What Is An Acquiring Bank?

Accept ACH payments online

Keeping all of the terms straight when it comes to processing payments can be a bit tricky. And there are so many entities involved in payment processing. So we’re going to start with one of the most important terms and players in credit card processing: the acquiring bank. We’ll start with a general definition of an acquiring bank, and then we are going to explore what it means for your business:

What Is An Acquiring Bank?

The acquiring bank is a financial institution that plays a crucial role for the merchant by creating and managing the bank account. Also referred to as an acquirer or a merchant bank, this financial institution is a licensed member of the card networks, including Visa and MasterCard. When you process a payment with a debit or credit card, the acquiring bank plays a role in approving the sale. The bank makes this determination based on the cardholder’s data (made available at the time of the sale from the issuing bank and the card network). Note that the issuing bank is the bank that provided customer’s credit card.

For instance, let’s say your customer pays you with a Visa card and taps their card to pay. Their card’s issuing bank makes information available about their credit card account to your merchant bank (acquiring bank). If there are enough funds on the card and everything else is copacetic, the acquiring bank approves the purchase and puts the funds in your account.

Now keep in mind that the term “acquiring bank” primarily refers to the specific role it plays in the whole credit card processing interchange. A merchant’s acquiring bank can be an actual bank, or it can be another type of financial organization. A large acquiring bank may also issue credit and debit cards to its customers, thus also acting as an “issuing bank” when a consumer pays with the card (this is the case with Bank of America). An acquiring bank is also sometimes referred to as a payment processor, and it might contract directly with merchants to provide merchants services. That said, not all payment processors are acquiring banks. 

There’s a lot to keep straight, but keep reading as we further de-mystify these terms and give you the tools to understand how money moves from your customer to you.

The Acquiring Bank’s Role In Payment Processing

The acquiring bank plays a pivotal role in processing credit card payments for merchants. When a merchant processes a payment, the acquirer’s purpose is to authorize the card transaction and connect with the issuing bank (the consumer’s bank) on behalf of the merchant.

In a nutshell, the acquiring bank acts as a go-between with the customer’s financial organization to ensure funds are transferred. In doing so, the acquiring bank assumes some financial risk (that’s where the acquiring bank fees come in.) We’ll talk more about security, disputes, and more in an upcoming section.

Want to know what happens to your funds in a transaction? Here is an overview to help you wrap your mind around the process itself:

  • 1st Step: A cardholder receives a credit card from their issuing bank and visits your shop. When they are ready to buy, they present you with their card to pay for your wares.
  • 2nd Step: The transaction information and the card information passes between the payment processor to the card network, and then to the issuing bank.
  • 3rd Step: The issuing bank charges your customer for the amount of the purchase.
  • 4th Step: The issuing bank transfers the amount to the acquiring bank.
  • 5th Step: The acquiring bank deposits the funds into your account.

Keep in mind that your payment processor may not be the acquiring bank. Read on to find out more about the difference in the roles and how you can find the right solution for your business needs.

Payment Processor VS Acquiring Bank: What’s The Difference?

When someone discusses payment transactions, the words payment processor and acquiring bank are sometimes used interchangeably. Some acquirers are themselves also payment processors and you can sign up for a merchant account with them directly. However, not all processors are acquiring banks. In this case, they contract with an acquiring bank to provide services. While they may or may not be two separate entities, the acquirer and payment processor roles are unique.

The payment processor plays more of a direct role with the merchant, as they are obtaining and processing the credit or debit card information during the transaction. Your payment processor handles the lion’s share of the data security as the card information moves from your customer to you. Processors are also the source of the hardware or software you may use. They provide connection to the payment gateway and thus are also integral to the authorization as well.

The acquiring bank is more of a go-between among the card networks, including the issuing bank and the merchant. For example, the acquiring bank essentially mediates any disputed transaction from the issuing bank. When an issuing bank reviews a dispute brought up by a customer, the card network passes the dispute to the acquiring bank, which then conveys the issue to the merchant. The merchant’s response gets passed back to the acquiring bank and so forth. This example is simplified but illustrates where the acquiring bank sits as it relates to you and your customer.

As mentioned earlier, though the role of an acquirer and a payment processor may be unique, sometimes the same organization fulfills both duties. In other cases, payment processors and acquiring banks have contract agreements with one another to perform their separate roles.

Why Does An Acquiring Bank Charge Fees?

As we’ve shown, the acquiring bank is the financial institution that’s involved in each sale and also assumes some financial risk when it comes to funds transfer during credit card processing. The other thing to keep in mind is that just like your payment processor, your acquiring bank is dealing with sensitive customer data and has to follow strict payment security standards. For these reasons, the acquiring bank also charges a fee to cover its own risks and financial investment in the whole process.

For more information on the different types of costs you may incur with processing credit cards, check out What Are Interchange Fees For Credit Card Processing?

How Do Acquiring Banks Affect Merchant Services?

Acquiring banks are essential players in the whole credit card processing landscape. As a merchant, it’s important to at least generally understand who the players are and how they may affect your business. It’s not always obvious who your acquiring bank is, as some processors and acquiring banks are separate entities, while sometimes you’re dealing with the same organization.

On a similar note, smaller processors that contract with acquiring banks often bring better customer service because of their specialization. They also may have different pricing and contract terms, such as month-to-month agreements. Keep the whole picture in mind when you are shopping around for a merchant account so that you can make the best decision for your business.

Wondering what companies are out there and which one is right for your business? You are in the right place here at Merchant Maverick. If you haven’t yet, visit our Merchant Account Comparison page and peruse our small business resources that cover the gamut when it comes to payment processing and you.

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How to Use Square for Recurring Payments And Invoices

Subscription-based business models seem to be everywhere these days. Emerging wine clubs, personal care-in-a-box subscriptions, wardrobe-of-the-month sites — even supporting a favorite podcast! Clearly, these types of businesses are finding success as people jump into subscriptions to save money, time, or just for the fun of getting a box in the mail. And it’s not just cheese-of-the-month clubs anymore. Software as a Service (SaaS) subscriptions are booming in both business and personal markets. This environment is ripe for subscription business models, but you need the right tools to process recurring payments while protecting your business from security risks.

Of course, businesses that serve a local market with more traditional recurring products and services like gyms, childcare, or home improvement services also rely on recurring payments for their revenue stream — whether that’s automatically charging a credit card or manually sending an invoice.

Choosing a payment processor for this type of business is not a light decision, so let’s take a look at what Square has to offer in terms of solutions geared for the recurring payment model.

How To Set Up Recurring Payments With Square eCommerce

If you are about to launch an eCommerce subscription-based business or you are looking for a different payment processing setup than the one you have, Square should be on your radar. While Square doesn’t provide complete “out-of-the-box” solutions for eCommerce businesses, they offer three main options for you to get your shop live, with some flexibility under each.

Square Payment Form and Transaction API:

If you are a developer or have the in-house developer support, you can create a custom payment experience that resembles the rest of your site. That means you can save a card on file using the Square Payment Form and set up recurring billing using your own subscription logic. Square also has digital wallet support so you can add Apple Pay, Google Pay, or MasterPass for faster checkout. Here’s more information directly from Square if you opt to embed the payment form:

Square Payment Form provides secure, hosted components for payment data like card number and CVV, while enabling you to make it your own. It’s designed to help buyers enter their card data accurately and quickly. Card data is collected securely and tokenized, never hitting your servers, so you don’t have to worry about PCI compliance.

Pre-Built Workflow:

When you integrate Square Checkout, you can save a card on file safely, and you won’t need as much developer knowledge. This solution is a pre-built workflow that includes digital wallet support, and it’s all hosted on Square’s servers. You won’t have as much wiggle room in regards to customization, but it’s still going to give you a fast, streamlined checkout experience. Square provides a technical reference guide to assist you in building what you need, including setting up recurring billing.

Choose An Integration:

If you want a simpler solution that doesn’t require coding or technical expertise, a plug-in may be just the ticket for you to get up and running quickly. Of all the options available within the Square Dashboard, Chargify jumps out because it seems to offer everything a subscription service would need. According to Chargify:

Chargify bills your customer’s credit card on whatever schedule you define. In addition to processing one-time and recurring transactions, Chargify can handle free trial periods, one-time fees, promotions, refunds, email receipts, and even dunning (reminders for failed credit card payments) management.

Chargify plans start at $99 a month, but you can work your way up the scale when it comes to additional options. In general, Square plug-in selections abound, so you can shop to find the most promising solution for your business right from your Square Dashboard under Apps. Here’s a screenshot of a few options listed:

Square Integration Plug Ins

No matter which solution you decide on, you can rest assured that the burden of PCI compliance and security with payment processing sits on Square’s shoulders, not your own. And the free support you get from Square’s team if there is a chargeback issue also gives some much-needed peace of mind as well.

To find out more and shop eCommerce solutions, head to Square’s website and select eCommerce under the section, Software services to grow your business. If you want to learn more before signing up, read our post, The Best eCommerce Integrations That Work With Square Payments. And if you want to find out more about Square as an eCommerce solution in general, check out our Square Online Store and eCommerce Review.

How To Set Up Square Recurring Invoices

When you’re ready to set up a recurring invoice for your customer, Square makes it easy. You can create an invoice through your Square POS app or from the Square Dashboard. You can then set up the scheduling frequency of your recurring invoice, though you will need your customer to approve their card on file.

Whether you send a one-time or recurring invoice, enable Allow Customer to Save Card on File so your customer can approve. Then you’ll be all set for repeat billing.

Note: If you need to manually save a card on file from your Virtual Terminal at your computer, you’ll need to print out the approval form so your customer can sign it first.

Here’s a screenshot of what the setup looks like for recurring invoices within the Square Dashboard.

Square Recurring Invoice

With Square Invoices, you can also request a deposit, either due immediately or within a specific time-frame. So for you business owners that charge a sign-up or other set-up fee, you can seamlessly add in a deposit request and cover all the bases.

Getting Paid with Square Invoices

When your customer makes a payment, credit card payments update automatically in their invoice. Your customer follows the Pay Now prompt to enter their details and can also approve saving the card on file.

Did your customer send a check or pay you by cash? You can also record payment manually when you open up the invoice. If your customer wants to pay over the phone, you can process the amount on your computer through the Square Virtual Terminal located within the Square Dashboard. And finally, you can process in-person payments and apply them directly to the invoice by swiping, dipping, or tapping your customer’s card to your connected Square Reader. Just make sure you go into Invoices and apply the payment to the existing customer invoice.

Square Invoices (read our review) also makes it easy to track when your customer saw your invoice and any activity within the account. You can quickly send a message to follow up or edit the invoice any time from your Square Dashboard.

How To Use Square Installments For Invoices

Another solution that may boost sales is offering payment plans through Square Installments. Square Installments for Invoices finances the cost for your customer, so there’s no need for you to invoice repeatedly; instead, you are paid upfront and in full by Square. Square Installments is currently only available to select businesses, however. You’ll need to apply, and if you are approved, the Installments option automatically appears as a payment option on your invoices and Square POS.

When your customer chooses Installments (either via their invoice or your Square POS), they’ll apply directly with Square Capital at the time of the sale. If they are approved, the balance is reflected in your account. Also note that after the sale, Square Capital takes on the liability of the charge, so you won’t deal with collecting or processing payments. In fact, Square instructs any merchant to direct all questions or issues your customer may have with their installment payments to Square Installments directly. Find out more about it on our post, How Does Customer Financing Through Square Installment Work?

How Much Do Recurring Payments Cost With Square?

What is cheaper than Square?

Below is a breakdown of Square’s payment processing per transaction. When you crunch the numbers, keep in mind that you are getting an all-in-one solution as far as payment security with PCI compliance and chargeback support. Square doesn’t charge monthly service fees either, so what you see is what you get as far as costs go.

  • Invoice paid with card by customer: 2.9% + $0.30
  • Invoice paid with card on file: 3.5% + $0.15
  • eCommerce processing: 2.9% + $0.30
  • Square Installments for Invoices: 2.9% of the purchase price + $0.30
  • Square Installments at your Point of sale: 3.5% of the purchase price + $0.15
  • Square online payment API and SKIs: Free for developers to use + eCommerce processing fee
  • Plug-in apps integrated with Square: Price varies with each software provider

Should You Use Square’s Recurring Payments Tools?

Setting up recurring payments for your customers takes a little bit more forethought and prep than a one-off charge. However, Square makes recurring invoices accessible by offering a range of solutions for both eCommerce and brick-and-mortar shops.

As far as third-party processors and eCommerce go, Square offers similar solutions as its peers. In other words, you’ll likely need the help of a developer with any option you choose, including PayPal or Stripe — unless you opt for a plug-in app. That being said, Square enables you to get eCommerce up and running safely — whether that is through a pre-built workflow, easy integration with a plug-in app, or API developer tools. (If you do have the developer expertise and a bit more wiggle-room in your budget, it’s worth mentioning that Stripe affords greater freedom to customize the whole process, add advanced reporting features, and a lot more. But you can’t be shy with code!)

Still curious about Square? Why not give them a try and see for yourself? There is no fee to sign up and no binding contract required, so setting up an account may be the next step for you. You can also head over to our Square Review and read how it compares to the other solutions out there.

The post How to Use Square for Recurring Payments And Invoices appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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6 Free Square Tools To Make Running Your Small Business Easier

If you own a business, you don’t need anyone to tell you about the value of time-saving tools. Personally, whenever I uncover something that unexpectedly makes business run more efficiently, it can almost feel like winning the lottery — time is that important to me. If you juggle a lot of responsibilities during your day, you probably feel the same way. That’s why I was pretty stoked to pull back the curtain and see what’s really behind the scenes when it comes to Square — one of the most popular payment processing apps available. 

In this post, we’ll discuss some of the tools you may not have heard about that are available with any standard Square account. While I also get pretty excited about some of the premium options on offer (like Square’s email marketing and CRM tools), we are going to stick with the freebies in this post. Keep reading to learn about tools you can start using today that may help you do business a little smarter.

Note: Keep in mind, we’re not touching on all of the free software and tools you get with Square — just some of the most valuable ones. Check out our in-depth Square review for a closer look at everything Square has to offer.

Inventory Management

When we talk about what is waiting when you open up a free Square account, one of the most important tools is your inventory management. Good inventory management is so important to keep your customers happy and ultimately help support your bottom line. Understanding what is most popular and identifying your best sellers can help you not only maintain the right amount of stock but support your promotional efforts as well.

So let’s start with the basics. After you enter in an item in your Square dashboard or the POS app, you can add the current stock amount, enable tracking, and set up a low stock alert right from the same screen. Whether you ring up the item from your POS, virtual terminal, or send an invoice, Square adjusts your stock automatically.

You can add item variants as well. Add different price points for sizes, add-ons, or customize however you like. Just name the variant, set the price, and add a unique SKU if needed. And if you sell in bulk, you can use Square’s variable price point feature to leave the price open based on the weight/quantity sold. 

Need a customizable option like a topping change, a special dietary adjustment, or another type of swap-out? You can create modifiers for that, too! Unlike item variations, modifiers don’t decrease inventory accounts. You can opt to assign a price to your modifier, however.

When it comes to managing your physical stock, it is worth mentioning that the free POS account isn’t set up to print barcodes for your SKUs. Some business owners use a Dymo label printer as a workaround. If you have a lot of inventory and need a more robust solution for advanced inventory management (including barcode scanning and printing) in one solution, Square for Retail may be worth your while. Check out our full Square for Retail review for pricing and a better look at all the extra inventory-related features included with the POS. 

Customer Directory

small business loyalty program

When you use Square’s customer directory, the amount of data you have access to automatically builds with each sale. With just a swipe of the card, your list collects data such as your customers’ names, when they visited which location, and their visit frequency. During the sale, your customer may also have entered in their email address with you to get a digital receipt. Of course, if you are feeling bold, you can also ask your customers one-by-one for their email addresses so you can start building a healthy list.

Square’s customer database is accessible through Square Point of Sale or through the Square Dashboard. Under each customer in your directory, you can add a note, upload a file, view any feedback they have left you on their receipts, or create an invoice to send directly (more on that below).

When all of these customer insights build over time, you can start to get a clearer picture of who your loyal customers are, who has visited more than once, and who hasn’t visited you in a while. You can also see what their favorite products are — all of which is useful data for your business in general, and especially for marketing purposes. 

Again, the Square Customer Directory is entirely free to use, and it syncs with all of Square’s other tools — that includes paid software options such as loyalty and email marketing. The Square email marketing tool lets you segment customers, then customize email campaigns based on their habits. Square has pay-as-you-go pricing at 10 cents an email, or you can opt for a monthly subscription to send unlimited emails. Square offers a 30-day free trial for an email marketing subscription, and pricing starts at $15/month for up to 500 customers.

Card On File

deferred interestYou can make it easier for your repeat customers to order by phone or for a future invoice by saving your customer’s credit card information using Square’s Card on File feature. Be aware that your customers have to “sign off” so you can appropriately save their card on file, however. If you are completing a sale on your computer through Square’s Virtual Terminal, you will be prompted to print out the approval release and have your customer sign it. Keep this document in a safe place, because it proves you received their permission to store their card and can protect you from chargeback issues.

If you are at your free Square POS app, your customer can approve saving the card on file by entering in their zip code at the permission screen. After that, you can process their payments quickly and easily with no need to present the card. While it costs nothing to store a card on file or use the feature regularly, keep in mind that you will pay a little more with each transaction (3.5% + $0.15 per transaction instead of 2.75% per swipe/dip/tap) because they process as card-not-present, rather than card-present.  

Is Card On File Secure?

What’s the Difference Between Chip-and-PIN and Chip-and-Signature Cards

Square lets you store your customer’s credit card information with their approval, and yes, it’s fully compliant with the payment security standards set up by the PCI-DSS. That’s because when you enter credit card data, it is only going through the secure Square app. Also take note that when you enter in credit card data — whether during a sale or saving a card on file, the full number isn’t viewable to your or your staff once it’s entered in the system.

Securely saving customer card data is vital to your financial protection as a business and prevents very costly fraudulent risks. For more about Square’s security, check out our related post, Is Square A Secure Way To Accept Credit Card Payments?

Gift Cards

Gift cards may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to business tools, but here are some pretty neat statistics for you: In a 2018 press release, First Data shares a study that found that consumers, on average, spend $59 over the original value of the gift card they receive. Not only that, but shoppers plan to spend 55% of their annual gifting budget on gift cards. That is no small potato when it comes to amping up your revenue.

If I’ve piqued your interest, I have some more good news. Square’s digital gift cards are completely free for you to sell. If you want to offer physical gift cards, you could start with a stock of 20 for $40 or opt for higher quantities with a significantly lower cost with each tier. When your customer pays for the gift card using a credit or debit card, standard processing fees will apply. (There’s no charge for payments made with cash.) When it comes time for the gift recipient to spend with you, you won’t face any additional costs. Square treats this transaction like cash, and they only deduct the amount of the sale from the card. And it’s great that you don’t need to pay any monthly fees to accept gift cards — you just pay the cost of the physical cards (if you want them) and any associated payment processing when purchased. 

Invoicing & Installments

Square Invoice Tutorial

When it comes to invoicing clients, Square makes it pretty easy. First, you can send an unlimited amount of professional-looking invoices for free. And instead of your customer having to call you with their number or waiting for a paper check, they follow the prompts and pay securely online. You can also send files, images, contracts, or attach information along with the invoice.

If you sell larger ticket items and want to finance your customers, you may also be interested in Square Installments. With this service, you can let your customer pay over time, while getting all of the funds upfront from Square. That’s because Square takes the risk by checking their credit and approving or denying the purchase. To find out more about letting your customers pay by installments, check out How Does Customer Financing With Square Installments Work?

If you want to assume more of the risk or set up a layaway program, however, you can also send out a regular invoice to request a down payment or partial payment as well. There is simply a lot of flexibility afforded with invoicing and installments. Read our Square Invoices Review to find out more about this tool and how to use it for your business.

Virtual Terminal

 

Don’t have a card reader handy? Does a customer want to pay over the phone? You can accept payments securely at your own computer when you log into Square dashboard and go to your Virtual Terminal. There are many scenarios when taking payments at your virtual terminal can empower your business model — and it makes for a great backup if other devices are misbehaving. 

In any case, you can still take payments quickly via Square’s Virtual Terminal. You can manually enter in the credit card information, or you can pull up a customer in your directory and charge a card you have saved on file. If you have a Mac or Chromebook, you can still connect a basic magstripe reader and swipe the card at your computer, too! 

Square charges no software fees to use the virtual terminal and it’s included with all free Square accounts, but you will still have to pay transaction costs. With keyed entry, you’ll pay 3.5% + $0.15 per transaction, or 2.75% for swipe transactions.

Square Card

At first glance, the Square Card may seem like just another line of credit, but it isn’t. The Square Card is a debit card that gives you instant access to any of the funds that are in your Square account in real time. So why are so many business owners stoked about the Square Card? For one, it can help manage and organize cash flow. One way to separate business expenses from everything else is to keep all of your business expenses on your Square Card. It makes sense because you’ll also always have an itemized list of exactly what you spent at the Square app under “Card Spend.”

Keep in mind that once you get the ball rolling with your Square Card, your funds are automatically going to sit in your Square balance unless you manually transfer funds into a different account. You can do so at any time and Square will deposit funds in the next 1-2 business days. If you want your funds deposited into your main bank account faster, you can also opt for a same-day instant deposit for the fee of 1% of the total amount.

When it comes time to spend your balance, the Square Card is a debit card accepted at any merchant that takes MasterCard. As far as cost, the Square Card is completely free with no annual or usage fees whatsoever. The other cool bonus is that you get a 2.75% discount at all other Square merchant locations. If you have a Square account, you can request your free Square Card under Deposits at the Square Dashboard. Note that Square doesn’t automatically send you a card when you open your account.

Is Square Right For You?

There is no doubt that Square offers an abundance of tools and add-on software apps that can help you run your business more efficiently. Utilizing inventory management tools can help you stay on top of the ebb and flow of demand, and payment processing options offer flexibility when you need it.

We’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to Square’s tools because there are many layers to Square’s solutions. Check out our Square Review to get even more details about features and pricing so you can make the decision that’s right for you. You can also set up a free Square account and play around in the dashboard and check out the tools yourself.

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How To Use Square To Accept Credit Cards In Person

Square has carved out quite a spot for itself in the world of payment processing. When it comes to accessibility, there are few rivals. With no credit checks, sign-up fees, monthly fees, or cancellation fees, and a very transparent pricing model, it’s no wonder why Square remains the go-to option for business owners who want a no-hassle choice.

In fact, it’s so easy to get started, that you can usually start taking payments immediately after setting up your Square account! That being said, it helps to get a bit familiar with the process before ringing up your first customer — and there is more than one way to do it. If you are interested in weighing your options, this post is for you.

We are mainly going to focus on taking payments with physical cards in this post, so if you have an eCommerce shop, you may want to check out our Square Online Store and eCommerce Review. If, however, you want to know how to ring up your sale and get some important details to help you choose the best options, keep reading.

To start us off, here is a short list of the ways you could accept payment with Square:

  • Your device + Square Point-of-sale (POS) app +  Square card reader
  • Keying in credit card information in the Square POS app
  • Square POS hardware (e.g., Square Register)
  • Accessing the Square Virtual Terminal from your laptop

Below, we are going to start by explaining how to accept payments with the Square Reader. After going through some different scenarios, we’ll also explore Square’s POS hardware for those of you with a physical storefront. By the end of this post, you should feel confident navigating your options and finding the best solution (or solutions) for your business processing needs.

But first, a note on Square’s payment security.

Square & Payment Security

Right out of the gate, we need to take a quick minute to cover payment security. It’s that important. Regardless of how you accept a payment — whether that is keying in a card,  swiping with a magstripe reader, a dip or tap, etc. — Square provides secure and PCI compliant payment transactions. That is to say, Square is fully compliant with the latest Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS). And that also means you won’t have to pay additional PCI fees or hire a team to manage ongoing compliance, either.

This out-of-the-box payment security is just one reason Square is such a powerhouse for the millions of small business owner who trust it.

Let’s take a look at the Square reader options next.

How To Use A Square Reader For Mobile Payments

We’ll start with the obvious: the Square reader. Assuming you have already downloaded the Square app, it’s effortless to accept payment with your reader.

  • Step One: Open the app on your device. You will already be at the screen you need to make a charge. No fumbling required!

Taking a Payment with Square

  • Step Two: If you have entered inventory into your Items list, find the item and click what you need. The total will automatically update.
  • Step Three: Tap the Charge button when you’re ready.
  • Step Four: Swipe or insert the card, or tap your connected reader. You can also manually enter the card number (keyed entry) if necessary.
  • Step Five: Your customer will sign their name and the sale is complete!

Don’t have a connection? Suffering from a spotty connection? Square’s offline mode helps you avoid losing the sale. Your customer’s data is securely saved in the app and the transaction will process when you connect your device to the internet again (WiFi or cellular connection). You must reconnect within 72 hours, though, or the transaction will cancel.

It’s really that easy. To see how Square stacks up next to other mobile credit card processors, check out our Mobile Credit Card Processing Comparison table.

Square Transaction Fees & Mobile Reader Costs

As stated at the start of the post, Square offers very transparent pricing. If you use Square Point of Sale on a smartphone or tablet with a mobile card reader, you’ll pay the standard processing fee of 2.75% per swipe, dip, or tap. And keep in mind that no matter what type of card your customer hands you, Square charges the same fee per transaction. If for some reason you need to key-in the credit number, you will pay 3.5% + 15 cents for manually-entered transactions. We will revisit the types of card-not-present transactions later in the post.

Let’s talk a little more about the Square Reader, because you do have some choices that go beyond the free magstripe device. The good news is that Square readers work with nearly all Android or iOS devices running the latest updates. If you’re in doubt, Square offers a compatibility tool so you can look up your device and see for yourself.

After signing up for a new Square account, you can choose which free Square reader you would like — and they’ll ship it directly to you for free. Depending on your device needs, you can choose between the lightning adapter for iOS or the standard 3.5mm headphone jack reader. The other option you have is to shell out $49 for the Contactless + Chip reader.

The free magstripe card reader is great for getting started, but I recommend considering the upgraded Contactless + Chip Reader for improved payment security in processing. (It also offers your customers more ways to pay you.)

Square Reader

Square also sells a small charging dock so you can keep your contactless reader fully charged through the day. If you opt for the contactless reader, you can also purchase a specially designed Otterbox case from Square. You can slide the contactless reader on the back of the case if you’re on the go. Unfortunately for Android users, the case only fits an iPhone 7 or 7 plus, but I have a hunch there will be more options for this one when the demand grows.

Can You Use A Square Reader With Multiple Devices?

You may be wondering about the possibility of sharing a reader between different devices — or maybe even switching readers. Good news! You can do either of those things! If you have more than one device, decide to upgrade a device (or reader for that matter), need to swap a device, or hand your Square reader to a different team member for them to plug into their phone, you can do so without an issue.

That’s because your account is anchored to your Square POS app, not to a specific reader. When you or your team member signs into the Square POS app, transactions go into the system automatically. You can use the same reader across different accounts, too. So if you have two businesses, or you have more than one Square POS app (like Square Retail or Square Restaurants), the reader works interchangeably with those as well.

Keep in mind that when you choose your reader, you may limit your usage. For example, you can only use the lightning reader with iOS, but the standard 3.5mm headphone jack reader is compatible with multiple devices. Of course, you can always purchase more readers to suit your needs and keep up with a growing team. As long as they are signed into your Square account, all sales will be synced to your account.

How To Use Square’s Countertop POS Systems

Square Register

If you are considering how you can use Square’s countertop POS systems to make business flow, here are your options:

Square Stand for Contactless and Chip:

When you use the Square Stand with the free Square Point of Sale (POS), you will need to bring along your own compatible iPad (most recent model) or purchase an iPad to go into your stand. The magstripe reader is built-in if you must swipe, but we recommend utilizing the Square Reader for contactless and chip payment for the latest payment security protections. The Square Stand also comes with a dock to keep the contactless reader charged and stable.

When it comes time to ring up an order, you’ll complete the sale just as you would through your mobile device, as the free Square POS app is still the engine that’s running the whole thing. The Square Stand for Contactless and Chip makes a great choice if you are looking for a more prominent, bonafide countertop POS option. It has a simplistic design with minimal cords and offers more screen real estate to find inventory and add to your sale.  

Square Stand for Contactless and Chip

With the Square Stand, you can run your Square POS app or the premium options created just for retail and restaurants. Find out why these might be a better option for you (and see the fee differences) by visiting our Square for Retail or Square for Restaurants reviews.

Square Terminal: 

The Square Terminal is a great all-in-one choice if you want a little more portability than the Square Stand offers. You can swipe, dip, or tap credit and debit cards, and it even has a receipt printer built right in. Terminal runs the free Square POS app, so it’s easy when it comes to ringing up a sale. You can also access features such as your customer directory, reports, and inventory tools.

If you are running Square for Restaurants, you won’t have access to all of the bells and whistles, but Square Terminal does have limited compatibility with the Restaurants POS. For example, you can pull up an open ticket and settle payments right at the table — complete with a receipt! When all is said and done, The Square Terminal can hold its own as an excellent countertop solution, but it’s also lightweight enough to use as a mobile solution. And because Square POS has an offline mode built right in, you don’t have to worry about losing connection. Transaction data is all saved safely with Square and ready to process when your device is back online.

Square Register:

They built the Square Register with both your and your customer’s ease of use in mind. There’s one 13.25-inch screen for you, and one for 7-inch display customers, complete with magstripe, chip card, and contactless payment processing built in! Square Register runs Square POS and supports Square Loyalty and other software add-ons. The Square Register also supports the back-end features of the premium Square for Retail software, such as the advanced reporting and inventory features, but can’t run the POS app itself. 

Not sure what you need? Check out A Guide To Square Credit Card Readers And POS Bundles to compare and explore your options. Below, we’ll break down the cost of the hardware we just talked about, and discuss the transaction fees associated with each.

Square POS Hardware Costs & Transaction Fees

As always, Square pricing is very straightforward. Below we’ve listed prices for the hardware and what it will cost you to process payments.

  • Square Stand for Contactless and Chip:  The cost for this one is $199.00. If you want to add an iPad, you can do so for $329.00. Note that the stand is only compatible with an iPad (2017, 2018), iPad Pro 9.7”, or iPad Air (1, 2). You’ll pay a flat 2.75% per swipe, dip or tap transaction at the Square Stand so long as you are running the free Square POS. Square For Restaurants and Square for Retail process at different rates — 2.6% + $0.10 for Restaurants and 2.5% + $0.10 for Retail.
  • Square Terminal: To get your business a Square Terminal, you’ll pay $399.00, shipping included. You can also opt to add on 20 rolls of terminal print paper for another $20.00. Your payment processing fee is 2.6% + 10¢ per swiped magstripe cards, swiped or inserted chip cards, and contactless payments.
  • Square Register: Square Register costs $999.00 to purchase it outright. Shipping is free, and it arrives in seven business days or less. It’s ready to start processing payments right out of the box, so there’s no fuss when it comes to launch time. Contactless payments, swiped or inserted chip cards, and swiped magstripe cards processed through cost 2.5% + 10¢ fee.

If you add on specialized software, such as Square for Restaurants or Square for Retail, you will have an additional monthly charge (both starting at $60/mo). Both of these premium POS systems are geared towards specialized businesses and include features such as advanced reporting (for retail), and table mapping (for restaurants).  

How To Accept Card-Not-Present Payments with Square POS  

Small Business Owner Using Square Customer Service

There may be some situations when you need to take a payment from your customer, and you can’t swipe, dip, or tap the card. Maybe you don’t have your reader with you, or you want to take an order over the phone. Whether the card is physically present or not, if you manually enter in the card information, it’s considered a card-not-present transaction.

In the next section, we will lay out the payment processing costs for such transactions. But first, let’s discover the ways you can process a card with Square if you don’t have your reader (or the card) in hand.

Virtual Terminal

If you log into the Square Dashboard from your computer, you can key in manual payments from your Virtual Terminal (not to be confused with the Square Terminal hardware). You won’t need additional hardware to complete the transaction. You simply go into the terminal and enter the amount, credit card information, and even add a note to describe the sale. Then you hit “Charge,” completing the transaction. You can also take “Card on File” payments from the Virtual Terminal (more on that below). If you have a Chromebook or Apple laptop, you can connect a basic magstripe reader to swipe transactions. In that case, you’ll pay the standard swipe rate instead of the keyed entry rate.

Card-on-File Transactions

Whenever you ring up a sale, you can also opt to save your customer’s card number on file for future use. After that, you always have the option of selecting “card on file” to complete the sale. However, keep in mind that whenever you ring a card-on-file transaction later and don’t swipe, dip, or tap, you have entered into “card-not-present” territory and slightly higher processing rates apply. 

Security Concerns with Card On File 

The Square app only reveals the last four digits of your customer’s credit card on file and does not save CVV card data to remain PCI compliant. Any time you make a transaction with Card on File, Square automatically sends a receipt to the customer so they have a record of the transaction, to help minimize the risk of unauthorized charges.

You should never save your customer’s card data unless it is stored with PCI-compliant software (such as Square). Businesses that store customers’ payment data improperly put everyone in danger of a breach, and the company can be liable for the breach, should it occur. Small businesses are targeted by fraudsters looking for unsecured data, and it is a lot more common than you may think. If you save the card on file through Square POS or Virtual Terminal, keep in mind that Square also requires you to obtain written consent to store the card on files — the site provides a form you print off and store somewhere secure. Also, your customer can revoke their consent to keep their card on file with you at any time.

Manually Keying-In Credit Card Information

In addition to the Virtual Terminal included with Square, you can always opt to enter credit card information manually with the Square POS app. Because there is a higher chance of fraud when you don’t capture the electronic data, it’s going to cost you a bit more to process. However, sometimes it is necessary to take these types of payments. Use your discretion with these types of transactions, and swipe, dip, or tap the card if at all possible to reduce your fees (and your chargeback risk). However, if a card is particularly worn down, the card reader is just misbehaving, or you don’t have your Square reader handy, it’s good to know you have a backup option to accept payments. 

Invoices

If you are looking for yet another workaround when it comes to processing payments, don’t have your reader handy, and you don’t want to key in the amount, you always have an option to send an invoice. Your customer will get the invoice via an email right away. From there, they can open their email and follow the prompts to enter in their credit card information from their own device. This is especially good for higher-value transactions where keying in the card number might send up a red flag. 

Check out our Square Invoices review for a more in-depth look at Square’s free software, but for now, what you need to know is that you can link your inventory to invoices, allow customers to send tips, take down payments, and even enable installment payments.

Square Keyed-Entry Transaction Fees

As we covered above, there are several scenarios in which you may want or need to key in your customer’s credit card information and more than one way to do it. Here’s how much it’s going to cost you to process these types of payments:

  • Keyed Entry Payments (Square POS Or Virtual Terminal): 3.5% + 15¢
  • Card-On-File: 3.5% + 15¢
  • Invoicing: 2.9% + 30¢

Is Square’s Credit Card Processing Right For You?

Square offers several solutions for businesses at every stage. That means that if you’re a one-person shop now, you don’t really have to worry about finding a new solution when you grow because Square offers so many scaleable hardware options. When it comes to taking payment at your storefront or on the go, there are many ways to go about it. And with a transparent pricing model, there are no surprises on the back end. Because Square offers an all-in-one solution with payment processing and PCI compliant security built right in, you don’t need to worry about jumping through hoops to keep up with the latest global payment security regulations.

So is Square right for you? Sometimes the best way to find out is to see for yourself! Consdier setting up a Square account and playing around with the possibilities. It’s free to set up a Square account, and there are zero commitments or contracts required.

If you are still weighing all of your options when it comes to processing, check out this Mobile Credit Card Processing Comparison table for a quick side-by-side view of some top-rated companies.

Reader eCommerce Retail Food Service
Free App & Reader Square eCommerce Square for Retail Square for Restaurants
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and Android Easy integration with popular platforms plus API for customization Specialized software for more complex retail stores Specialized software for full-service restaurants
$0/month $0/month $60/month $60/month
Always Free Always Free Free Trial Free Trial

The post How To Use Square To Accept Credit Cards In Person appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Complete Guide To Stripe Pricing And Costs

Are you curious about what makes Stripe different than other third-party processors like Square and PayPal? And if the costs are comparable? Come along as we explore Stripe — a lesser-known payment processing option that has definite potential when it comes to eCommerce.

Even though Stripe has less name recognition than competitors Square and PayPal, Stripe has likely processed many of your recent online shopping transactions without you even realizing it. That’s because Stripe powers payment processing behind the scenes for some of the biggest retail chains around — places like Target, Lyft, Facebook, Adidas, and Under Armour. Yes, Stripe has one of the most respected and well-trusted platforms in the world, but instead of providing branded, customer-facing tools like its peers, it focuses on delivering developer-friendly solutions with extensive code libraries and lots of customization options.

If you are looking for a ready-made, polished solution for eCommerce payment processing, Stripe may not be the ideal choice. A solution like Square may be much better suited to your needs. If, however, you want to build your payment processing platform from the ground up (and have the technical resources to do so), you’ll find a range of robust, world-class developer tools.

In this post, we’ll talk about what kind of payment processing Stripe provides (and why it matters), and then dive into costs associated with transactions and/or other handy tools you may need.

Overview Of Stripe

Stripe is a third-party payment processor — just like PayPal and Square. Traditional merchant account providers vet and approve each individual merchant, creating a single account for that business. Third-party processors, on the other hand, make it much easier for a business to quickly access payment processing services because they combine many business accounts together into one giant account. Stripe’s processing model relies on maintaining account volume to reduce risk for the group as a whole; for that reason, it can become a bit of a numbers game for them to remain profitable. If something looks fishy, they are more likely to terminate, freeze, or put an account hold on a business without a lot of warning.

Now, most of us feel a bit squirmy when we imagine our hard-earned revenue potentially held ransom in a purgatory account, but the truth is, freezes and holds happen only to a tiny percentage of businesses — and typically only after certain red flags have been raised. If you want to learn more about how to avoid waving some of these red flags, check out our post: How to Avoid Merchant Account Holds, Freezes, and Terminations. The majority of business owners will not have to worry about a freeze or hold, so it’s important to keep that whole issue in perspective.

Now back to the good news. Stripe has a lot of features and benefits for a growing small business, such as:

  • Transparent pricing
  • No monthly or termination fee
  • Payment security using advanced machine learning  
  • Libraries in every language
  • Display multiple currencies (add 1% for automatic conversion)
  • Versioned API changes
  • Test-friendly environment
  • 24/7 live chat and phone support
  • iOS and Android dashboard apps

And when it comes to creating the finished solution, you don’t have to do it all. There is a workaround for those of us who may not have all of the coding skills (or time!) to build it all from the ground up. Stripe has established platform partners to integrate a range of small business tools from accounting, automation, form building, CRM, inventory management, and booking — just to scratch the surface.

One thing we like about Stripe is that, unlike some companies, Stripe offers support for safe and PCI compliant migration of credit card data whether you are coming or going. Some third-party processors don’t support exit migration at all, so this is a nice touch.

Now that you are a bit more familiar with this platform, let’s check out the costs associated with processing payments.

Stripe Payment Processing Costs

Most savvy business owners want to cut to the chase. “Great, so how much does it cost?”

Stripe’s payment processing costs are straightforward, but your per-transaction costs will largely depend on the type of transaction you’re processing. Discounts and some pricing differences apply, so stick with me as we go through some different scenarios.

Online Transactions

For any eCommerce transaction (including in-app and mobile web payments), you are going to pay 2.9% + $0.30 per successful card charge. It doesn’t matter whether you process Visa, MasterCard, American Express, JCB, etc. — all cards cost the same to process. You also pay the same price whether you build your own site or connect to a third-party shopping cart.

Another great thing about Stripe is that you can accept international cards (for an additional 1%). If you need to convert the currency, however, you’ll have to pay another 1% on top of that. This is great for businesses that sell internationally, especially combined with Stripe’s ability to present prices in the customer’s local currency. 

Stripe also allows merchants to accept more than just credit cards, providing the tools that allow you to manage ACH and other payment options. Here is what it’s going to cost you:

  • ACH Credit: Starting at $1.00 per ACH credit payment
  • ACH Direct Debit: 0.8% per transaction, capped at $5
  • Wire: $8.00 per wire payment

Stripe also allows you to verify your customers’ bank accounts at no extra charge. That’s a nice touch. However, if payment doesn’t go through, you are looking at $4 for failed ACH direct deposit payments and $15 for disputed ACH direct debit payments.

In-Person Transactions

 

Stripe POS

Want the same customization for your pop-up shop or brick-and-mortar store that Stripe brings to your online presence? Introducing the Stripe Terminal!

For in-person payment processing with the Square terminal, you’ll pay 2.7% + $0.05 for each successful card transaction. But before you get too excited, Stripe Terminal’s programmable point of sale is currently in beta and available upon invitation only. You can request approval now, and if you are approved, you can buy a developer kit to run in test mode until they begin supporting transactions in live mode (this is expected to roll out very soon).

When it comes time to choose your reader, you can integrate with the Stripe Terminal through a combination of an iOS SDK and mobile reader or a JavaScript SDK and countertop reader. Stripe suggests the latter if you’re looking for a fully branded experience and have a strong developer proficiency.

Payment Security Note: As far as payment security and PCI-DSS compliance go, the Stripe Terminal is EMV Levels 1,2, and 3 pre-certified. So it can help a wide range of businesses get started without having to dedicate extra resources to payment security. But for now, you’ll have to wait to process live payments until it graduates from beta testing.

Does Stripe Offer Alternative Pricing?

QuickBooks For Nonprofits

We do get a lot of comments about the fact that Stripe (and other third-party processors) can be expensive for some businesses. Fortunately, Stripe does offer volume-based discounts for large businesses. In addition, you may be able to qualify for custom pricing if you run a nonprofit or have a unique business model. Stripe doesn’t give any hard and fast details about alternative pricing, however, so you’ll have to contact the sales team and discuss your business model with them directly.

Does your business process very small transactions ($10 or less) on a regular basis? The $0.30 per-transaction fee might be prohibitively expensive, and an alternate payment model catering to these microtransactions can save you money. Here’s what Stripe says about support for microtransaction payment processing:

Microtransaction support varies from market to market. If you process more than $100,000 per month or have a unique business model such as marketplaces, microtransactions, or unusually large order values, reach out to us, and we can discuss availability and options. In markets where microtransactions aren’t available, a common approach is to batch together multiple transactions from the same customer and submit them as a single, larger charge.

Stripe Pricing For Other Tools

Stipe offers a healthy selection of additional tools and add-ons. Below, we break them down for you and include information about pricing to help you make an informed decision.

Billing

Stripe Billing offers recurring payments and subscription tools built around the customer experience. For the recurring business model, you will have a lot of tools to help you engage customers and reduce turnover (more on that below). And as far as billing your customers with one-off invoices or setting them up for automatic recurring payments, there are no limits on how many invoices you can send, ever.

To be clear, all Stripe Billing fees are charged in addition to the processing fee (2.9% + $0.30 per successful charge).

If you’re only expecting to process a small volume of recurring payments, or you’re new to Stripe, the Starter Plan has everything you need. Your cost for using the Billing tools is 0% for the first $1 million of recurring charges, and then 0.4% after that. Stripe doesn’t charge anything extra for one-off invoices. 

For businesses that are billing at large volumes and want advanced features to manage billing from order cash, Stripe offers the Scale plan. You will pay 0.7% on recurring charges, in addition to the payment fees of 2.9% + 30 cents per successful charge to a card. However, Stripe also offers discounted ACH to businesses on the Scale plan, so there are potential cost savings.

Here is a screenshot from Stripe’s comparison of their Starter and Scale packages:

Stripe

The above is a long list of out-of-the-box tools you can put to use pretty quickly. Even just the business analytics, reporting, recovery tools, and webhooks make a compelling case of high value to cost ratio. Stripe touts that its recovery tools have “reduced payment declines for users by 45% on average and increased revenue by 10% on average.”

All-in-all, any SaaS or subscription-based business could benefit from the features in Stripe Billing — and Stripe offers a free trial with no setup or fixed monthly fees, so there doesn’t seem to be a downside to trying it out.

Connect

Connect is “the payments platform for platforms.” If you are a marketplace or a platform, you can utilize Stripe Connect to accept money and pay third parties. Connect is API-first, meaning you have the freedom to design a unique experience including onboarding, set payout timing, and integrated financial reporting, to name a few.

Connect has three account options including Standard, Express, and Custom. The cost for Connect Standard is included with Stripe — you have no additional platform-specific fees to add payments to your platform. Additionally, you’ll get a full Stripe Dashboard, dynamic risk-based KYC/AML checks, international support in over 25 countries, and hosted onboarding and verification.

Custom and Express Connect costs $2 per active account per month + 0.25% of account volume. With these accounts you can do things like build branded onboarding flows, control payout timing and funds flow, automate 1099 tax form generation and delivery, and have a platform management dashboard. The difference between Express and Custom is revealed in the names themselves. Express is a faster option requiring low integration effort to onboard recipients quickly and at scale (e.g., an on-demand marketplace), while Custom is an option for platforms to completely customize the user experience.

International connected accounts will run an extra 0.25% cross-border charge on monthly account volume. Additional fees also apply if you utilize Connect tools such as account debits (1.5%) and payouts ($0.25 per payout). However, as with Stripe’s other pricing models, the company is always up for discussing volume pricing for large platforms and alternative pricing options for low volume accounts. And if you’re a startup affiliated with Stripe Atlas Network, you can contact Stripe to learn about their custom startup package.

Stripe Connect

Sigma

Sigma connects you to your business data with a wide range of applications from business operations to finance, data analysis, and product management. Sigma doesn’t require any setup or ETLs; all you need to do is write SQL queries to create the custom reports on your dashboard. Pricing for Sigma is based on how many charges, authorizations, and application fees your business processed in the previous month. Fees start at $0.02/charge for 1-500 charges and incrementally decrease with charge volume.  

Radar For Teams

While all of Stripe’s payment processing software is fully PCI compliant and therefore meets global payment security standards, Radar is available as well. Radar bolsters your defenses through advanced machine learning. Radar learns from “hundreds of billions of data points across the Stripe network to help millions of businesses fight fraud.”

Radar is included with your standard and custom pricing plans. However, Radar for Fraud Teams is also available for an additional cost of $0.02/per transaction. Radar utilizes data and tools that support the detection and blocking of fraud, and it can decrease the false positives that block legitimate customers, too. Stripe has done a very good job at creating layers of security and data insights into their product — and you don’t need to dig into the code to make use of it because it all happens at your dashboard!

Is Stripe A Good Fit For You?

It’s pretty clear that Stripe goes far beyond your run-of-the-mill payment processing solution. The real meat of Stripe is its rich developer tools that give you the power to customize everything about the payment experience while giving you deep insights and analytical data you can use right away.

Businesses that want a fully branded, ready-to-scale solution — as well as subscription-based businesses, marketplaces, and tech-focused companies — will likely find all the tools they need and then some. However, for the eCommerce business that simply needs a reliable and secure payment processor, Stripe may be overkill. If you don’t have the technical expertise or don’t have developers on staff, you may never tap into Stripe’s potential. An option like Square may be a better fit. Square offers fast setup, no recurring fees, and up-front pricing that suits most small businesses nicely. Additionally, Square provides an extensive dashboard that reveals basic business and financial analytics with no integration required.

Not sure what you need? Check out our Stripe vs Square comparison or read our Stripe Review for an in-depth analysis. Or if you want to explore your options even further, check out How to Choose an eCommerce Merchant Account.

The post The Complete Guide To Stripe Pricing And Costs appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Set Up A Free Square Account

Thinking about using Square to process payments for your business? Whether you are a solopreneur or a busy boss running multiple locations, you can quickly set up an account with Square with little to no fuss. Square offers several time-saving benefits for the small business owner looking to start processing payments, including no credit checks, a free magstripe reader to get you started, and a free Square POS app which enables you to start taking credit card payments right away. Not only that, but the Square dashboard offers analytics reporting, inventory management, alerts, and (with optional add-on software) even the ability to plan email marketing campaigns!

With all of these conveniences and freebies, you can expect slightly higher transaction fees than you’d get with a traditional merchant account. However, as a third-party processor, Square offers a very transparent pricing plan that starts at 2.75% per swipe dip or tap, and 3.5% + 15 cents for keyed-in transactions. You won’t be surprised with hidden fees or contracts, and you can enjoy the same processing rate for all major credit cards. Square also offers payment dispute assistance, chargeback protection, and secure, PCI compliant software — all included.

If your interest in Square is piqued, but you need a little more information before getting started, then you’ve landed on the right post! Below, we’ll take you step-by-step through the process of signing up for a new Square account. As you will see, setting up your Square account is relatively straightforward. And the best part? It’s completely free and requires no commitment on your part whatsoever.

What Do You Need To Get Started?

Before we get started, here is the main information you’ll need to set up your Square account:

  • Email address
  • Last four digits of your Social Security number (to confirm your name)
  • Home address
  • Shipping address
  • Legal name
  • Phone number
  • Bank account number to set up your direct deposit schedule

You don’t need:

  • Bank statements
  • Proof of revenue
  • Your full social security number
  • Tax documents
  • A credit check

We are going to get pretty detailed in this tutorial, but rest assured, the application itself takes less than ten minutes. Follow along with the guide below to discover how to set up and make the most of your new Square account!

How To Create A Free Square Account

First, visit Square’s sign-up page and hit the “Sign Up With Square” button.

Sign up with Square

 

The first step asks for your email address and prompts you to create a password and choose your country. You also must agree to Square’s terms, privacy policy and e-sign consent policy. We strongly suggest that as with any contract, you take the time to click on, read, and understand the details before agreeing to them.

 

Square set up account

 

The next screen is straightforward and asks if you are an individual or represent a larger business, charity, or religious organization. Enter in your business name or another title that you would like to appear on your receipts. I’m typing in “Blue Heron Content” as my business name.

Create an individual square account for business

 

Now we are getting closer to the meat — Square wants to know where you plan on processing payments. In this example, I don’t want to limit myself, so I am choosing all of the possibilities!

 

Square processes payments mobile online and square invoices

It’s important to mention that even if you don’t plan to use some of these options right away, you can still access them later at any time.

Next, Square asks what else they can help you manage. I am also going to select all of the options again to get a better idea of what Square may suggest right off the bat. I don’t personally need employee tracking for my business, but let’s see what it can do!

Now it’s time to make decisions. Because I selected that I was interested in restaurant-related products, I am offered a free 30-day trial of Square for Restaurants, one of Square’s premium iPad POS apps. (Check out our full review of Square for Restaurants for a more detailed look at pricing and features.) If you are a restaurant owner, check out some of the perks Square lists below. For this particular tutorial, though, we are going to stick with the free POS system.

Square Point of Sale and Square for Restaurants

 

Now that I have selected Square Point of Sale as my preferred POS app, I’ve made it to the “Let’s talk about you” page. This is the place to plug in the rest of your information. Note that Square is not going to perform a credit check on you or your business, they just need the last four digits of your social security number or ITIN, your legal name, street address, and phone number. They use this information to verify your identity.

I’ve finished filling in this form, so I am going to hit “continue” and see what’s next on our journey.

 

Square setup form

 

Choose A Magstripe Reader

Great news! By the time you arrive at the next screen below (3-5 seconds, give or take), Square will have successfully verified your identity. Now it’s time to select a credit card reader to accept in-person payments. For my part, while the Contactless + Chip Reader looks very enticing at $49, I am going to accept the free reader for now.

Square Reader

 

Now there’s another choice to make. Square would like to know if I would like the 3.5mm magstripe reader that is compatible with the traditional headphone jack, or the Lightning connector version for iOS devices. I’m choosing the reader that plugs into a conventional audio jack. You’ll obviously choose the option that works best for your business setup.

Compatibility Note: Square’s magstripe and chip card readers and the Square Point of Sale (POS app) are compatible with most Apple iOS and Android devices running the latest software updates. After this tutorial, check out our Square POS Review for more about system requirements, integrations, and a lot more details about Square POS.

Free Square Reader

After selecting the type of magstripe reader that fits your needs, Square will give you the options to find a retailer close to you and pick up the reader or have it mailed. Personally, I’m opting for Square to send me the reader in the mail. After entering my shipping details, I am one step closer to getting my own Square reader. Oh, and shipping is free, too! Just note that it could take up to 10 days for yours to arrive. 

Order A Square Reader

After entering my information and clicking continue, the setup process is officially complete! That was very easy. Square has already sent me an email letting me know when to expect my reader and another to confirm my email address.

It’s time to head to the new dashboard to set up the backend. 

How To Set Up Your Square Dashboard

Right away, you can see that the dashboard has a clean layout and is pretty straightforward. Since this is the first time I am visiting this new dashboard, Square is offering up these green bubbles as a setup guide. Let’s explore the dashboard and start setting up inventory, customizing the layout, and checking out the reporting features.

Square Dashboard setup

 

Compatibility Note: You’ll be able to access the full Square dashboard from any web browser, but the Square Dashboard app is only compatible with iPhones at this time. You can still take payments on any compatible iOS and Android device with the Square POS app, however.

Add Items & Build Your Inventory

From your home screen, you will see the teal Items button (pictured in the screenshot above). The place to add inventory is under Items>Item Library. To the right on the screenshot below, note the blue button that says “Create an Item”:

Adding an Item in Square Inventory

Here is what the “Create an Item” screen looks like in the Square Dashboard before adding a product:

Create an Item Screen in Square Dashboard

I went ahead and uploaded a product image and filled out my first item below. I can add the amount of stock I have, a price, and set up low-stock alerts for myself here, too! Square will even let me color-code items if I prefer to group categories by colors. 

It’s also possible to create variant items if you sell the same product in different colors and/or sizes. Plus, for cafes and restaurants, there’s a “modifier” option. Say, for example, that you want to offer coconut, soy, and almond milk alternatives for customers in your coffee shop. You can do that, and even set an upcharge fee for these items using the modifier feature. There’s also an option to specify at which locations an item is available if you have more than one shop. 

Add an Item in Square Inventory

Create & Manage Locations

You can create multiple locations from within your Square Dashboard by going to “Accounts and Settings” and then to “Business” and selecting “Locations.” Square will even let you specify a mix of physical locations with a set address and mobile locations without one.

Square’s location management features can help you manage inventory and gather data from multiple stores — and it is totally free:

  • Linked locations and deposit options
  • Per-location item libraries
  • Device management for security
  • Reporting tools to compare/contrast sales or other data

Square also offers advanced tracking and reporting tools for individual employees across your locations. More on those features and cost in the Employee Management section.

Manage Sales Tax Settings

You will find Square’s sales tax settings nestled under the Items menu in your dashboard.

When you create a tax at your Square Dashboard, the tax will automatically sync to every device in your account, and you can specify which taxes apply to which locations. You can even build the tax into the price of the item if you prefer, rather than adding the tax to the price afterward. Square also lets you modify tax settings from within the mobile POS app as well, which is useful when you need to make changes on the fly.

In addition to multiple tax rates, you can create conditional tax rules, which are preset conditions in which a tax won’t be applied — whether you need that to apply to one item or the entire order. This is especially helpful for restaurants that handle online orders.

Now, let’s head back to the home screen and customize our dashboard layout, and then check out the reporting features!

Customize Your Dashboard Layout

Customizing the layout of your Square Dashboard is super easy. First, you can get rid of anything you know you won’t need right off the bat by scrolling through and unchecking anything in the drop-down menu (pictured on the right-hand side of the screenshot below). Don’t worry about making the wrong decision, because you can reset the whole thing or click to re-check one box.

Square Dashboard Customize

The other way to easily adjust your view is by dragging and dropping the tiles to configure them exactly how you want them. For my store, I switched tiles to move the feedback tile up from the last row. This drag-and-drop feature makes it easy to get the information you prioritize first, and then scroll to other options whenever needed.

Moving Square Tiles in Dashboard

As you can see, it’s simple to move things around, and if you change your mind, just as easy to change it back.

Review Square’s Reporting Features

The extensive, user-friendly and (mostly) free reporting features are what make Square a fantastic, no-fuss choice for any small business. As you can see in the screenshot below, there is a long list of possible reports. Every business has unique needs, and Square does a good job of supporting a wide range of small businesses with various options and features.

Square reports

All of the sales reports, such as Sales Summary, Sales Trends, Items Sales, and Modifier Sales, are free. Custom Reports is another handy and entirely free reporting tool that can help you combine and compare your reporting data. Custom Reports allows you to aggregate reports with multiple filtering options. This feature makes it easy work to create a report that breaks the data down for a single location, or you can pick and choose certain pieces of data and compare them across different locations. For instance, you could create one report that compares Gross Sales and Returns for a particular device and/or location. 

To find out even more about what Square’s dashboard can offer you in terms of reporting features, check out our post Why We Like Square’s Online Dashboard and Analytics App.

If you are looking for even more robust reporting and tracking across multiple locations for your employees, it may be worth it to you to learn more about the Employee Management tools, featured below.

Manage Your Employees 

Within the Dashboard, you’ll find the Employee section, which is the foundation for Square’s Employee Management feature set. Adding a new employee into your dashboard is easy — and adding in separate email logins for Square POS is entirely free. However, if you want advanced reporting on timekeeping, individual employee sales, and sales vs. labor costs, you need to subscribe to Employee Management, which will cost you $5 per employee. 

Square Employee Reporting Tool

Here, I have chosen to select the free “Mobile Staff” option to show you that you can invite employees using the email address that they will then use to log into the Square app. You can also enable or disable permissions for accepting payments in Offline Mode and set or remove Issue Refunds permissions.

It’s important to note that employees assigned to mobile staff can only access their own sales data in the Square POS app. 

Square Employee Permissions Mobile Staff Free

If you want something a bit more substantial in terms of employee reporting, Square offers that, too.  To track individual employee sales through the day, keep better performance accountability across multiple locations, and closely monitor administrative permissions, the $5/mo per employee cost for the advanced Employee Management feature seems like a pretty fair deal. You also get timekeeping, so your employees can clock into their shifts through the Square POS app. 

If you want to get started with Employee Management, there are a few ways to do it: Head to Employee Sales or Labor vs. Sales under Reports and start adding employees. It’s free to try for 30 days!

Employee Management Sales Reporting

 

How To Set Up Square Deposits & Funding

When it’s time to get all of that revenue into your bank account, Square has several options for getting your money, all found under Deposits.

Square Instant Deposit and Deposit Schedule Tutorial

Square will automatically deposit your funds on the next business day. You can also change your ‘close of day’ to adjust for your time zone or business hours if you would like. The close of day determines when Square cuts off payment deposits for the next business day. If you need your money even faster, Square offers Instant Deposits that transfer your current Sales Balance immediately — whether it’s a business day or a weekend. This faster service will cost you 1% of the transfer amount. You can even use Scheduled Deposits to get your money deposited at each day’s close of business. 

Find out all the details about the instant deposit feature, and more about how Square’s deposit options work in general, by checking out our post, How Does Square’s Instant Deposit Work?

To set up your deposit schedule or choose an instant transfer, you’ll need to link your debit card (in addition to your bank account). However, you have yet another option for disbursement. You can request your very own Square Card, a personalized business debit card that holds your Square balance.

Square Card Small Business

You can use your card anywhere MasterCard is accepted. If you’d like to order one, you’ll find “Square Card” tucked right under the Deposits tab. To be clear, you can request a Square Card and also choose to have funds deposited into your bank account.

Explore More Square Software Options

Square offers a myriad of specialized software options to make business more productive. Here are some of your options:

  • Customer Engagement: Square’s customer engagement tools include a customer database, feedback management, and CRM software. The database and feedback tools are free, but the CRM starts at $15 month. The image above is a sample CRM campaign I could send to my lapsed customer list. Email campaigns are easy to customize and segment for those reachable-by-email customers.
  • Loyalty Program: This tool starts at $25/month. Read our Square Loyalty Program Review for an in-depth analysis.
  • Advanced Employee Management: As outlined in a previous section, pay $5/month per employee for advanced reporting and employee management tools.
  • Payroll: Square Employee and Contractor payroll starts at $29/month plus $5/employee. Contractor-Only Payroll is just $5/month per contractor.
  • eCommerce: Square offers free space and setup for an online store, and you can integrate with major shopping carts. Read our Square Online Store and eCommerce Review.
  • Invoicing: Invoices are always free to send, pay 2.9% + 30 cents per invoice when your customer pays with credit or debit online. For more on the pros and cons, pricing, and an in-depth look at invoicing with Square, check out our Square Invoices Review.

Choose Another Square Point of Sale App

While the free Square POS app will likely fit the bill for many small businesses, Square has developed more specialized tools for retail, restaurants, and appointment-based businesses.

Square For Retail:

This POS system works with an iPad and has a redesigned interface and usability geared for retail businesses that have substantial inventory. Instead of scrolling to an item in your inventory, an item is easily searchable by name. The barcode scanning and printing features make keeping up with inventory a bit easier, too. Check out our Square Retail Review for more on price, pros and cons, and all a lot more details.

Square for Restaurants:

If you are familiar with Square’s POS system, you may be surprised to see how different Square for Restaurants really is. And it has to be. Sit-down restaurants usually require more specialized tools to cover their everyday business needs, and this POS delivers — from table mapping, menu creation, table management, and reporting tools — there are a lot of specialized features here. Check out our full Square for Restaurants review to find out if this is the right choice for your restaurant.

Square Appointments:

If your business relies on creating and maintaining appointments for just yourself or an entire team, Square Appointments might be just what you need. Note that this POS option is an iOS exclusive. It’s free for individual users, and pricing starts at $50 a month beyond that. Check out our in-depth Square Appointments Review, including functionality, customization, and features.

Choose Hardware Options

Square has expanded to offer so much more than the free magstripe credit card reader. As I mentioned earlier, Square offers a Contactless + Chip reader that lets you accept chip card and contactless payments for $49, which is a smart move to improve payment security.  

If you need something more robust in terms of hardware, however, you can probably find what you need. Square offers countertop POS systems with customer-friendly displays, and if you want to toe the line between countertop vs. mobile, Square also offers a fully portable credit card terminal with a built-in receipt printer.

Square’s countertop POS devices include:

  • Square Stand: This hardware option is a tablet stand with a built-in card reader (along with contactless and chip reader) with an affordable price tag, minimal cords, and a swivel stand.
  • Square Terminal: A more portable option, Square Terminal accepts magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions. It’s sleek design, built-in receipt printer, and generous display size make it a nice, versatile option.
  • Square Register: Need something more robust? The Square Register offers a 13.25-inch display to run your Square Point of Sale, and on the opposite side, you have a 7-inch customer display ready for magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions.

For an in-depth look at each of the POS options or to take a gander at all the Square POS kits and bundles, head over to A Guide To Square Credit Card Readers And POS Bundles.

Where To Go Next With Square?

When you consider that Square is a secure, PCI compliant option with a transparent pricing plan and offers lots of bells and whistles, it truly is an excellent solution for any small business. I like that it’s so easy to set up an account with Square, and that they don’t ask for much in terms of personal information. When it is time to get set up or find reports, the dashboard is intuitive and easy to navigate. I also love that Square offers affordable hardware and software when it comes time to scale the business.

Not quite ready to make a decision? Check out our Square Review or head over to Square and set up your own account to see for yourself.

Already have an account? Square support provides great resources to help answer your questions as you navigate your options.

Have questions, comments? Leave us your thoughts below! (Just make sure you check our comment guidelines, first!)

The post How To Set Up A Free Square Account appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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What Are Verified By Visa And 3D Secure?

If you’ve heard about Verified by Visa through the grapevine — or more than likely in your checkout process — and you’ve got some questions, you are in the right place. Come along as we take a look at the good, bad, and the ugly when it comes to the evolution of Verified by Visa and 3D Secure.

What is Verified by Visa? Simply put, it’s a program to help ensure that cards are used only by the owner of the Visa account, thereby making online purchases more secure. 

The premise may be simple, but the details can be a little complex. Buckle up for a bit of a bumpy ride. In this post, we’ll look at where the industry used to be in terms of security protocols and talk about how far we have come thanks to solutions like Verified by Visa and its companion, 3D Secure.

3D Secure stands for 3-Domain Secure, which reflects the fact that the checkout process involves three separate domains to protect cardholders and merchants. 3D Secure encompasses both Visa and MasterCard’s security programs, as well as programs offered by JCB and American Express in select parts of the world. Merchants can add 3D Secure authentication on their site as an additional way to prevent card fraud. 

As we dig in the post, we are also going to explore some sobering realities that every eCommerce business must face when it comes to fraud — and discuss how 3D Secure technologies can protect you as a merchant.

What Is Verified By Visa?

Verified by Visa 3-D Secure 2.0

As we mentioned above, Verified by Visa is a program designed to reduce fraud and make online purchases more secure, but that definition is fairly ambiguous. The truth is that Verified by Visa is always evolving to adapt to how it accomplishes the goal of security, and this program will likely continue to change to stay one step ahead of online fraud. A shopper’s experience with Verified by Visa will largely depend on who issued their card as well as the merchant’s online security protocols. For example, a shopper with one particular Verified by Visa card may be prompted to enter in a personal PIN every time they buy at their favorite eCommerce shop. Another shopper with a Verified by Visa card issued from a different bank may go through the checkout seamlessly and not be aware that there are layers of risk assessment happening with data in the background to ensure the order is legitimate. 

This difference in shopping experiences is because there are two versions of Verified by Visa with varying levels of participation from issuing banks. This variance is in part due to the rollout of the new protocol 3D Secure 2.0. The update addressed some of the significant problems with the original 3D Secure, version 1.0. In the light of the risks presented by card-not-present transactions, most merchants (and shoppers!) would agree that adding layers of security is a good thing. But as I mentioned above, there were some big complaints with the original version of Verified by Visa when it rolled off the lot.

Verified by Visa and 3-D Secure 1.0

Screenshot of “Online Shopping is Easy and Secure With Visa” Video

3D Secure 1.0

Before we dig in, let me first say that it is completely normal to experience a certain to amount of negativity bias when we experience something new. As humans, we tend to focus on the negative and often approach new situations with suspicion. That can be a good thing or bad thing, depending on the situation.

Unfortunately, some shoppers who were initially exposed to Verified by Visa and 3D Secure version 1.0 mistakenly thought the pop-up authentication screen prompting them to enter their secure personal PIN was a malicious attempt at gathering their credit card data, and they jumped ship. These customers abandoned their carts or were locked out, resulting in lost sales for merchants. The situation was not good for shoppers, and certainly not good for businesses.

Verified by Visa spoof

Third-party pop-up screens demanding passwords or other sensitive information are a red flag, for obvious reasons. And as predicted by naysayers, several reported malware pop-ups spoofed the whole scheme. Verified by Visa and the banks soon worked out these kinds, fortunately. Now, the authentication step for Verified by Visa 1.0 (yes, that version still exists) happens in an in-line window. Pop-ups are a thing of the past.

But this improvement still doesn’t change the fact that many people don’t like having to remember yet another PIN number, code, or password for every purchase they make, big or small. There’s always a delicate balance between payment security and user experience in the world of payment security. Shoppers expect convenience and ease while also needing a high level of trust.

The newer 3D Secure technology utilized by Verified by Visa continues rolling out to eCommerce shops, and it does an exceptional job of addressing payment security and usability. 

3D Secure 2.0

3-D Secure 2.0 Verified by Visa

Just like 3D Secure 1.0, the newer 3D Secure 2.0 provides an additional layer of security for online transactions before final authorization. However, the updated version of Verified by Visa included in 3D Secure 2.0 uses a data stream to provide more robust risk assessments instead of relying on a PIN or passcode for authentication.

Verified by Visa and the original 3D Secure technology came on the market 15 years ago, but Version 2.0 is being managed and implemented by EMVCo, the same organization responsible for certifying hardware and software to accept chip card payments.

The important thing to note for any merchant considering Verified by Visa and 3D Secure is this: 3D Secure 2.0 represents the latest global standard in payment security.

The touted improvements are:

  • Cross-Device Support: 3D Secure 2.0 brings better usability and support for transactions across several types of devices.
  • Better Risk Analysis: Enhanced risk-based, decision-making for issuers utilizes 10X the data (e.g., time zone, device ID, purchase history, and geo-location data).
  • Improved Usability: A faster behind-the-scenes makes for happier customers.
  • Less Customer Intrusion: Authentication is only required directly from a shopper if the transaction is flagged high risk.

Visa says it best:

The new 2.0 version of the technology enables a real-time, secure, information-sharing pipeline that merchants can use to send an unprecedented number of transaction attributes that the issuer can use to authenticate customers more accurately without asking for a static password or slowing down commerce.

One of the best improvements from a shopper’s standpoint is that they won’t be asked for additional information unless the transaction waves some red flags. Data powers the risk assessment behind the scenes to more accurately identify a genuine vs. fraudulent transaction. As touched on above, 3D Secure 2.0 uses different types of data to analyze the purchase and protect shoppers and merchants from fraud, including but not limited to:

  • Purchase history
  • Device ID
  • Purchase amount
  • Geo location
  • Email address
  • Merchant history
  • Time of day
  • Unusual IP address
  • Unknown device
  • First time purchase of merchant
  • Excessively large purchase amount

And unlike Verified by Visa’s 3D Secure 1.0, users are not required to opt-in or register. If a cardholder’s issuing bank makes use of 3D Secure 2.0, the bank automatically enrolls the card at no charge to the customer.

Verified by Visa Registration

Fewer passwords and no need for registration means that most cardholders will not even necessarily be aware of all the fraud protection happening behind the scenes.

But what about merchants? What does a merchant do if they want to utilize 3D Secure technology in their checkout process? Read on for merchant information and some sobering fraud statistics that fueled the race to better technology.

How Verified By Visa & 3D Secure 2.0 Protect Merchants

Everyone understands that fraud is costly, but many may not know how the EMV chip protections for card-present transactions have caused fraudsters to focus more on eCommerce fraud. After the rollout of EMV, it was harder than ever to clone a user’s card or steal their credit card data. So the target has changed.

Fraudsters identify vulnerabilities in the payment security landscape, and that’s why we see eCommerce businesses hit harder than ever. When companies don’t understand how to protect themselves, they open themselves up to data breaches and big problems ensue. According to UPS Capital, 60% of small businesses are out of business within six months of suffering a cyber attack.

Every ecommerce merchant should do what they can to provide more protection for these transactions. We cover more about the risks of online payments and how you can protect your business in What Is A Card-Not-Present Transaction?, but 3D Secure technology is one excellent way you can defend your eCommerce business.

Here’s how it works in a nutshell:

How 3-D Secure Verified by Visa works

Instead of asking every customer for extra information, Verified by Visa and 3D Secure 2.0 use multiple layers of data to identify a high-risk transaction. Your shoppers are only asked to complete an extra step (e.g., entering in a verification number delivered via text) if there is a high risk of fraud.

All of this is important because merchants not only need to protect themselves from fraud, they need to protect themselves from lost sales due to frustrated customers. A behind-the-scenes risk-management approach means that convenience and user experience remain intact.

EMVCo reports that the data-driven authentication of 3D Secure 2.0 leads to a 70% reduction in cart abandonment. So as a savvy merchant, making it easier for your customers to complete a purchase while reducing the risk of fraud to your business is a no-brainer! 

Verified by Visa 3-D Secure 2.0

How Merchants Can Implement 3D Secure Technology

As mentioned earlier, Visa recommends that issuers and merchants support both the 1.0 and the 2.0 specifications. If you currently have a merchant account, give your provider a call to find out if they offer 3D Secure and how to start utilizing it in your online shop.

If you are in the market to find a high-quality, affordable processor that offers built-in excellent security tools (including 3D Secure) for eCommerce business, check out our other post, How to Choose an eCommerce Merchant Account.

Best Online Credit Card Processing Companies

Heading CDGcommerce Shopify Square Fattmerchant Payline
 
Review
Visit Site
ReviewVisit Site Review
Visit Site
Review
Visit Site
ReviewVisit Site
Key Features Free Gateway Included Advanced Shopping Cart Basic Webstore, All-in-one Advanced Billing & Invoicing Versatile Service
Shopping Cart Compatibility Many Shopify Only Many Many Many
Gateway Compatibility Many Many Square Only Many Many
Pricing Model Cost-Plus Flat Rate Flat Rate Subscription Cost-Plus
Standard eCommerce Rates 0.30% + $0.10 markup 2.90% + $0.30 2.90% + $0.30 0.00% + $0.10 markup 0.50 + $0.10 markup
Entry-Level Monthly Fee $10 $29 $0 $99 $0

Final Thoughts

The Verified by Visa experience for both shoppers and merchants has come a long way since it was first introduced more than fifteen years ago. Because the threat of fraud is continually evolving, we are likely to see this technology continue to get smarter as well.  That’s because eCommerce businesses today face increasing threats from fraudsters who target vulnerabilities in the digital space.

Staying up-to-date with the latest payment security technology is crucial to protect your business and the shoppers who buy from you. Verified by Visa and 3D Secure 2.0 work behind the scenes to authenticate a sale without a lot of intrusive requests to the shopper, making it an excellent way to combat fraud.

The post What Are Verified By Visa And 3D Secure? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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MasterCard SecureCode: What It Is And How To Use It

You may have seen mentions of “SecureCode” around, on TV and elsewhere. After all, when Hugh Jackman (aka Wolverine) stands on a scenic rooftop and asks if we know that SecureCode is a more secure way to pay, it’s hard to ignore.

Mastercard SecureCode

But what the heck is SecureCode?

Simple! MasterCard’s SecureCode is a private code known only to the account holder that provides an additional layer of security for online purchases. The program is free for consumers as well as merchants. 

The Claim:

MasterCard SecureCode ostensibly comes with these benefits:

  • Reducing fraud
  • Guaranteeing e-commerce payments
  • Reduced chargeback risk to merchant
  • Improved cardholder confidence 

With online payment security an ever-present concerns for both online shoppers and merchants alike, these Mastercard SecureCode claims deserve a closer look. Keep in mind that both the merchant and the cardholder need to opt into the program for either party to benefit from it. 

Whether you are a cardholder who is thinking about setting up a SecureCode yourself, or you are a curious business owner who wants to know how you can improve security for online purchases, read on for an explanation of how SecureCard works and whether it’s right for you!

How SecureCode Works For Online Shoppers

no annual fee credit card

The basic concept of MasterCard SecureCode is very similar to using a PIN to process a debit payment at the checkout. Just like during a debit transaction, where the PIN is kept private, the SecureCode should always remain private to the account holder.

When your customer fills their cart with your wares and begins the checkout process, they will also enter their MasterCard SecureCode to verify their identity as the cardholder. But there is one major caveat. Instead of sharing their SecureCode directly with you, the merchant, an issuer-provided inline window appears with a personal greeting that is only known by the cardholder. If the customer recognizes their personal greeting, they enter their SecureCode. In just a few seconds, the issuer verifies that the true cardholder is making the transaction and the checkout process continues. 

How Can Cardholder Enroll?

MasterCard customers who have cards issued from participating financial institutions can enroll in SecureCard and register any of their debit or credit cards. To find out if you can enroll, can contact your institution or view the list of participating financial institutions updated by MasterCard. 

MasterCard SecureCode For Businesses

If you are a merchant wondering why you should bother offering SecureCode, it makes sense to take the time to understand more about it. From a merchant standpoint, MasterCard SecureCode can give your current and future customers greater confidence and security while shopping online with you. This extra layer of authentication and security also protects you from fraudulent use and some types of chargebacks (more on that below).

It is important to note that if you decide to go with SecureCode, it’s not mandatory for all of your customers to enter in a code to finish the sale with you. Authentication with a personal code is only required for customers who have already signed up for SecureCode. Whenever a customer connects a card with SecureCode and the merchant is also signed up, the SecureCode is required, however. But if you decide to offer SecureCode and your customer isn’t signed up, they’ll enter their credit card information just like they would with any other sale, and it is processed as usual. 

For SecureCode transactions, merchants can gain protection from unauthorized cardholder chargebacks, and customers who have activated SecureCode get more protection, too.

How To Offer MasterCard SecureCode

If you are a business owner who is ready to get this new layer of security live on your site, here is what you need to know: Your transaction processor may already support the MasterCard SecureCode program, so give them a call first and see if they can get you started.

The setup process is fairly simple if you’re used to maintaining your website yourself, and involves installing a plug-in to your site. After everything is up and running successfully, MasterCard also provides you with a logo you can put on your site to identify your program involvement.

It’s also worth mentioning that many processing companies, including Stripe, offer an extra layer of authentication through 3D Secure  (sometimes abbreviated as 3DS). 3D Secure is a security protocol that bundles MasterCard SecureCode with the Visa equivalent, Verified by Visa. It gets its name from the fact that a third party, the card network, is involved in verifying the credit card purchase. In some regions, 3D Secure authentication also includes American Express SafeKey. Your merchant account provider may offer 3DS authentication as part of its service, though you might also need to configure this option in your payment options if it isn’t enabled by default.

How SecureCode Reduces Fraud & Guarantee eCommerce Payments

image of man in a hoodie in front of a laptop, overlaid with lines of code

MasterCard claims that SecureCode helps reduce fraud and guarantees ecommerce payments. Let’s say a hacker manages to lift someone’s card number from a skimming device or a compromised website and they post it on the Dark Web. Another scammer buys it and then tries to make a purchase with the card details. A CVV check (another common ecommerce security feature) might stop some transactions, but CVV checks aren’t universally used in ecommerce. Plus, we often give away our CVVs when we place an order over the phone (Chinese takeout, anyone?) — if that business has a shady employee who lifts customers’ numbers, they now also have your CVV. And of course, if a fraudster does get a physical card, they have everything they need to start making purchases.

SecureCode prevents unauthorized use in these types of situations because unlike a credit card number, SecureCode isn’t entered on a business’ site or shared over the phone. The SecureCode acts like a PIN between the issuing credit card company and the customer. If the person using the card doesn’t provide the correct code, or doesn’t enter any code, the transaction can’t go through. 

Keep in mind that SecureCode doesn’t take the place of authorization approval; it is simply an additional authentication step. Every card-not-present transaction, no matter how small, will be authorized by the issuing bank.

How SecureCode Reduces Chargebacks

The Complete Guide to Preventing and Winning Chargebacks

We’ve already talked about how SecureCode protects against unauthorized card use. It also provides protection against friendly fraud via chargebacks. 

For a business owner, a chargeback is a loss of revenue (both in terms of the money refunded to the customer and the fees charged by the processor for the chargeback), and too many chargebacks can negatively affect your standing with your credit card processing company. In essence, a chargeback happens whenever a customer files a dispute with their bank, saying that a charge was not authorized by the customer. 

Despite the somewhat innocent-sounding name, friendly fraud can cause a lot of grief. Friendly fraud refers to a type of chargeback that happens when a customer falsely claims they didn’t make a purchase in order to get their money back. They may have changed their mind or filed a chargeback claim directly with their credit card company instead of returning the product to you. Whether the customer’s intent was purposely malicious or not, these types of chargeback claims can be a big problem for any online retailer. They actually account for the majority of chargebacks.

If you’re a merchant, the great thing about SecureCode’s extra authentication step is that it’s much harder for a customer to claim they never ordered from you if they authenticated their purchase with their private code. You can make a stronger case when it comes to proving your customer actually made the purchase, so much of the liability in these types of “friendly fraud” or chargeback cases shifts away from you and to the user and their bank — which means you don’t lose out on the money from that purchase. 

If you want to read up a little bit more on chargebacks and what you can do as an online merchant, visit our post, The Complete Guide to Preventing and Winning Chargebacks.

How SecureCode Improves Cardholder Confidence

blogging

In the past, MasterCard cardholders and merchants alike had some issues with the user experience because SecureCode used a pop-up window. Business owners were rightfully concerned because customers are naturally suspicious of pop-ups. The last thing any business owner wants when they try to improve security is also to increase cart abandonment. MasterCard took these concerns to heart and improved the experience by switching to an inline window rather than a pop-up for the SecureCode authentication. 

Now, the streamlined experience ensures that the entire checkout and verification process is embedded directly in the merchant site. When you offer SecureCode on your site, it gives your shoppers an added layer of security, too. Especially for smaller businesses, having this added layer of security helps to legitimize your site and improve overall confidence. 

More International Buying & Selling Opportunities

As if adding security in an insecure world wasn’t enough, the MasterCard SecureCode program may help you expand your business internationally! When you add SecureCode to your website checkout, you can start processing payments from customers overseas who use  Maestro cards (owned by MasterCard). This factor can potentially help you expand to Europe and other countries abroad where shoppers use debit cards much more frequently than credit. In countries like Germany, Maestro has replaced the Eurocheque system. All of this gives you extra reach when it comes to processing payments.  

Should I Use SecureCode On My Site?

Now more than ever, payment security is the subject of much focus and debate. While customers expect things to be streamlined and convenient, the truth is that they also expect their data to be secure. In a world where the cost of fraud continues to increase, adding solutions to protect everyone involved makes sense— especially when they involve no extra costs for you or your customers. While it may take a few extra moments for a customer to enter in their personal code, authenticating their identity can prevent fraud and save everyone a lot of heartaches (and headaches).

The truth is that merchants are the ones that shoulder the cost of chargebacks and fraud, so finding better solutions to protect yourself, your time, and your sanity is a very smart business move. However, not all eCommerce processors are the same. Some have robust solutions that keep up with the current threats, and some lag behind. I encourage you to take the time to find out what your merchant account is doing for you in regards to security, and if you don’t love it, find something that is better. We have a plethora of resources for you here at Merchant Maverick.

If you want to find a better payment processor that specializes in online businesses, we recommend checking out our post, How To Choose An eCommerce Merchant Account.

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What Is AVS For Credit Card Processing?

Address Verification Service

Like it or not (and you won’t like it), credit card processing comes with a bewildering variety of small, nickel-and-dime fees that add to your costs in ways you might not even be aware of. One fee that you might have seen on your credit card processing statement is the AVS Fee. If you’re an ecommerce merchant, you probably already know what this is, but if you’re in retail, you most likely don’t see it very often and may not understand how it works. Well, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll explain what AVS is, how to use it, and how much it might cost you in additional processing charges.

AVS is an acronym for the Address Verification Service, a feature that’s used to compare the address given to you by your customer and the billing address on file with the cardholder’s issuing bank. AVS serves two primary functions: (1) to deter fraud by confirming that the customer is the legitimate cardholder, and (2) to help prevent chargebacks by giving you additional information to verify your customer’s identity. AVS is provided by MasterCard, but is used by all major credit card brands in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

As you’re probably already aware, card-not-present fraud is a growing problem in today’s ecommerce-driven world, and it can come in many forms. Using AVS won’t eliminate CNP fraud, but it will lower the chances of it happening to you. Likewise, chargebacks are also becoming more common. If the address the customer provided and the address on file with the issuing bank matched when you processed the transaction, this provides additional evidence to improve your chances of successfully defending against the chargeback. Better yet, effective use of AVS can lower the chances of a chargeback occurring in the first place.

How Address Verification Works

Use of the Address Verification System isn’t necessary for all credit/debit card transactions. In fact, the only time you’ll need to use AVS is for card-not-present transactions and situations where you need to key in a customer’s card information manually. This can happen if for some reason your credit card terminal is unable to read the customer’s magstripe or EMV chip. Note that while it’s fairly common for the magstripe on an old card to wear down over time and eventually become unreliable, the chance of this happening with an EMV card is very small.

If your business is retail-only, you’ll only rarely need to use AVS, and the impact on your processing costs will be minimal. On the other hand, ecommerce-only, mail order, and telephone order businesses will need to use AVS for every transaction. If you’re in one of these types of businesses, the cost of using AVS can be very substantial, depending on how (and whether) your credit card processor charges you for using it. If you process a lot of B2B transactions, you should also be aware that some processors require the use of AVS to process Level II and III credit card data.

Using AVS is actually very simple. In addition to their credit card information, your customer also provides a billing address. This information is submitted to your credit card processor, which queries the AVS system to determine whether the customer-provided address matches the billing address on file with the credit card’s issuing bank. AVS can be set up to run automatically through a payment gateway or virtual terminal, or you can manually query the system through your credit card terminal. The Address Verification System will compare the submitted billing address with the one on file with the issuing bank, and return a code that tells you how closely the two addresses match. Here’s an overview of the most common codes returned by the AVS, and what they mean:

Common AVS Codes (for Visa, MasterCard, and Discover)

AVS Code Meaning
B No address information submitted, AVS check could not be performed
E AVS data provided is invalid (or AVS is not allowed for the card type submitted)
R AVS unavailable at the time transaction was submitted. Retry transaction
G Credit card issuing bank is of non-U.S. origin and does not support AVS
U Address information is not available for the customer’s credit card
S U.S. card issuing bank does not support AVS
N Neither street address nor 5-digit ZIP code matches address and ZIP code on file for card
A Street address matches, but 5-digit ZIP code does not
Z First 5 digits of ZIP code matches, but street address does not
W 9-digit ZIP code matches, but street address does not
Y Street address and first 5 digits of the ZIP code match perfectly

Note that there are additional codes that you might see. However, they’re far less common than the codes listed in the table above.

Okay, so you’ve got a code from the AVS system. Do you approve the transaction or not? In some cases, your credit card processor will automatically decline a transaction if certain AVS mismatch codes are returned. If this happens, your only recourse is to ask the customer for an alternative billing address and try again. There are legitimate reasons why a customer might inadvertently supply an incorrect billing address. For example, your customer might have recently moved, but hasn’t updated their new billing address with their credit card company. Or perhaps the customer simply doesn’t remember their address correctly. However, if the customer doesn’t provide the correct address on the second try, there’s a very good chance that it’s because the card is stolen, and the customer has no idea where the actual cardholder lives. In this case, you should decline the transaction.

In a retail setting, a merchant will have to decide whether to accept a transaction if the Address Verification System returns a code indicating something other than a perfect match. Different AVS codes present varying levels of risk in accepting the transaction, as summarized here:

AVS Risk of Transaction Approval

Transaction Approved If: AVS Codes: Risk Level:
ZIP code or street address do or do not match None High
Street address matches B, N and Z Medium
5-digit ZIP code matches B, N and A Medium
Either 5-digit ZIP code or street address match B and N Medium
Both 5-digit ZIP code and street address match B, N, A and Z Low
Both 9-digit ZIP code and street address match B, N, A, Z, W and Y Extremely Low

Again, retail merchants will have to make a decision based on the level of risk if a partial mismatch occurs. We recommend that you set specific policies regarding which AVS codes will be approved and which will be declined, and that you ensure your employees are trained to recognize AVS codes that will require them to reject a customer’s card. Mail order and telephone order businesses will also have to set similar policies to ensure consistency in accepting or declining transactions.

For ecommerce businesses, things are a little easier. In most cases, you can set up your payment gateway to automatically accept or reject transactions based on the returned AVS code. Popular gateways such as Authorize.Net (see our review) allow you to configure your gateway to automatically accept only transactions where specified AVS codes are returned. You’ll want to exercise extreme caution in selecting which codes to approve based on the overall level of risk. Accepting too many partial mismatch codes can leave you vulnerable to fraud and chargebacks. At the same time, you might lose a lot of sales if your AVS code acceptance policies are too restrictive. Although you’ll obviously want your gateway to be able to process transactions automatically 24/7 without input from you, we suggest that you set up a system to automatically email a customer notifying them that their transaction was declined due to an AVS mismatch. This gives the customer a chance to either correct the billing address information or submit an alternate payment method, and keeps you from losing a sale.

Address Verification Fees

Credit card surcharge fees illustration

Regardless of how frequently you use the Address Verification Service, you’re almost always going to have to pay for it one way or another. For starters, MasterCard charges an automatic AVS assessment fee whenever AVS is used, regardless of the circumstances. This fee is currently $0.01 for card-not-present transactions and $0.005 for card-present transactions. Your processor has to pay this fee to MasterCard when they process your transaction, and they’ll usually pass it on to you in one form or another.

If you use Square (see our review) or a similar payment service provider and are on a flat-rate pricing plan, you won’t pay a separate AVS fee. Instead, Square incorporates this fee into their processing rates, so you’ll never see it. Note that Square, along with almost all other providers, charges a higher rate for ecommerce and keyed-in transactions. While a lot of this increased rate reflects the higher risk associated with card-not-present transactions in general, use of the AVS service is also included.

If your processor uses a tiered pricing plan, you may or may not be charged a separate AVS fee for each transaction where the Address Verification Service was used, depending on your processor. However, using AVS for a card-not-present transaction is usually a requirement for placing that transaction in the qualified tier. Conversely, failure to use AVS will often result in the transaction being downgraded to nonqualified, and you’ll pay a much higher fee for processing it. Because the nonqualified rate will cost you up to two or even three times the qualified rate, you’ll save money using AVS – even if you have to pay a fee for it.

Merchants on an interchange-plus pricing plan may or may not be charged a separate AVS fee, but use of AVS will give you a lower interchange rate, thus reducing the cost of processing your transaction. Again, in most cases, the savings from the lower interchange rate will more than offset the cost of the AVS fee.

Subscription-based pricing works the same way as interchange-plus, with the exception that you usually don’t pay a percentage markup on your transactions. Once again, you’ll save money overall by using AVS for your card-not-present transactions. Note that most providers offering subscription pricing usually don’t tack on extra fees like the AVS fee, as you’re already paying a monthly subscription fee that’s intended to combine these and other costs associated with maintaining your merchant account.

To find out how your provider handles the AVS fee, you’ll have to wade through the fine print in your contract. Although some of the more transparent providers disclose this information on their website, most do not. Most providers that impose a discrete AVS fee will charge anywhere from $0.01 to $0.25 per transaction where AVS is used. These fees can add up quickly, especially if you process a high number of small-ticket transactions. Other providers might simply include this extra cost in their rates for card-not-present transactions, as you will be using AVS for 100% of these types of transactions.

Because of the potential for AVS fees to add significantly to your processing costs, some providers will permanently waive the fee if your business is ecommerce-only. Businesses with both a retail and an online presence probably won’t be so lucky.

Final Thoughts

The Address Verification Service provides valuable protection for your business from both fraud and the possibility of a chargeback. While it isn’t foolproof, it’s far better to use it rather than simply accepting all transactions without it. In this sense, AVS is worth paying a little extra for and is in no way a “junk” fee.

At the same time, you’ll want to make sure that your provider isn’t ripping you off by charging an AVS fee that’s much higher than what they have to pay to MasterCard for the use of the service. Your best defense is to discuss the AVS fee with your sales representative when negotiating the terms of your merchant account. And, by all means, read your contract documents thoroughly before signing to ensure that what your sales representative told you is reflected in your legally-binding contract.

eCommerce merchants are particularly vulnerable to overpaying for the Address Verification Service, and you’ll want to choose a provider that will either waive the AVS fee entirely or merely charge you the pass-through cost. Paying significantly more than this will add up quickly if you’re assessed an AVS fee on every single transaction that your business processes.

We also recommend that ecommerce merchants set the automatic rejection policies on their payment gateways to balance the risk of fraud against the possibility of lost sales from legitimate customers. Your provider can help you select automatic rejection policies that will meet this goal.

Each provider treats AVS fees differently, so you’ll want to research this issue before considering a particular provider for your business. For example, one of our highest-rated providers, Dharma Merchant Services (see our review) charges a flat $0.05 per transaction to use AVS. However, they disclose this fee on their website, and they also point out that the lower interchange costs from using AVS will still, in most cases, result in a lower overall cost to process the transaction.

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What Is A Card-Not-Present Transaction?

It’s safe to say that nothing is ever free in payment processing (and if it claims to be, you should be very suspicious). But trying to understand why some types of transactions cost more than others to process can be a confusing and sometimes overwhelming process. For example, why does Square charge 3.5% + $0.15 for keyed transactions and just 2.75% for swiped, dipped, and tapped transactions, even though they both go through the Point of Sale app? Why do invoices and online orders cost more than payments processed with a POS app and credit card reader? The answer is that it matters whether a transaction is deemed “card-present” or “card-not-present” (CNP)  — in fact, it is a critical factor in payment processing costs.

A card-not-present sale is any transaction where the cardholder does not present their card to the merchant. While that general definition may seem pretty cut and dry, the reality is a bit muddier. Here’s what I mean: Even if your customer takes out their physical credit card, the transaction is not considered a “card-present sale” unless they actually swipe, dip, or tap it. Manually entering a card number throws the transaction into card-not-present territory.

And when a customer taps a credit card terminal with their phone at a coffee shop? That transaction is actually considered a card-present sale even though the merchant technically never sees a physical credit card!

Confused? Don’t worry. Keep reading; below, we’ll break down some more examples of card-not-present transactions and help you understand why they cost more to process. We’ll also talk about what — if anything — you need to change in your payment processing setup to protect your business.

The reality is, whether you have a brick-and-mortar store or you run an eCommerce business, you need to understand how CNP transactions affect your business, your customers, and your bottom line. There’s much more than meets the eye when it comes to distinguishing from a card-not-present and a card-present transaction, including how much it costs you and the security risks involved. Let’s dive in!

Card-Present VS Card-Not-Present Transactions

Let’s start by talking about what a card-not-present sale actually entails. Once we do that, these transactions will be a little easier for you to identify (and help your sales team navigate the whole issue as well.) A card-not-present sale is any sale processed that does not capture the electronic data of the card at the time of the sale.  

It’s not always super cut and dry. Sometimes merchants don’t understand that being handed a credit card doesn’t automatically qualify the transaction as a card-present sale. It all depends on how it is processed. For instance, say you are at a festival and decide to buy one-of-a-kind art from a vendor. You hand her your card, and she breaks out a little manual machine and makes a carbon copy. Even though you physically handed the vendor your card, this still counts as a card-not-present transaction. No electronic data was captured.

Another example involves Visa and Apple Pay. You can consider any in-store purchase made with Apple Pay a card-present sale, but any payments made using Apple Pay in-app are considered card-not-present. That’s because when a customer uses a digital wallet by tapping or scanning a QR in the store, the electronic data of the card is captured in real time. In-app purchases do not capture the electronic data at the time of the sale.

For the most part, the main thing to understand is that transaction categorization ultimately boils down to whether electronic data was captured.

Common Card-Not-Present Transactions:

  • Invoicing a client
  • eCommerce / online shopping
  • Phone orders
  • Recurring payments that are automatically billed (subscriptions)

Common Card-Present Transactions:

  • Countertop credit card terminals
  • Tapping or scanning digital wallets
  • Swiping via a card reader on a tablet or smartphone (e.g., Square)

If your revenue depends on processing payments with anything other than a POS app and credit card terminal or mobile card reader, it is worth your time to understand how to keep your transactions safe. Processing credit cards costs money whether you process in person or online, but you will face slightly higher fees for processing card-not-present transactions. 

Understanding The Cost Of Card-Not-Present Transactions

 

Why are you charged more for card-not-present transactions? It’s pretty simple, actually. Card-not-present transactions cost more because there are simply more ways for them to fail. From chargebacks, friendly fraud, and malicious fraud, there is more vulnerability and subsequent cost when things go wrong.  Granted, all credit card processing poses some risk — that’s why businesses have contracts with processors, and why high-risk merchant accounts exist. It comes down to which methods of payment processing (and sometimes even which businesses) present the most risk. 

With a merchant account that offers interchange-plus pricing, you will pay a higher interchange rate for card-not-present transactions because the card networks want a return in exchange for accepting some of the risk. Even third-party processors, which don’t overtly pass interchange costs directly to you, still build the costs in by adding a markup to their base rate.

It’s also important to understand that not all card-not-present transactions pose the same risks. For instance, you are generally going to pay a higher cost for a keyed-in entry than for an online transaction because there are typically some built-in security measures (like address and CVV verification) for online purchases, whereas there are no security measures for keyed transactions.

Want to know more about how credit card processing works? Check out The Complete Guide to Credit Card Processing Rates & Fees for an in-depth look. 

Below we talk more about card-not-present fraud and what you can do to protect your business. 

The Cost Of Fraud

Unfortunately, when it comes to CNP sales, the industry is currently seeing an increased rate of fraud for online transactions. The rollout of chip cards and the EMV liability shift in the US for card-present sales actually plays a major role in the increase of card-not-present fraud, and it’s something that financial experts predicted would happen based on EMV adoption in other parts of the world.

While we certainly don’t want to strike fear or dread into any of our readers, the fact is that card-not-present transactions make you more vulnerable to fraud because the physical card data can’t be verified. Not only can a card data breach turn into an embarrassing public relations issue, but the business owner is ultimately responsible for absorbing the cost of any fraudulent charges in a card-not-present sale.

A recent press release from LexisNexis demonstrates that the cost of fraud is rising. Last year, every dollar ($1) of fraud cost a merchant $2.77. This year, it’s predicted to cost $2.94 on average. And if you are in the digital space, the cost is even a bit higher.

Small businesses need to stay on guard just as much as any medium or large business. The unfortunate fact is that fraudsters are looking for vulnerabilities like outdated data security practices, and small businesses are very likely to be targeted.

There are some very sobering statistics from UPS Capital:

  • Nearly 90% of small and medium-sized businesses in the U.S. don’t use data protection for company and customer information.
  • Less than half have secure company email processes to prevent phishing scams.
  • 60% of smaller businesses are out of business within six months of suffering a cyber attack.

It is vitally important to be aware of the risks and know how to protect yourself.

Read on to learn more about fraud and what you can do to protect your business if you accept card-not-present transactions.

Protecting Your Business From Fraud

Merchant’s Guide to Preventing Card-Present Fraud image

Taking a proactive approach to preventing fraud is a smart move. In this post, we focus on understanding the risks and cost of card-not-present transactions, but card-present sales are certainly not exempt from fraud. If your business processes both types, check out the Merchant’s Guide to Preventing Card-Present Fraud for a great breakdown of information on how to protect your business from card-present security issues.

Your first defense against fraud will always be PCI compliance. PCI DSS is an acronym for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, which dictates the industry-standard procedures and security measures a business needs to make to protect customer data.

The good news is that unless you are dealing with homegrown software for your payment processing system, you are likely operating with PCI compliant equipment and software. That’s because all payment processing software and equipment vendors go through a strict certification process to ensure their products meet industry standards for security. 

That being said, you still need to take the time to read your contract and understand if there are any steps you need to take to ensure continued compliance. Third-party payment processors such as Square are automatically PCI compliant and do not require you to do anything specific to maintain compliance — at least not as far as the contract is concerned. (As a general rule, you should keep yourself informed on PCI compliance and what constitutes a suspicious transaction that could get your account flagged for fraud.) 

With merchant accounts, PCI compliance is a lot more varied and partially depends on whether you use the provided software or integrate with a third-party. You may be obligated to complete a scan or assessments, or potentially much more depending on your payment processing setup.

The key takeaway is this: PCI compliance is never a one-time event. Assessment, remediation, and reporting is a continual process with best-practices changing each year. Even if your processor doesn’t require you to do anything to maintain compliance, it’s important to make sure you know what security best practices are.

According to the PCI DSS Quick Reference Guide, some habits can put you and your customers at risk for fraud. Within the guide, the PCI cites activities that are common across the board in all types of U.S. and European businesses (page 4):

  • 81% store payment card numbers
  • 73% store payment card expiration dates
  • 71% store payment verification codes
  • 57% store customer data from the payment card magnetic strip
  • 16% store other personal data

Let’s break down that first statistic. The majority of business owners store their customers’ credit card numbers. But where? Unless you’re using PCI compliant software with a secure credit card vault, you could be exposing yourself to risk and liability — big time. 

Following best practices and keeping yourself up-to-date with PCI compliance is one of the most important things you can do to prevent fraud. Another thing to remember is that it is up to you to ensure your team knows what not to do, too. A retail employee who keys in the majority of her transactions may be helping others commit fraud — or she may simply have trouble getting the credit card terminal’s card readers to work. But you won’t know until you check up on her. 

Once your bases are covered with PCI compliance, you can rest easy knowing that your legal and liability concerns have at least been reasonably mitigated.

Additional layers of security may be worth looking into as well, especially if your livelihood involves online sales

  • Address Verification System (AVS): This system checks to see if your customer’s address is the same as the person who owns the credit card. Verifying the billing address or zip code against Visa or MasterCard billing information of the cardholder can prevent misuse and protect your business from fraud.
  • CVV Checks: A CVV check requires your customers to enter in the additional three numbers at the back of the card (four digits for American Express). Since this information can be stored (and also stolen), it also makes sense to require customers to re-enter the card code whenever there is an unrecognized device or change to a shipping address.
  • 3-D Secure: This provides an extra layer of security for online transactions. If you have heard of MasterCard SecureCode, Verified by Visa, or American Express Safekey, then you are familiar with 3-D Secure. MasterCard SecureCode, for instance, requires a PIN code to be entered into an inline window that is securely hosted by the issuing bank. The code is never shared with you directly. This authentication step is designed to reduce your liability and improve security. Many processors that cater specifically to online businesses, such as Stripe, offer 3D Secure bundled with their services.

Final Thoughts

Fully grasping the nuances of credit card processing can be difficult. However, it’s definitely worth taking a bit of time to understand how and why card-not-present transactions are different from card-present payment processing.

Even merchants who run brick-and-mortar shops have to deal with the cost of CNP payments. If you have a storefront shop, taking the time to train your team to spot the difference between the two types of transactions and keeping up with the latest compliant software/EMV readers will go a long way towards keeping your costs down —and your payment security tighter.

If you run an online business, your focus should be on making sure you have the appropriate security measures enabled with a good payment processor — preferably one that does the bulk of the work for you! At the end of the day, you will take the hit from chargebacks and fraud if you don’t have the right protections. 

Shopping around for eCommerce businesses solutions? Read How To Choose An eCommerce Merchant Account.

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