2 Your Smart Guide To Accepting Credit Cards How to Protect Yourself When Opening A Merchant Account Michael Mendlowitz, CEO Commerce Payments Commerce Payments 1465 Broadway Hewlett NY 11557, USA VISA (8472)
3 Smart Guide 2 CONTENTS WELCOME Michael Mendlowitz, CEO, Commerce Payments 3 CHAPTER ONE. Your Merchant Account Provider Checklist Essential Questions to Ask Before You Sign on the Dotted Line 4 How to Use This Smart Guide 4 CHECKLISTS 4 CHAPTER TWO. How Do Credit-Card Transactions Work? 9 CHAPTER THREE. What Kinds of Companies Offer Merchant Accounts? 10 What kinds of companies offer merchant accounts? Should I use my bank as my merchant account provider? CHAPTER FOUR. What Rates, Fees, and Conditions Do I Need to Be Aware Of? 11 What is the discount rate? Why is the discount rate so important? What other fees will legitimate providers charge me for credit-card processing? What are charge-backs and charge-back fees? What other fees are involved with charge-backs? Are fees fixed or variable? Do providers pad their fees? What kinds of fees are red flags, and how can I guard against them? What does it actually mean when companies quote a 0% fee? When will funds to be deposited into my account? When do providers deduct fees? Will I be limited to a certain transaction amount each month? CHART: SUMMARY OF RATES AND FEES INDUSTRY-WIDE 16 CHAPTER FIVE. How Do I Know What My Real Costs Will Be? 18 How can I calculate my real costs (my effective rate)? I already have a merchant account. How can I calculate my costs if I change to a new provider? How do debit cards cut my costs? CHAPTER SIX. How Can I Be Sure I ll Get Great Customer Support? 21 What should I expect in terms of customer support? When I talk with providers, how can tell whether I ll get the support I need when I need it? CHAPTER SEVEN. What Information Will a Provider Ask Me For? 23 What will my provider ask me to supply when I apply for a merchant account?
4 Smart Guide 3 CHAPTER EIGHT. Is Commerce Payments the Right Choice for You? 25 SPECIAL BONUS OFFER 27
5 Smart Guide 4 WELCOME Michael Mendlowitz, CEO Commerce Payments So you ve decided to start accepting credit cards in your business. Or maybe you already have a merchant account provider, but you want to see what other companies can offer you. You already know that accepting credit cards can increase your sales and profits because there s no easier or more convenient way for your customers to spend money with you. But did you know you can lose money if * You choose the wrong provider and get socked with hidden fees and charges? * You don t get expert customer support when you need it? The wrong merchant account provider can cost you money, customers, and even your business. Of course you want the best package of services that fit your needs, at a fair price, and backed up by professional, reliable customer support. But with every company out there on the Internet claiming to offer the lowest rates, the fastest approval time, the best guarantees, and the best support, how can you to find your way through the jungle? By doing your homework before you sign on the dotted line. Since I founded Commerce Payments eight years ago, I ve talked with literally thousands of merchants about what to look for in a merchant account provider. That s why I ve created this Smart Guide. It s an objective, fact-based resource that will help you get the information you need so you can make the best decision for your business. You ll learn: * Exactly what to ask every potential provider about pricing and support * What fine-print traps to watch out for in contracts and agreements * To tell at a glance what different providers are offering with the help of comprehensive checklists Please let me know what you think of the Smart Guide, and if you have any ideas about how to make it more helpful, just give me a call at VISA (8472), or send me an and I ll get back to you as quickly as I can. (And of course, I d be delighted to talk with you at any time about how we might solve your merchant account provider needs.) Warmest regards, Michael Commerce Payments 1465 Broadway Hewlett NY 11557, USA VISA (8472)
6 Smart Guide 5 CHAPTER ONE Your Merchant Account Provider Checklist Essential Questions to Ask Before You Sign on the Dotted Line How to Use This Smart Guide These checklists will make it easy for you to get detailed information as you talk with potential providers. You ll find that these checklists cover just about everything you ll want to find out, and they also make it easy to compare what various companies are offering. (You may want to make a separate photocopy for each company you talk with). The other sections of the guide give you the whys and wherefores of the items on the checklists and point out some red flags that you should be aware of. (And of course we hope you ll want to go through the checklists if you decide you want to explore whether Commerce Payments is the right choice for you.) COMPANY NAME CHECKING OUT THE WEBSITE (see Chapter Seven, Customer Support) Individual Website domain name? Registration? ( registered ISO/MSP for FDICinsured banks?) Better Business Bureau (BBB) membership? BBB reliability report? Basic company information (physical address? Valid contact information? Length of time in business?) Credible testimonials? Rates and fees posted? Red flag advertising claims? (Examples: 0% Rate or 1.1% Rate Instant Activation Instant Merchant Account No Paperwork Required 99.9% of Applications Approved ) STARTING YOUR CONVERSATION WITH A COMPANY REPRESENTATIVE (see Chapter Seven, Customer Support) Toll-free number? Live operator during business hours? Voic ? Answering machine? How long are you left on hold? Less than 5 minutes? How is your call handled if you call after hours?
7 Smart Guide 6 Friendly, courteous, knowledgeable representatives? Sincerely interested in helping you (or do they try to get you to sign up?) When you ask about the items on these checklists, does the representative give you clear, simple answers? FINDING OUT ABOUT RATES, FEES, AND TERMS (see Chapter Four, Rates and Fees) Discount rate, qualified transactions? Discount rate, mid-qualified transactions? Discount rate, non-qualified transactions? Annual fee? Monthly statement fee? Monthly minimum fee? Batch fee? Transaction fee? PIN-based debit card transaction fee? Check verification fees? Internet payment gateway setup fee? Monthly gateway fee? Voice authorization fee? Wireless fees? Equipment leasing or purchase fees? Fees held in reserve? For how long? Charge-back fees? RED-FLAG FEES (see Chapter Four, Rates and Fees) How long is term of agreement? Cancellation (termination) fees? Nonrefundable application fee? Setup fee? Reprogram fee? Discover/AMEX/other cards setup fee? Shipping fee? Credit check fee? Site inspection fee? Visa/MC stationery, logos, imprinters fee? Separate address verification fees? Software and programming fees? Automatic clearing house (ACH) or wire transfer fees? Other customer service fees?
8 Smart Guide 7 TERMS AND CONDITIONS (see Chapter Four, Rates and Fees) Are rates and fees guaranteed, and for how long? Are fees deducted before funds are deposited into my account or at the end of each month? Monthly dollar limit on transactions? EQUIPMENT (see Chapter Six, Equipment) Does company offer equipment free, for lease, or for purchase? Does company offer refurbished equipment? SALES REPRESENTATIVES CLAIMS (see Chapter Seven, Customer Service ask the same questions as when you checked the website) Red flag advertising claims? (Examples: 0% Rate or 1.1% Rate, Instant Activation, Instant Merchant Account, No Paperwork Required, 99.9% of All Applications Approved What percent of applications are approved? 24-hour customer support? Live operators at all times? Online as well as mailed statements? In-house loss prevention and charge-back departments? SUMMARY AND REVIEW ESSENTIAL PROTECT YOURSELF QUESTIONS Be sure to ask these questions * Will you put all your rates and fees in writing? Are the rates you re quoting me fixed or introductory? Are my rates and fees guaranteed not to increase, and for how long? * How long will the agreement run? If it s month-to-month, how much notice must I give you if I decide to cancel the agreement? Is there a termination or cancellation fee? * Is this the rate for all my transactions? * How long will it take for you to deposit funds into my account? * When will you deduct your fees? Which fees will you deduct before depositing funds? Which fees will you deduct daily or at the end of the month? Can I choose how I want the fees to be deducted? * What dollar limit will you place on my transactions? If I need to change that amount, how can I do that? * Will you keep any portion of my sales in reserve? If so, how much will you hold back? And how long will you hold it before releasing it back to me?
9 Smart Guide 8 REMEMBER * Avoid any company that won t put every single rate and fee in writing. * Be sure that all these questions raised in the checklists are covered in your paperwork. * Read all the fine print in the agreement. * Never sign or fax back paperwork before you ve reviewed it carefully. * Watch out for buried fees, confusingly worded terms, and blank spaces. * Don t hesitate to keep asking questions until you re satisfied that you understand what you re going to be signing.
10 Smart Guide 9 CHAPTER TWO How Do Credit-Card Transactions Work? This chapter gives you a brief description of the steps involved in a typical credit-card transaction from the merchant s point of view. Although there are a quite a few steps, transactions themselves are processed electronically in a matter of seconds. STEP ONE In a typical face-to-face retail transaction, the consumer purchases goods or services from the merchant. STEP TWO The merchant slides the card through the electronic point of sale (POS) terminal, which reads the information off the magnetic strip and transmits the transaction through a standard phone line to the acquiring bank, a registered member of Visa and MasterCard that has contracts with merchants to handle credit card transactions. STEP THREE The acquiring bank routes the transaction to a processor (a company hired by the acquiring bank to handle the transaction flow). The processor sends the authorization request to Visa or MasterCard. (Visa and MasterCard are worldwide payment service organizations associations made up of issuing banks, which issue credit cards to consumers, and acquiring banks, which handle transactions for merchants.) STEP FOUR The Visa or MasterCard association routes the authorization request to the issuing bank for approval. STEP FIVE If the transaction is approved, the issuing bank transmits an authorization code back to the association. STEP SIX The association transmits the authorization code back to the acquiring bank. STEP SEVEN The acquiring bank sends the authorization code (or other response) to the merchant s POS terminal, which prints out a receipt that the cardholder signs. (The issuing bank then bills the consumer, and the consumer pays the bill.) STEP EIGHT At the end of each business day, the merchant transmits the total number of electronic transactions in a batch to the acquiring bank for processing and settlement. STEP NINE The acquiring bank monitors the batch of transactions. If no red flags come up, the bank releases the funds, which will reach the merchant s account in 48 to 72 hours.
11 Smart Guide 10 CHAPTER THREE What Kinds of Companies Offer Merchant Accounts? What kinds of companies offer merchant accounts? Should I use my bank as my merchant account provider? What kinds of companies offer merchant accounts? Some companies that call themselves merchant providers are actually sales offices or middlemen. It s important to make sure that any company you decide to deal with says on its website that it s a registered ISO/MSP for one or more FDIC-insured banks. Companies that aren t registered as Visa/MasterCard providers or offices may actually agents for someone else. Also, you ll want a provider that provides merchant account services as its only business. Should I use my bank as my merchant account provider? Only about 1 percent of the more than 45,000 banks in the United States process credit-card transactions themselves. Banks offer a great number of services, from checking accounts to mortgages, retirement accounts, and consumer loans, but credit-card processing is not one of their core businesses. That s why they contract with outside companies, called processors or providers (like Commerce Payments) to handle credit-card transactions. From your standpoint as a merchant, outside processors can offer you the personal service you need if and when you run into problems with customer transactions. The two major problem areas these days are charge-backs (when a customer disputes a credit card transaction) and fraud. When the day comes (and it will) that a customer disputes a transaction or hands you a phony or stolen credit card, you need your processor to be there to work with you so you can solve the problem quickly and efficiently. The best processors are specialists that can handle everything in-house, and without the corporate impersonality of a bank. Here s another potential problem As your business grows, you may want to do business over the Internet. But most banks have little or no experience with shopping cart rates, secure gateways, and Internet credit-card processing fees. These are just some of the reasons you ll probably want to look for a processor or provider that knows all the ins and outs and can support you with Internet transactions as well as you retail business.
12 Smart Guide 11 CHAPTER FOUR What Rates, Fees, and Conditions Do I Need to Be Aware Of? What is the discount rate? Why is the discount rate so important? What other fees will legitimate providers charge me for credit-card processing? What are charge-backs and charge-back fees? What other fees are involved with charge-backs? Are fees fixed or variable? Do providers pad their fees? What kinds of fees are red flags, and how can I guard against them? What does it actually mean when companies quote a 0% fee? When will funds to be deposited into my account? When do providers deduct fees? Will I be limited to a certain transaction amount each month? CHART: Industry-Wide Rates and Fees When it comes to choosing a merchant account provider, the two most important questions you ll want answered are: * What is it going to cost me? * Will I get the outstanding customer support I need? This chapter walks you through all the fees associated with setting up and maintaining a merchant account. You ll learn: * Which fees charged by legitimate processors and which fees are red flags used by some providers to increase their profits at your expense * What to watch for in the paperwork so you won t be hit with costly hidden fees down the road * What to ask providers so you won t be in for any surprises * The standard ranges of rates and fees in the industry so you can compare the companies you talk with (see the chart at the end of this chapter) What is the discount rate? The discount rate is your number one concern. This is a percentage of each sale that your provider charges you for the service of accepting credit cards. It will vary for different kinds of transactions depending on how much risk the bank is likely to suffer. The qualified rate is the lowest rate and applied to the least risky transactions, for example when the credit card is presented and swiped in a face-to-face transaction at a retail store or restaurant. These transactions must also meet other conditions for example, the terminal must read the card properly, and the merchant must submit the transaction in a timely manner. The mid-qualified rate is higher. It applies to transactions that are seen as riskier because of the increased possibility that the card might be stolen, or that the cardholder may not be authorizing the transaction.
13 Smart Guide 12 These kinds of transactions include card not presented transactions that aren t face to face, such as Internet, mail order, or phone orders. These transactions are known as mail order/telephone order (MOTO) transactions. The mid-qualified rate may also apply if the card isn t presented to the merchant and swiped through the terminal, or if for some reason the number must be keyed in. Finally, the non-qualified rate is the highest because certain kinds of transactions, including some corporate credit cards, rewards cards, and foreign credit cards, are seen as involving an even greater degree of risk. Note: Discount rates for non-visa or MasterCard cards such as American Express and Discover, can be much higher. The discount rate for American Express, for example, can go as high as 3.25 percent. Why is the discount rate so important? Here s a simple calculation. Suppose you sell $1,000 through Visa at a 2 percent discount rate. You ll be charged $1,000 x 2 percent, or $20, and will receive $980 for your $1,000 in sales. If you sell the same $1,000 through American Express at a discount rate of 3.25 percent, you ll be charged $1,000 x 3.25 percent, or $32.50, so you ll receive only $ In other words, you ll receive $12.50 less than you would from your Visa sales. You can see how this difference would add up over time and why getting the lowest possible discount rates on all the cards you accept will make a tremendous difference to your bottom line. But the discount rate isn t the only one you ll be paying, as you ll see when you review providers agreements and contracts. As I said earlier, most are legitimate, but some are costly traps. What other fees will legitimate providers charge me for credit-card processing? Besides the discount rate that applies to each transaction, you can expect that all providers will charge you the following fees: * An annual fee (may also be called a renewal fee, a subscription fee, or a membership fee). * A monthly statement fee to cover preparing your monthly accounting of all your transactions. * A monthly minimum fee, which is a set amount that you ll pay even if you don t meet a minimum dollar amount of transactions each month. * A batch fee, which is charged when you send your provider all the transactions in one batch at the end of each day or shift. The provider then processes the transactions and sends the money to your bank account, usually within 48 to 72 hours. * A transaction fee, which is charged for any non-debit card transaction when the credit card is swiped or the number keyed in. Transaction fees are also charged when you issue a credit to a customer for a return or refund. * PIN-based debit card transaction fees, which apply when a customer enters a personal identification number (PIN). These transactions are charged at a flat rate and aren t subject to discount rates because they re
14 Smart Guide 13 considered very secure. Note: Today, debit cards that carry Visa/MasterCard logos have replaced check cards. * Check verification (or check guarantee) fees, which apply when checks are run through electronically to prove that the customer has funds in their account to cover the check. This fee includes a discount rate and a flat fee per transaction. * Internet payment gateway setup fees (or shopping cart setup fees), which make it possible for you to accept Internet orders. * Monthly gateway fees for maintaining access to the virtual terminal if you do accept Internet orders. * Voice authorization fees, if your POS terminal fails to register the transaction and you must call for an authorization. * Wireless fees if you choose to use wireless terminals. These fees can include a one-time setup fee, a monthly fee, and a per-transaction fee. * Equipment leasing or purchase fees. Companies differ widely in what they offer as equipment. I discuss equipment in more detail in Chapter Six. However, as a general rule, it doesn t make sense to lease equipment because, over time, you ll end up paying much more than it s worth. On the other hand, all companies will probably charge you an equipment guarantee fee (or equipment warranty plan) to replace or repair a terminal if it breaks or malfunctions. * Reserves are an amount that your provider will retain for a period of time to cover possible charge-backs to your merchant account. The amount will vary be sure to ask potential providers for specifics. You may find that a provider will require a reserve if you re based outside the United States, if you have a high volume of sales each month, if you re in a high-risk industry that has a history of excessive complaints and charge-backs, if you re in an Internet, phone, and/or mail-order business, or if you have an spotty credit record. If the provider requires a reserve, be sure that the terms are spelled out in your paperwork. PROTECT YOURSELF Ask, Will you keep any portion of my sales in reserve? If so, how much will you hold back? And how long will you hold it before releasing it back to me? What are charge-backs and charge-back fees? If one of your customers files a dispute over a transaction with the issuer of their credit card, the card issuer will initiate a charge-back against your merchant account and take the disputed amount out of your account until the dispute is resolved. You ll have a maximum of 30 days to dispute the charge-back by submitting evidence, such as proof of purchase, the customer s signature on the receipt, or proof of delivery, that the transaction was legitimate and authorized by the customer. What other fees are involved with charge-backs? You may occasionally incur charge-backs for problems processing transactions. These can include charges if a card isn t imprinted, if the cardholder fails to sign the receipt, if you submit a transaction
15 Smart Guide 14 more than once, if you delay sending in transactions, or if you delay issuing a credit to a customer s account after a return or refund. Are fees fixed or variable? Most fees should be fixed, not variable, and they should all be listed in the agreement or contract. Be wary of blank spaces on any contract. Read all the paperwork, and don t sign or fax back any forms until all the blanks have been filled in. Make sure the rates you re being offered are fixed. Don t accept introductory rates. Some providers will offer you super-low rates up front, but as the months go by, they ll keep going up and up. Also, most provider agreements guarantee that your fees will not increase through the term of your agreement. However, if Visa and MasterCard raise their rates for merchant account providers, those increases will probably be passed on to you. PROTECT YOURSELF Ask, Will you put all your rates and fees in writing? Are the rates you re quoting me fixed or introductory? Are my rates and fees guaranteed not to increase, and for how long? Do providers pad their fees? What kinds of fees are red flags, and how can I guard against them? As I mentioned earlier, some providers bury fees in the fine print that are pure profit for them but can cost you big time. Here are some red flag fees that may indicate that a company isn t totally on the up and up. It s unlikely that you ll be able to negotiate different terms, so you may want to cross that provider off your list. * Cancellation or termination fees, which apply if you cancel or terminate your contract before the contract period expires. Here s what often happens You sign a merchant account agreement without reading it carefully enough, and before long you find out that they ve bumped up the rates they re charging you, your statement is harder to figure out than your taxes, and when you have a question, customer support puts you on hold forever. You want out, but that s when you discover that the fine print in your contract says you ve made a 48-month commitment and it ll cost you hundreds of dollars to get out of it. Make sure that your contract or agreement states how long you re signing up for, whether there ll be a termination or cancellation fee, and what the amount would be. Avoid companies that try to lock you in for lengthy time periods and that charge termination fees. (At CPS, we never use locked-in contracts. If you decide to cancel, all you have to do is fax us a cancellation letter and you re free to go.) PROTECT YOURSELF Ask, How long will the agreement run? How much notice must I give you if I decide to cancel the agreement? Is there a termination or cancellation fee?
16 Smart Guide 15 * Application fees (or setup fees, startup fees, or new account fees), which some companies try to charge you if you want to apply for credit card processing. You ll be told that these fees cover administrative costs, but most legitimate companies won t charge them. * Setup fees for other cards besides Visa and MasterCard, charged by some companies to set you up so you can accept American Express, Discover, and other cards. Again, these fees may be hidden in the fine print. * Software and programming fees. Some companies will try to charge you for the basic programming operations needed to open your merchant account or if you switch from one company to another. * Separate address verification fees to confirm a cardholder s address. This fee should be included in the transaction fee and not listed as a separate or additional fee. * Automatic clearing house (ACH) fees (or wire transfer fees), charged by some providers when they transfer to a merchant s account. (In other words, this is an extra fee you have to pay to get your own money.) * Customer service fees, which some companies claim are needed to cover administrative costs. PROTECT YOURSELF Avoid any company that won t put every single rate and fee in writing. What does it actually mean when companies quote 0% or 1.1% fees? These are examples of false bait and switch advertising. Companies that advertise a 0% rate or a 1.1% rate don t tell you that it applies only to debit-card transactions when customers enter their PIN. As I mentioned earlier, these are considered low-risk transactions because the funds are deducted directly and immediately out of your customer s account. That s why processing banks charge only a flat transaction fee, usually between 25 cents and 50 cents, for debit transactions. But you can be sure that processors who trumpet 0% fees will charge you high discount rates, perhaps as much as 3 or even 4 percent, on every other type of transaction. Also, the 0% claim is false advertising because it applies to only a small fraction of transactions, and only if customers enter their PIN. Plus, you ll still have to pay the per-transaction fee. PROTECT YOURSELF Ask, Is this the rate for all my transactions? When will funds be deposited into my account? It takes most companies at least 48 hours to deposit funds into your account. Some companies may take three to five days, or even longer. Avoid companies that claim they can deposit funds into your account in less than two days, or that tell you it ll take two weeks or longer. If a company holds onto your money for two weeks, that s a hidden cost in itself because you ll be losing interest on it. PROTECT YOURSELF Ask, How long will it take for you to deposit funds into my account?
17 Smart Guide 16 When do providers deduct fees? Most companies deduct discount rates and transaction fees before depositing funds into your account. They may deduct the additional fees described above daily or at the end of each month. Find out which method the provider you re speaking with uses. If they let you choose, that s a good sign that they re client-oriented. (At Commerce Payments, our clients are allowed to choose what they want.) PROTECT YOURSELF Ask, When will you deduct your fees? Which fees will you deduct before depositing funds? Do you deduct daily or at the end of the month? Can I choose how I want the fees to be deducted? Will I be limited to a certain transaction amount each month? Most providers will limit your transaction amount to no more than $10,000 per month. Because larger dollar amounts mean increased risk, some providers will hold a percentage of your funds until you send them supporting documents that validate your sales figures if you exceed your monthly limit. But this can be a problem if you have a fast-growing business or a nontraditional retail business such as a catalogue, direct-mail, or Internet company. Be sure that your agreement spells out how you can adjust your credit-card processing capabilities as your business grows. PROTECT YOURSELF Ask, What dollar limit will you place on my transactions? If I need to change that amount, how can I do that? FEES USUALLY CHARGED BY ALL PROVIDERS SUMMARY OF RATES AND FEES INDUSTRY-WIDE INDUSTRY STANDARDS AND RANGES COMMERCE PAYMENTS (CURRENT) Discount rate, qualified transactions 1.79%-1.99% 1.59% Discount rate, mid-qualified (MOTO) transactions 2.45%-2.75% 2.19% Discount rate, nonqualified transactions About 3.5% 2.95% Transaction fee (regular transactions and credits, should include address verification fee) $0.25-$0.50 $0.25 Monthly statement fee $12-$20 per month $10 per month PIN-based debit card transaction fee $0.25 -$0.50 $0.25 Monthly minimum fee $25-$35 per month $25 per month Voice authorization fee $0.95-$1.50 $0.75 Monthly equipment warranty fee* $10-$20 per month $3.95 per month* Batch fee $0.35-$0.75 per batch $0.35 per batch Equipment purchase or lease fees Purchase fees, $99 and up Lease fee, $20 and up per month Free equipment, no leases Internet gateway setup fee $195-$395 Free Monthly virtual terminal (Internet) maintenance fee $25-$50 per month $15 per month
18 Smart Guide 17 FEES USUALLY CHARGED BY ALL PROVIDERS INDUSTRY STANDARDS AND RANGES COMMERCE PAYMENTS (CURRENT) Charge-back fees $15-$30 per transaction $30 Annual fee* $95 $79* Electronic check program discount rate Transaction fee Monthly statement fee 1.69%-1.89% $0.25 cents-$0.50 per transaction $10-$15 per month 1.39% $0.25 per transaction $10 per month RED-FLAG FEES Application fee (nonrefundable) $95-$250 Free Cancellation or termination fee Up to $500 None Setup fee $50-$75 Free Reprogram fee $95 Free Discover/AMEX/other cards setup fee $25-$95 Free Shipping fee $50-$75 Free Credit check fee $25-$95 Free Site inspection fee $50 Free Visa/MC stationery, logos, imprinters $15-$25 Free Separate address verification fees $0.05 Included in transaction fee Software and programming fees $99 Free Automatic clearing house (ACH) (or wire transfer) fees $0.15-$0.25 Free Reserve (if applicable, but rarely charged) 10 percent of monthly sales Not applicable Approval time 3-5 days Less than 24 hours Customer support M-F 8a-6p 24/7 Credit restrictions Strict 97 percent approval Site inspection fee $50 Free * CPS charges either a $3.95 per month warranty fee or a $79 annual fee to cover possible loss or damage to free equipment.
19 Smart Guide 18 CHAPTER FIVE How Do I Know What My Real Costs Will Be? How can I calculate my real costs (my effective rate)? I already have a merchant account. How can I calculate my costs if I change to a new provider? How do debit cards cut my costs? As you can see, calculating the true costs of a merchant account is not an easy task because processing companies, all claiming to offer the best deal, price their services differently. You also need to take your unique business situation into account. For example, will you save more with a plan that bundles all your fees, or with one that charges you a percentage of every sale plus a small transaction fee? If you have a lot of small transactions, you may be better off with a bundled deal. But if you have fewer but larger sales, a percentage-plus-transaction-fee plan may save you money. Although great support and other provider benefits are important, it s obviously crucial that you know what your pricing will be. This chapter shows you how to arrive at an accurate estimate of your costs so you can compare different providers. How can I calculate my real costs (my effective rate)? Here s a simple way to calculate the effective rate of the various plans offered by different providers. It looks beyond the discount rate and takes into account all the fees you ll be paying. The chart below shows that calculating your effective rate may save you thousands of dollars. It compares two plans based on a volume of 500 transactions per month and sales of $10,000 per month: * Plan 1 has a 1.75 percent discount rate with a fee of 20 cents per transaction. * Plan 2 has 2.05 percent discount rate and no transaction fees. PLAN 1 PLAN 2 Monthly credit card sales volume (500 transactions) $10,000 $10,000 Discount rate and fee $10,000 x 1.75% = $ $10,000 x 2.05% = $ Transaction fee and fee for 500 transactions $0.20 x 500 = $ $0.00 x 500 = 0 Monthly service fee $10.00 $10.00 ACH fee $5.00 $5.00 Equipment lease fee $30 $30 Total charges for month $ $250 Effective rate (total charges 3.20% divided by total monthly credit 2.50% card sales amount) Although Plan 1 offers a lower discount rate, it would actually cost you more.
20 Smart Guide 19 This is why the checklists at the beginning of the guide are so useful they make it easy for you to compare what various plans and providers will cost you. I already have a merchant account. How can I calculate my costs if I change to a new provider? The three quick steps listed below will let you calculate your real costs now compared to what other providers are offering you. The checklists will also be helpful when you talk to potential new providers. STEP ONE Pull out your most recent provider statement and a calculator. STEP TWO Enter the total amount deducted from your account for service. (Make sure this amount includes all the charges and fees you paid during the statement period.) STEP THREE Divide the number entered in Step Two by the total dollar amount of sales processed. The result tells you what your real costs were for that time period. How do debit cards cut my costs? Smart retailers love to take payments through debit cards. Because the funds are deducted immediately from the cardholder s account, the usual discount rates don t apply and your costs are extremely low usually only a set fee per transaction. To accept online debit payments, you must have a merchant account, which will include both credit-card and debit-card processing, a payment terminal, a receipt printer, and a personal information number (PIN) pad. Some terminals have external PIN pads and some have internal ones. This will depend on what kind you get. The chart below compares debit-card costs with credit-card costs, assuming that you ll make 200 debit-card sales per month at an average of $100 per sale. Debit Card Credit Card Cost per sale $0.49 = $98 $0.25 = $50 Discount rate None 1.65% = $330 Your cost per month $98 $380 Your cost per year $1,176 $4,560 Annual savings of accepting debit cards rather than credit cards, $3,384 Here are some other important benefits of debit-card transactions for you and your customers * Debit-card transactions can t be downgraded (charged higher mid-qualified or nonqualified rates). As long as your customer enters their PIN, you don t have to worry about being charged higher fees on transactions that don t qualify for the lowest rate. * Debit-card transactions are faster. It can take several minutes to process a credit-card transaction, but with debit cards, your customers simply punch in their PIN and wait for the transaction to be approved. You then hand them the receipt and their purchase. Customers feel more comfortable making smaller purchases when they don t feel they re keeping the people behind them waiting. * Customers like the convenience of being able to get cash back when they use their debit card.
21 Smart Guide 20 * Almost all debit-card transactions are approved because debit transactions deduct funds from the cardholder s account almost instantly. This makes your sales process faster and friendlier. * Debit cards minimize charge-backs. It s much harder for a customer to charge back their debit card because the money has already reached the merchant.
22 Smart Guide 21 CHAPTER SIX How Can I Be Sure I ll Get Great Customer Support? What should I expect in terms of customer support? When I talk with providers, how can tell whether I ll get the support I need when I need it? Sooner or later, you re going to need customer support from your merchant account provider. Your time is valuable, and you need your provider to be there for you 24/7. After all, you ll ultimately be paying them thousands of dollars in fees. If you need to contact your provider but are greeted with busy signals, confusing voic queues, or endless periods of being left on hold, it ll cause you aggravation, frustration, and maybe a lot of money. Plus, your customers won t be too happy, either What should I expect in terms of customer support? At the very least, here s what you should expect from your provider: * A toll-free number * 24/7 availability with live operators at all times * Hold times of less than 5 minutes at all times * Friendly, courteous, and knowledgeable representatives When I talk with providers, how can tell whether I ll get the support I need when I need it? You can learn a lot about how a company handles customer support by visiting their website and then by talking with their representatives. Here are some helpful guidelines you might want to check out (these are listed in the checklists). STEP ONE Before you call a potential provider, explore their website. Websites are important sources of information about a company s professionalism. Here are some elements to check out The domain name Take a look at the name of the website in your browser. It should be short and direct (for example, ), not a long address like which is a red flag. It indicates that the provider can t afford or hasn t chosen to buy a real domain name and website. Registration Check the information at the bottom of the home page. Does it state that the company is a registered ISO/MSP for one or more FDIC-insured banks? Companies that market online but aren t registered as Visa/MasterCard providers or offices are actually agents for someone else. Better Business Bureau (BBB) membership
23 Smart Guide 22 Check on the BBB website (http://www.bbb.org/) to see whether the company is a member in good standing. The BBB site also lets you call up reliability reports on more than 2.5 million companies nationwide. These reports will tell you whether any complaints have been filed against a company and how they were resolved. Basic company information Does the site contain any information about how long the company has in business? Does it list a physical address? Valid contact information? (Companies may claim that they have millions of merchant customers, but they may actually be referring to the number of customers their processing bank has.) Testimonials Do the testimonials posted on the site appear credible? Rates and fees Is a complete list of rates and fees posted on the site? STEP TWO Watch out for red flag advertising claims, which may appear on websites or be mentioned by the provider s sales representatives. 0% Rate As I mentioned on page 14, this rate probably applies only to PIN-based debit-card transactions, while rates and fees for all other transactions may be at the upper ends of the industry range shown in the chart on pages 15-16). Instant Activation Instant Merchant Account No Business License or Tax Returns Required No Paperwork Required If you open a merchant account by mail order or phone and no hardware being shipped because you re in an Internet business, activation can take less than 24 hours. If you require a terminal, it can take between two and five days to get the equipment. But if you have all the documentation listed in Chapter Eight in place, and everything matches up, you can literally be approved in an hour. As you ll also see in Chapter Eight, you ll probably be asked to submit a business license, tax return, or other evidence that you re actually doing business. At the very least, the provider will check with your bank and run a credit check. If a company tells you no paperwork required or that you can get instant approval without offering any proof that you have a legitimate business, this actually means that they won t start moving funds into your account until they ve finished checking you out. This usually takes less than a day, so you can expect to see money in your account within 72 hours. * 99.9% of All Applications Approved Any provider that approves 99.9 percent of applicants is going to be taking on some clients that are higher risk. (At CPS, we approve between 90 percent and 92 percent of applicants but we also work with our clients to help them find the right bank given their level of risk=, based on their business and credit history. STEP THREE Call the company and talk with a representative. Your initial phone contact with a company will tell you a lot about how it supports its customers. For example: Toll-free numbers Is there a toll-free number?
24 Smart Guide 23 Live operators If you call during business hours, do you get a live operator, or do you reach a voic queue? Are you put on hold? For how long? After-hours phone service Try putting in a call after business hours. How is your call handled? Sales representatives When you talk with a representative, are they friendly, courteous, and knowledgeable? Do they seem sincerely interested in helping you? Or are they more interested in getting you to sign up with them right away? When you go through the checklists and ask about rates, fees, terms, conditions, and paperwork, does the representative give you clear, simple answers?
25 Smart Guide 24 CHAPTER SEVEN What Information Will a Provider Ask Me For? What will my provider ask me to supply when I apply for a merchant account? When you apply for a merchant account, the provider will ask you to document that you re actually operating a legitimate business. If you already have all that information available, you ll speed through the application process more quickly and you ll stand a better chance of getting approved. The information you ll be asked to supply will probably include: * A business checking account. Some providers will set you up with one. If not, simply go to your bank and set one up. (You can't open a merchant account if you have only a personal checking account.) * A copy of a voided check from your business checking account. Your account number and your bank s routing number are printed on your checks. This tells your merchant account provider how to transfer funds from your credit-card sales into your account. * A copy of your articles of incorporation if your business is a corporation. You can get a copy from your lawyer. * A copy of your written policies regarding customer returns and refunds. Your provider will ask you for this, but it s a good idea for any business to have a written policy that lets customers know when and under what circumstances you ll let them return merchandise, get a refund or a store credit for a purchase, or cancel a service. This policy should be printed on your store receipts and posted where customers can see it when they pay for their purchases. Also, be sure that your staff are familiar with the policies and know who s responsible for making decisions. * A list of trade references. Your merchant account provider will carry out a credit check on your business, and they ll need trade references (other businesses you ve done business with) to complete it. Trade references can include former or current suppliers, places where you ve advertised (such as newspapers or magazines), and financial institutions you ve dealt with. * A photocopy of your most recent tax return. Your provider may only ask for this if you re planning to run large amounts of sales through your merchant account. * A photocopy of your driver's license. This confirms that you re really the person who s applying for the merchant account. * The social security number(s) of the owner(s) of the business. Your provider needs this information to carry out the credit check on the key people in your business. * A copy of your business or reseller license. Depending on where you do business, you may need a business license or a reseller license. The provider may ask for a copy of these to confirm that you re a legitimate business.
26 Smart Guide 25 CHAPTER EIGHT Is Commerce Payments the Right Choice for You? When I started my business eight years ago, I decided to keep one focus in mind To treat my customers the way I would want them to treat me Now, more than 25,000 businesses have chosen Commerce Payments. Why? Because we still stand by that very same principle, and because satisfying the credit-card processing needs of businesspeople just like you is all we care about. Quick, Easy, Affordable and No Sales Pressure, Ever The Smart Guide has shown you the ins-and-outs of what you need to be aware of in your search for the right provider. If you d like to discuss your specific needs, it might make sense for us to have a brief chat over the phone but I promise that you'll never feel any sales pressure from us. That s against our philosophy of how we treat people. Our call together would simply be a question-and-answer conversation to learn more about your situation and your needs. So here are just a few reasons why Commerce Payments might be the right merchant account provider for you No-Risk Pricing, No Locked-In Contracts Plus * You can save 20 to 40 percent compared to other providers We often save business owners 20 to 40 percent on their credit-card processing costs. Whether you re in an existing business or are just starting out, please use the checklists to review what we have to offer and then give us a call so we can show you, line by line, how much money you can save. * You pay nothing in start-up costs We include most of the start-up fees charged by other companies at no charge. * You receive a brand-new, state-of-the art terminal at no cost We will give you a new state-of-the art point of sale terminal, free of charge. This offer includes the Nurit 8320 or the Hypercom T4100 for retail merchants, the Comstar Interactive for wireless merchants, and complete free set-up for any virtual terminal/gateway for online merchants. These terminals, worth well over $300, are our gift to you as a client of Commerce Payments. Customer Service What You Need, When You Need It * We re a registered, full-service merchant account provider. It s our only business, and we re laser-focused on service. You ll have the fastest possible access to our expert, professionally trained service representatives 24/7 (no voic queues or being left on hold). * We have our own in-house loss prevention and charge-back departments. This means that problems or disputes get settled fast.
27 Smart Guide 26 * You ll receive simple, easy-to-understand monthly statements I promise you that you ll understand every line of your statement and that there ll never be any surprise fees. Also, you can view your statements online for immediate access to your account. If you want to have a chat about your specific merchant account needs, give us a call at VISA (8472), I or my staff will be happy to give you and your business the personal attention it deserves. (And, of course, if you decide to explore whether Commerce Payments is the right choice for you, we ll be happy to go through the checklists with you so you can see everything we have to offer in terms of merchant account solutions.) I m looking forward to hearing from you, Michael Commerce Payments 1465 Broadway Hewlett NY 11557,USA VISA (8472) SPECIAL BONUS OFFER PS If you think Commerce Payments is the right provider for you, all you have to do is give us a call or visit our website (commercepaymentsystems.com) and apply for your merchant account. As a special thank-you, we ll waive all transaction fees for your first week of service.* That way you pay nothing to start! *Up to $50 in fees waived.
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