theft. Since they’re connected to large payment networks, the information can be hacked.
  • Fees — Open-loop cards can have costly fees for both merchants and cardholders. Processing fees can be especially expensive for merchants, and they may not accept certain cards because of the fees. Meanwhile, some online merchants will charge users fees for using a credit card.
  • Spending habits — One of the biggest critiques against open-loop payment systems is that they can promote bad spending habits. Credit cards especially can lead to overspending and debt. Typically, high-interest rates on credit cards can also lead cardholders to spend more on purchases than they would have if they paid for an item on debit.


Here are some examples of open-loop payment systems:

  • Credit cards — Credit cards are common open-loop payment systems that are issued by companies like Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover. These cards are accepted by millions of merchants all over the world. They offer unparalleled flexibility compared to other methods of payment.
  • Debit cards — Debit cards are open-loop payment systems that draw money directly from the cardholder's checking account. There are also prepaid debit cards with a set amount of money. Debit cards can also be used to withdraw cash at participating ATM locations.
  • Online payment systems — Online payment systems like PayPal are open-loop payment systems. Many online merchants accept PayPal as a payment method. Typically, you connect these third-party payment systems to your bank account or a card.
  • Gift cards — Although gift cards are usually closed-loop cards, there are gift cards on networks like Visa that can be used anywhere Visa is accepted.

How Does a Closed-Loop Card Work?

Closed-loop payment systems are typically only accepted at certain merchants and retailers. These closed-loop cards are linked to a specific merchant or retail outlet, meaning that the card can only be used at the same places.

When using a closed-loop payment system, customers have to present their card when making a purchase. The payment is then processed through the retailer’s payment system, which is separate from any other payment network. Once the purchase is complete, the customer’s account is credited with the amount of the purchase.

The biggest advantage of closed-loop payment systems is that they are generally safer and more secure than open-loop cards. That's because they are tied to a specific retailer or merchant, making it harder for someone to use them fraudulently. Also, closed-loop cards may provide customers with additional benefits, such as rewards or loyalty points.


Closed-loop payment systems offer several benefits. Here are some of the biggest pros:

  • Rewards and Loyalty Points — One of the biggest benefits of closed-loop payment cards is the ability to accumulate rewards, discounts, and loyalty points for the merchants you shop at most.
  • Increased Security — Closed-loop cards can usually be considered more secure than open-loop cards since they’re only used in a certain network. This can also make it more difficult to make fraudulent transactions.
  • Lower Fees — Since closed-loop payment systems are within their own network, they are not subject to the same fees imposed by card networks on open-loop systems.
  • Improved Brand Recognition — Closed-loop cards can be branded with the issuing company's logo or name, providing an effective way for companies to boost brand awareness and loyalty.
  • More Control Over Transactions — With a closed-loop card, the issuing company has complete control over all transactions. This allows for better tracking and monitoring of spending patterns and helps reduce fraud risk.


There are also downsides to using closed-loop payment systems. Here are some of the most notable cons:

  • Limited merchants — The major disadvantage of closed-loop payment systems is their limited acceptance. Since these cards are typically linked to specific retailers, customers can only use them at these retailers. This means that customers cannot use the same card for all their purchases and must carry multiple cards for different stores.
  • Lower spending limits — Closed-loop cards may not have as large of a spending limit as card network cards. This can also be a good thing, as it can help control spending habits.
  • Restricted reward systems — Lastly, closed-loop cards often do not offer rewards or other incentives that are common with open-loop payment systems. Since the card issuer is usually a specific retailer, the benefits associated with the card are usually limited to rewards related to that store. This can be beneficial if you shop with that store often.


Some common examples of closed-loop payment systems include:  

  • Store credit cards — One of the most common types of closed-loop payment systems is store credit cards. These cards are issued by specific retailers, such as Macy’s, Kohl’s, etc. These cards typically offer rewards and discounts to cardholders that can be redeemed at the card retailer.
  • Gift cards — Gift cards are another form of closed-loop payment system. These cards are loaded with a set amount that can only be spent at the issuing merchant. Common gift card examples include Starbucks, Target, Walmart, etc.

As you can see, closed-loop and open-loop payment systems both have their own set of advantages. Many people use a mix of both, and even merchants that issue closed-loop cards tend to accept open-loop payment systems. For both customers and merchants, the choice between the two depends on your preferences and your needs.

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