The Best CBD Oil Merchant Account Providers

CBD oil

What are CBD oils? Perhaps you’ve heard of this new class of products, and you’re curious about what they are and what benefits they can offer you. Maybe you’re also interested in opening a business that sells CBD-derived products, and you’d like to know more about the special requirements you’ll need to meet in order to be successful. Well, we’re here to help! Cannabidiol (or CBD) is a substance (or phytocannabinoid, to be more precise) that’s derived from hemp (Cannabis sativa) plants.

Now, you’re probably already aware that marijuana is also derived from Cannabis plants. The major difference between CBD products and marijuana is that the former contain little or no THC or any of the other psychoactive ingredients that marijuana contains. In other words, CBD products won’t get you “high.” Despite this rather obvious distinction, CBD-based products have been illegal under Federal law until very recently. In fact, as of the time of this writing, they’re only legal under certain specific conditions.

Although medical marijuana and, by extension, CBD products are now legal in many US states, most banks and credit card processors have been extremely reluctant to approve CBD oil businesses for merchant accounts, and many such businesses have had their accounts suddenly closed without notice. In this article, we’ll update you on the current (as of January 2019) legal status of CBD products and recommend several merchant account providers that accept businesses selling CBD products.

Legal Issues In The CBD Oil Industry

Until just a few weeks ago, CBD-based products were still listed as Schedule I drugs by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), effectively prohibiting their sale, transportation, or use under Federal law. However, many states (33 as of this writing) have passed medical marijuana laws which legalized the use of marijuana and CBD-based products for medicinal purposes. Several other states have gone even further, legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes and removing all prohibitions against CBD-based products.

The recently-passed 2018 Farm Bill changes all of that. Under this legislation, which was signed into law on December 20, 2018, hemp-based products (defined as containing less than 0.3% THC) are now removed from the Schedule I list of controlled substances. However, you must be a licensed grower and comply with all applicable Federal and state laws to produce and sell your product legally. With so many variations in state laws, it’s well beyond the scope of this article to attempt to cover them all. We recommend that you look into the laws of your state and consult with an attorney or qualified consultant to determine the specific requirements that apply to your business.

Needless to say, selling a product that can potentially still be illegal under Federal law makes it very difficult to get approved for a merchant account. Only a small number of high-risk specialists accept CBD businesses, and in many cases, they’ll require you to obtain an offshore merchant account. Of the small number of providers that do accept CBD merchants, there are only a few that we feel comfortable recommending, and we’ll profile them below. Desperate CBD merchants have tried using PayPal or Square (see our review), but this strategy inevitably involves being dishonest about the nature of your business, and providers won’t hesitate to shut you down if and when they catch you.

Before the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considered it illegal to sell or transport CBD products across state lines. This made it nearly impossible to sell CBD products legally through a website, and many eCommerce-focused high-risk providers were reluctant to accept CBD merchants. The new law eases many of these concerns, so we anticipate that the opportunities for CBD merchants to obtain a merchant account will improve dramatically in the coming year. In the past, we’ve seen reports of banks and credit card processors suddenly deciding to shut down accounts en masse, leaving many CBD merchants in the lurch. This situation should improve considerably with the recent legalization of hemp-based products.

For the time being, we’re going to confine our recommendations to processors that we know already accept CBD merchants and that have a strong reputation for providing fair prices and honest service. As legal limitations on CBD products continue to be rolled back, CBD merchants should find expanded opportunities to get approved for merchant accounts. At the same time, you can still expect to be assigned a high-risk merchant account for now. Until the day arrives when CBD products are fully legalized in all 50 states, we don’t anticipate that low-risk merchant accounts will become available.

What Makes A Good High-Risk Merchant Account Provider?

Finding a good high-risk merchant account provider involves the same criteria as a low-risk provider – it’s just harder to find a provider that offers the right combination of reasonable prices, fair contract terms, and high-quality customer service.

  • Pricing: The bottom line here is that any high-risk merchant account is going to cost significantly more than a comparable low-risk one. Be prepared to have to accept a tiered pricing model (although some established businesses might be able to negotiate a more affordable interchange-plus model). You can also expect to be charged higher monthly and annual fees as well, although the difference in these costs isn’t as much as it is with processing rates. Another additional “expense” that most high-risk merchants have to contend with is a rolling reserve, where your processor withholds a certain percentage of your funds every month until the reserve is met. While you’ll eventually receive all your money, rolling reserves can create serious cash flow problems for a small or newly-established business.
  • Contracts: We really like month-to-month billing arrangements that don’t lock you into a long-term contract or force you to pay an early termination fee (ETF) if you close your account early. Unfortunately, CBD merchants (like any other high-risk merchants) will usually have to accept both a long-term contract (typically for three years) and an ETF. Also, be aware that if you have a long-term contract, it will probably also include an automatic renewal clause that extends your contract, typically for one-year periods at a time. If you don’t keep careful track of when your contract is scheduled to auto-renew, you might find yourself locked in for another year or longer.
  • Hardware: If you plan to sell CBD products out of a retail location, you’ll need either a dedicated countertop credit card terminal or a mobile processing system that uses your smartphone or tablet in conjunction with a mobile card reader. Your terminal should be able to accept both magstripe and EMV payments at a minimum, and we also recommend that you consider getting a terminal with NFC-based capabilities so that you can take payment methods such as Apple Pay and Android Pay. For some specific recommendations, check out our article, The Best Credit Card Machines And Terminals. We also highly recommend that you purchase your terminals outright rather than leasing your equipment. Leasing arrangements lock you into noncancelable long-term contracts, and you’ll wind up paying several times more in leasing fees than what your machine is actually worth.
  • eCommerce Support: Naturally, you’ll want to be able to sell your CBD products to as many customers as possible, and selling via a website allows you to do that. As we’ve noted above, there are still some significant restrictions on selling CBD products across state lines that you’ll want to be aware of before you launch your website. At the same time, the recent legalization of hemp-based products is going to open up eCommerce opportunities that weren’t there just a few months ago. All of our recommended providers can set you up with a high-quality payment gateway that will allow you to process transactions over the internet and significantly expand the reach of your business. As not all states have relaxed their marijuana laws, you’ll want to find a gateway that will automatically filter out customer addresses where CBD products are still illegal.
  • Customer Support: In researching dozens of merchant account providers, we’ve found that high-quality customer service is the true “secret ingredient” that separates the merely average providers from the truly outstanding ones. Customer support issues occur more frequently with CBD and other high-risk merchants, so you’ll want to pay particular attention to a provider’s reputation in this area.

Best Merchant Account Providers For CBD Oil

With the above factors in mind, here’s a brief overview of five of the best merchant account providers in the industry that accept CBD merchants:

Easy Pay Direct

Easy Pay Direct logo

Easy Pay Direct is headquartered in Austin, Texas and has been in business since 2000. The company provides merchant accounts for both low-risk and high-risk businesses, and is one of the few providers to advertise service for CBD merchants. The company’s primary product is their proprietary EPD Gateway. While you’ll have to pay a premium in terms of processing rates and account fees, you’ll be set up with a domestic bank or credit card processor. They’re also one of the very few CBD providers to disclose their rates and fees on their website.

You will probably have to pay a $99 account setup fee to get started. While we normally don’t approve of this kind of fee, it’s appropriate in this case given the more extensive effort required to underwrite a CBD account. Processing rates start at a flat 3.95% + $0.25 per transaction, although lower rates are available if your business meets certain monthly processing volume limits. There’s also a $29.99 monthly account fee, but this appears to include the use of the EPD Gateway. You can also expect a standard contract with a three-year initial term that automatically renews for one-year periods after that. One very positive feature about Easy Pay Direct’s contracts is that they do not have an early termination fee, even for high-risk businesses. While this isn’t quite the same thing as true month-to-month billing, it does make it much easier to close your account without penalty if you have to.

One helpful feature offered by Easy Pay Direct is called load balancing, where a business can divide its incoming funds among multiple merchant accounts. This is particularly helpful for high-risk businesses that often exceed the monthly processing volume limits imposed by the processor underwriting their account. Just be aware that you’ll usually have to pay separate monthly fees for each account, so it might not be cost-effective for some merchants. Also, be aware that you might not need this feature if you opt for an offshore account. Underwriting guidelines in some (but by no means all) foreign countries are more relaxed than they are in the United States, and you might not have a monthly processing limit imposed on your account at all.

Although Easy Pay Direct doesn’t get as much attention as other, better-known processors, it’s a solid choice for merchants selling CBD products. We particularly recommend the company for eCommerce merchants due to the robust feature set of their EPD Gateway.

Pros

  • No early termination fee
  • Load balancing feature allows higher monthly processing limits
  • High-quality proprietary payment gateway

Cons

  • $99 account setup fee
  • Three-year contract with automatic renewal clause

Check out our full review of Easy Pay Direct for more information.

SMB Global

SMB Global logo

SMB Global is a new high-risk provider that was spun off from one of our favorite providers, Payline Data, in 2016. Headquartered in South Jordan, Utah, the company specializes in providing merchant accounts to high-risk and offshore businesses. Using a variety of backend processors, they’re able to approve a merchant account for almost any high-risk business, including those selling CBD oils. They have an excellent reputation for fair prices and top-notch customer service.

As a newly-established business, SMB Global is still a little rough around the edges, lacking a mobile processing system and credit card terminals for retail merchants. At the same time, they offer a full range of services for eCommerce merchants, including a choice between the NMI Gateway and Authorize.Net (see our review).

Because they work with so many banks and processors to get you approved for an account, the company doesn’t offer any specific pricing information. Processing rates, account fees, and contract terms will all vary widely depending on which backend processor is handling your account. While we highly recommend that you request an interchange-plus pricing plan, be prepared to have to accept a tiered plan instead, particularly if you haven’t been in business for very long. Likewise, you can also expect to have a standard three-year contract with an automatic renewal clause and an early termination fee if you close your account early. As a CBD oil merchant, you should be prepared to have a rolling reserve included in your account agreement.

SMB Global requires a minimum processing volume of $50,000 per month for an offshore merchant account, which can present a formidable barrier to a newly-established CBD business. The company will occasionally waive this requirement if your business has a very strong financial history. Offshore accounts support multi-currency processing, allowing you to avoid cross-border fees. They also feature dynamic currency conversion, letting your customers pay in either their local currency or the currency in which you bill them. SMB Global appears to accept CBD merchants only through offshore accounts at this time, although this could change quickly with the recent deregulation of hemp-based products.

Pros

  • Accepts CBD businesses through offshore merchant accounts
  • Reasonable pricing and contract terms
  • Excellent customer service

Cons

  • Requires minimum $50,000 monthly processing volume for offshore account
  • No mobile processing system at this time
  • No information available about credit card terminals or POS systems

For a more detailed look at SMB Global, be sure to check out our full review.

PaymentCloud

PaymentCloud review logo

PaymentCloud is headquartered in Sherman Oaks, California, and has been in business since 2010. The company specializes in placing high-risk businesses (including CBD oil merchants), relying on a network of third-party processors and acquiring banks both in the United States and offshore to get you approved for an account. While they can’t place every merchant for one reason or another, they have a higher success rate than many of their competitors in getting merchants approved for an account. Best of all, they do the extra work required to accept a high-risk account without charging you any application or account setup fees.

Like almost all high-risk specialists, the company doesn’t disclose its processing rates or account fees, so you’ll have to get a quote from their sales team and do a little negotiating to see how their offer stacks up against other providers. For retail merchants, they’ve de-emphasized expensive credit card terminal leases and now offer a “free” EMV-compliant terminal with each account. Note that in this case, “free” means you’re free to use it for as long as you maintain your account, not that you can keep it even if you later close your account or switch providers. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty good deal if you’re a small CBD business owner who only needs one terminal.

PaymentCloud also offers Authorize.Net as their payment gateway, although their system is compatible with other third-party gateways as well. Additionally, they provide a free virtual terminal with each account. While their line-up of products and services isn’t as robust as some other providers, they offer all the essentials you’ll need for a small or medium-sized CBD oil business.

The company doesn’t have a BBB profile, and we’ve found almost no complaints against them on the internet. Feedback from our readers has been overwhelmingly positive – something that’s quite rare in the processing world.

Lastly, PaymentCloud is now recommended by one of our favorite low-risk providers, Dharma Merchant Services (see our review). Dharma recently decided to stop accepting high-risk merchants themselves, and now refers inquiries from businesses in the high-risk category to PaymentCloud. To us, a recommendation from a company as highly respected as Dharma carries a lot of weight, and we give PaymentCloud a strong endorsement as well.

Pros

  • No application or account setup fees
  • “Free” credit card terminal with each retail account
  • Dedicated account manager for customer support

Cons

  • May require offshore account for CBD merchants
  • No online knowledgebase

Be sure to read our full review of PaymentCloud for more details.

eMerchant Broker

eMerchantBroker logo

Los Angeles, California-based eMerchant Broker has been in business since 2011 and is one of the few reputable high-risk merchant account providers that was deliberately marketing to the CBD oil industry before the recent deregulation of hemp products. Although the company has a reputation for charging above-average processing rates and account fees, we’re very impressed with their efforts to educate CBD oil merchants on the ins and outs of high-risk processing. Many CBD merchants are also new to running a business, so the information that eMerchant Broker provides, particularly about chargebacks, is very educational. Even if you don’t sign up with them, we highly recommend that you take a look at the eMerchant Broker website for detailed information about high-risk processing in general, as well as specific issues unique to the CBD oil industry.

eMerchant Broker offers a reasonable lineup of products and services that you’ll need in addition to a high-risk merchant account. Their proprietary eMB Payment Gateway offers an impressive set of features, and they also support Authorize.Net and other popular third-party gateways. The company mainly supports eCommerce and doesn’t appear to offer any credit card terminals or mobile processing systems. They should, however, be able to integrate their processing system with third-party products if you need them.

Don’t expect to save money with eMerchant Broker. They appear to mainly use tiered pricing plans, although interchange-plus pricing might be available to some merchants. The only rate they advertise – 2.99% — represents the lowest available qualified rate. In most cases, your actual rate will be much higher. You can also expect to be saddled with a standard three-year contract with an automatic renewal clause and an early termination fee. Fortunately, they don’t charge application fees, setup fees, or annual fees. Be sure to review your contract thoroughly before signing up, so you’re clear on the assortment of fees you will have to pay.

eMerchant Broker has a good reputation with the BBB and a low complaint volume. Reports from our readers have been mixed, with some praise for their ethical, well-trained sales staff, and some criticism for their customer service department. All in all, eMerchant Broker rates as an above-average high-risk provider, and we’re comfortable recommending them for your CBD oil business.

Pros

  • No application or account setup fees
  • No annual fee
  • Good sales practices

Cons

  • Expensive tiered pricing processing rate plans
  • Long-term contract with early termination fee
  • Some complaints about customer service

For more information about eMerchant Broker, check out our full review.

PayWize

PayWize logo

Another company you should consider in your search for a CBD oil merchant account provider is PayWize. This very small provider is based in Costa Mesa, California and has only been in business since 2017. However, they’re affiliated with Payment Depot (see our review), one of our top choices for low-risk businesses.

At the moment, PayWize offers just a simple, one-page website. However, it does include some significant disclosures that help to set it apart from other high-risk providers. The company markets primarily to medical marijuana dispensaries and CBD oil merchants, so they have more specialized knowledge of the unique issues affecting this industry than many of their competitors.

PayWize offers predictable flat-rate pricing, although they don’t disclose specific rates. Flat-rate pricing is popular among merchants who want to always know in advance how much they’ll pay to process a transaction. At the same time, this pricing model can become very expensive for a large business that has a high monthly processing volume (typically over $5,000 per month). The company also claims not to impose any rolling reserves, which is a real plus for a business that’s just starting up. PayWize offers several credit card terminals and a payment gateway, but discloses very little information about them. Their gateway integrates with a large number of popular online shopping carts, including Shopify, WooCommerce, and many others.

We haven’t produced a full review of PayWize yet, but based on their association with Payment Depot, we’re willing to recommend that you check them out and compare what they have to offer against any quotes from other providers that you obtain.

Pros

  • Predictable flat-rate pricing
  • Appears to offer month-to-month billing
  • Extensive compatibility with third-party online shopping carts

Cons

  • New company with little online feedback from merchants

Final Thoughts

With the very recent deregulation of hemp products by the Federal government, 2019 is shaping up to be a breakout year for the CBD oil industry. Your chances of getting approved for a merchant account have never been better, and it should get even easier as acquiring banks and credit card processors adjust their underwriting guidelines to reflect the diminished risk associated with CBD oils – and cash in on a booming new industry. At the same time, we don’t expect that CBD oils will be treated as a low-risk business any time soon. With products such as diet pills and nutritional supplements still firmly in the high-risk “nutraceutical” category, CBD merchants can expect to have to pay the extra cost of maintaining a high-risk merchant account for the foreseeable future. The only way we see this situation changing is if the Food and Drug Administration ever formally backs up the claims CBD merchants make as to the medicinal value of their products.

In addition to opening the floodgates so more high-risk merchant account providers can accept CBD merchants, the recent deregulation should make it easier to obtain a domestic merchant account rather than having to take on the additional risk and expense of an offshore account. Unless you specifically need to get around monthly processing limits imposed by your provider for a domestic account, we don’t recommend offshore accounts. The added expense and the risk that you might never receive your funds make them a poor choice for most merchants. However, if you do need an offshore account, check out our article The Best Offshore Merchant Account Providers for some recommendations.

Of the five providers we’ve covered in this article, Easy Pay Direct and SMB Global have the best overall reputations for fair pricing and quality service. However, we recommend that you obtain quotes from several providers and compare them closely before deciding which one to sign up with. Also, remember that the CBD oil industry is changing very rapidly now, so there inevitably will be more providers offering merchant accounts to CBD merchants in the coming years than just the ones we’ve profiled here. Finally, if you’re a CBD oil merchant and have had any experience working with the companies listed in this article – or other providers – be sure to tell us about your experience in the Comments section below. Thanks!

The post The Best CBD Oil Merchant Account Providers appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Offshore Merchant Account Providers

Offshore Merchant Account Providers

Ordinary payment processing is complicated. But finding good offshore, international, or high-risk payment solutions can be a real nightmare. If you fall into one of these categories, you’ve likely had your merchant account applications denied at least a few times. Even worse, perhaps you’ve had your processing service terminated and your money withheld from you for months. We understand your struggle. We’ve seen hundreds of businesses go through the exact same thing, and we’re here to help you find the perfect offshore merchant account for your high-risk business.

If you’re just looking for a run-of-the-mill high-risk merchant account for your business, you’ll want to check out our article The Best High-Risk Merchant Account Providers. The high-risk category often includes business types that you wouldn’t normally associate with the term “high-risk,” such as airlines or online furniture sales. While these types of businesses are usually treated as high-risk by banks and processors, they can usually be approved for a domestic merchant account by working with a high-risk specialist.

For our purposes, we’ll use the terms offshore merchant account and international merchant account interchangeably, as they mean the same thing. Both terms refer to a merchant account that is underwritten by a bank or processor that is situated in a different country from the one where the business is located. The most common reasons for needing an offshore account include the following:

  • You do a significant amount of business in a foreign country and need to accept payments in the local currency.
  • Your business has offices in multiple countries, and you need separate merchant accounts for each location.
  • Your business is considered to be so risky that you cannot obtain a regular high-risk merchant account in your own country.

Below, we’ll discuss the factors to evaluate when considering an offshore merchant account and several special features that you’ll want to include in your service. We’ll also profile four offshore merchant account providers that we feel offer superior service and overall value in comparison to their competitors.

Factors To Consider When Selecting An Offshore Merchant Account

While many offshore merchant account providers also specialize in high-risk accounts more generally, not all high-risk processors work with international merchants or provide offshore accounts for domestic merchants. Many high-risk specialists only work with US-based businesses, and only provide accounts through US-based banks and processors. Before you apply for an offshore account, you’ll want to confirm that the company you’re considering works with businesses located in your country. This information might be spelled out explicitly on the provider’s website, or you might have to talk to their sales staff to get a confirmation.

Providers that specialize in setting up offshore merchant accounts can usually get you an account in just about any country around the world, though obviously, there are exceptions. As a US-based merchant, don’t expect to set up your offshore account in a place like Afghanistan or North Korea. It’s simply not going to happen. With the exception of countries limited by political considerations or a high level of instability, however, the possibilities are wide open.

In most cases, you should aim to get an account in a country where you expect to do a significant amount of business. On the other hand, if your business is going to operate exclusively in the United States, an offshore account serves mainly as a last resort for getting a merchant account when you simply can’t get approved for a domestic high-risk account. Banking regulations are more relaxed in certain other countries, and the willingness on the part of banks and processors to work with high-risk businesses is also more favorable. At the same time, you should be aware that setting up an offshore account under these circumstances, while it might be your only option for accepting credit cards, can present some serious risks to you as well. Your ability to pursue a legal remedy against a foreign bank or processor might be severely limited – or even nonexistent. At a minimum, you should consider legally registering your business in the country where your account will be located. Even with legal standing in the country, however, be aware that it might be extremely inconvenient and expensive to pursue a legal action outside of your own country.

There’s also an increased risk that you could become the victim of fraud or identity theft. Banks in other countries collect the same personal data about you and your business that US-based banks do, but they don’t always do as good a job of protecting it. You’ll want to keep an especially close eye on your merchant account, your business account, and any personal accounts about which you’ve released information to get approved for an offshore merchant account.

High-risk merchant accounts are notorious for including higher processing rates and account fees, and offshore accounts can be even worse. Providers know you’re particularly desperate and some, but not all, will take advantage of your situation by charging you as much as they think they can get away with. We recommend that you shop around and compare multiple quotes when looking for an offshore account. Don’t accept the first offer from a bank or processor just because they’re the first one that hasn’t rejected your application due to the nature of your business.

Note that merchant account providers who market offshore accounts often downplay or fail to mention these risk factors, so it’s up to you to look out for yourself. Do your own independent research, compare multiple offers, and thoroughly review all contract documents before you sign up for an account.

Special Features Of Offshore Merchant Accounts

For the most part, you’ll want the same services and features for an offshore account that you would want for a traditional merchant account. This includes processing hardware such as credit card terminals and POS systems for retail merchants, and a robust payment gateway for eCommerce merchants. You’ll also want an online account dashboard of some kind that allows you to monitor your sales in real-time. While online account access is now a standard feature in the United States, you might not always find this feature with an offshore account. Mail-order and telephone-order (MOTO) businesses often find a virtual terminal to be the most cost-effective method for inputting transactions. Depending on the needs of your business, a smartphone- or tablet-based mobile processing system might also be important. Almost all providers offer some type of mobile processing system these days, either as a proprietary product or through a partnership with a third-party provider. Be aware that very few mobile processing systems have begun to offer EMV-compatible card readers, and you’ll often be stuck with a magstripe-only reader.

In addition to these basic merchant account features, there are several special features that your offshore merchant account might (or might not) include. How important these features are to your business will be determined by how you intend to use your account. Extra features to look for in an offshore merchant account include the following:

  • Multi-Currency Support: If you’re going to do business in a foreign country, it only makes sense that you’ll want your customers to be able to pay in their local currency. Multi-currency accounts allow you to maintain balances in multiple currencies and can save you a ton of money in currency conversion costs.
  • Currency Conversion Services: Having an offshore account will invariably require you to convert funds into your own local currency at some point. Most offshore account providers include built-in currency conversion services that allow you to convert foreign funds when it comes time to transfer them to your business account. While these services can sometimes offer you much lower conversion fees than what a bank would charge you, it still pays to shop around for the best deal on this service. You might save money by using an international transfer service such as TransferWise or OFX.
  • Expanded Anti-Fraud Features: Offshore merchant accounts invariably involve a higher degree of risk of fraud than their traditional counterparts, so you’ll want as many extra services to avoid it as you can get. Most offshore account providers offer a number of enhanced anti-fraud features as a standard part of their service. These features automatically detect suspicious activity, hopefully stopping any fraudulent activity before it can affect your business. Providers are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence (AI) features to improve their ability to detect potential fraud beyond what would be possible with a traditional algorithm.

With these considerations in mind, let’s take a brief look at four of our overall favorite offshore merchant account providers:

Durango Merchant Services

Durango Merchant Services is a small merchant account provider headquartered in Durango, Colorado. Established in 1999, the company specializes in providing high-risk and offshore merchant accounts to hard-to-place businesses. They work with a wide variety of banks and processors to find a suitable account for almost any business. While they can’t place 100% of the merchants who apply to them, their track record is very good, and their sales process is so transparent and honest that we’ve even seen praise for the company from merchants who’ve been turned down for an account.

If you need an offshore account, Durango has you covered. Their accounts include multicurrency support as well as enhanced anti-fraud features to keep you protected. They can set up accounts in countries as diverse as Germany, Panama, Spain, and many others.

Durango doesn’t try to set you up with expensive leases when it comes to processing equipment. Instead, they offer a variety of terminals for sale right on their website. Options include both wired and wireless models, with some offerings that support NFC payments. They also sell the iPS Mobile Card Terminal, which connects to a smartphone to provide mobile payments capability in conjunction with the iProcess mobile app. If you’re using a virtual terminal, they sell the MagTek DynaMag, a USB-connected magstripe card reader that attaches to your computer. Unfortunately, it’s Windows-only. Durango currently doesn’t offer any POS systems for sale.

The company supports eCommerce through its proprietary Durango Pay payment gateway, which integrates with the numerous processors the company uses and includes support for most of the popular online shopping carts. Durango’s gateway also features an Authorize.Net Emulator, which allows it to interface with any shopping cart that works with Authorize.Net (see our review).

Because Durango works with such a wide variety of third-party processors to set you up with an offshore merchant account, they don’t list rates or fees on their website. These will vary tremendously depending on which processor they set you up with. While we normally like to see more transparency from merchant account providers, in this case, it’s understandable. Depending on your qualifications, you can expect either an interchange-plus pricing plan or a tiered one. Merchant accounts through Durango don’t seem to have standardized fees. Again, these will depend on the terms that your backend processor imposes.

Durango assigns a dedicated account manager to every one of their merchants, which means you’ll be talking to the same person every time you have an issue. While this can sometimes be problematic outside of regular business hours and when your account manager isn’t available, overall it provides a much higher level of service than you’ll get from a random customer service representative.

Pros

  • Direct sales of processing equipment
  • Reasonable rates and fees based on your business and your backend processor
  • Dedicated account manager for customer service and support

Cons

  • No support for POS systems
  • USB card reader not compatible with Mac computers

For more information about Durango Merchant Services, read our complete review.

SMB Global

SMB Global logo

SMB Global is a new high-risk provider that was spun off from one of our favorite providers, Payline Data in 2016. Headquartered in South Jordan, Utah, the company specializes in providing merchant accounts to high-risk and offshore businesses. Using a variety of backend processors, they’re able to approve a merchant account for almost any high-risk business (including those selling CBD oils). They have an excellent reputation for fair prices and top-notch customer service.

As a newly-established business, SMB Global is still a little rough around the edges, lacking a mobile processing system and credit card terminals for retail merchants. At the same time, they offer a full range of services for eCommerce merchants, including a choice between the NMI Gateway and Authorize.Net.

Because they work with so many banks and processors to get you approved for an account, the company doesn’t offer any pricing information. Processing rates, account fees, and contract terms will all vary widely depending on which backend processor is handling your account. While we highly recommend that you request an interchange-plus pricing plan, be prepared to have to accept a tiered plan instead, particularly if you haven’t been in business for very long. Likewise, you can also expect to have a standard three-year contract with an automatic renewal clause and an early termination fee if you close your account early. As a high-risk merchant, you should be prepared to have a rolling reserve included in your account agreement.

SMB Global requires a minimum processing volume of $50,000 per month for an offshore merchant account, although they will occasionally waive this requirement if your business has a very strong financial history. Offshore accounts support multi-currency processing, allowing you to avoid cross-border fees. They also feature dynamic currency conversion, letting your customers pay in either their local currency or the currency in which you bill them.

Pros

  • Offers international merchant accounts to a wide variety of industries
  • Reasonable pricing and contract terms
  • Excellent customer service

Cons

  • No mobile app
  • No information available about credit card terminals or POS systems

For a more detailed look at SMB Global, be sure to check out our full review.

Host Merchant Services

Host Merchant Services is a relative newcomer to the merchant accounts business, first opening in 2009. The company is headquartered in Newark, Delaware and has a second office in Naples, Florida. While they primarily cater to traditional, low-risk businesses, they can accommodate several categories of high-risk businesses and also offer offshore accounts. Their interchange-plus-only pricing and a full range of products and services make them an excellent choice – if you can get approved. A former web hosting company, HMS is ideally suited for eCommerce merchants. They use TSYS as their primary backend processor, but can also work with several international banks and processors to get you an account.

For retail merchants, HMS offers a variety of Verifone and Equinox (formerly Hypercom) terminals. Terminals are offered for sale, and the company does not lease its equipment. While prices are not disclosed on the HMS website, you should be able to negotiate a very reasonable deal on terminals, especially if you need more than one. If you already have a compatible terminal, they’ll reprogram it for free.

HMS also offers a variety of POS systems that utilize either tablets or touchscreen displays. Choices range from an 8” tablet-based system up to a 17” touchscreen monitor. The company’s Starter, Plus, TouchStation Plus, and Custom POS options should meet the requirements of just about any business that needs or wants a POS system.

If you need a mobile processing capability for your business, HMS has you covered, offering the ProcessNow mobile payments system via a partnership with TSYS. ProcessNow works with either iOS or Android phones, but the current card reader is magstripe-only and requires a headphone jack to plug into.

As a tech-focused company, eCommerce is HMS’ specialty. The company has recently introduced their proprietary Transaction Express payment gateway, which includes a free virtual terminal. HMS also supports a large number of third-party gateways, including Authorize.Net.

HMS uses interchange-plus pricing exclusively for its low-risk merchants, but you might have to pay tiered rates if you have an offshore account. While they don’t disclose their rates on their website, they’re based primarily on monthly processing volume and are very competitive. Fees are not disclosed either, but include a $24.00 annual fee, a $14.99 monthly account fee (which includes PCI compliance), a variable payment gateway fee ($5.00 per month for Transaction Express, $7.50 per month plus $0.05 per transaction for Authorize.Net) and the usual incidental fees (i.e., chargebacks, voice authorizations, etc.). High-risk and offshore merchants should expect to pay higher fees than these, and possibly additional fees as well. In particular, be prepared to have a rolling reserve included as part of your account.

HMS provides customer service and support via 24/7 telephone and email. Chat is available via the HMS website during regular business hours. They also feature an extensive collection of articles and blog posts on their site for customer education. Support quality appears to be well-above-average, based on the almost complete absence of complaints about it on the BBB and other consumer protection websites. If your business falls into one of the categories of high-risk activities that the company can accommodate, HMS is an excellent choice for an offshore merchant account.

Pros

  • Full range of products and services for retail and eCommerce businesses
  • Exclusive interchange-plus pricing plans (for low-risk businesses)
  • Excellent customer service and support

Cons

  • Rates and fees not disclosed on website
  • Can only accommodate a small number of high-risk business categories
  • Mobile card reader not EMV-compliant

For more information, see our complete review.

Easy Pay Direct

Easy Pay Direct logo

Easy Pay Direct is headquartered in Austin, Texas and has been in business since 2000. The company’s primary product is their proprietary EPD Gateway, but they also provide full-service merchant accounts for international, high-risk, and traditional non-high-risk merchants. High-risk merchants will have to pay a premium in terms of processing rates and account fees, whether they’re partnered with a domestic or offshore bank or processor. However, the additional expense is entirely reasonable under the circumstances.

Like most offshore merchant account specialists, Easy Pay Direct works with a variety of banks and processors, both domestic and international, to find one that’s a match for the needs of your business. You’ll have to pay a $99 account setup fee to get started, but considering the extra effort required to underwrite a high-risk or offshore account, we feel the expense is justified in this case. Processing rates will be under a tiered pricing plan, but you should still have some room to negotiate your rates, especially if you have a high monthly processing volume. Contracts generally follow the industry standard, or a three-year initial term that automatically renews for one-year periods after that. One very positive feature about Easy Pay Direct’s contracts is that they do not have an early termination fee, even for high-risk businesses. While this isn’t quite the same thing as true month-to-month billing, it does make it much easier to close your account without penalty if you have to.

One helpful feature offered by Easy Pay Direct is called load balancing, where a business can divide its incoming funds among multiple merchant accounts. This is particularly helpful for high-risk businesses that often exceed the monthly processing volume limits imposed by the processor underwriting their account. Just be aware that you’ll usually have to pay separate monthly fees for each account, so it might not be cost-effective for some merchants. Also, be aware that you might not need this feature if you opt for an offshore account. Underwriting guidelines in some (but by no means all) foreign countries are more relaxed, and you might not have a monthly processing limit imposed on your account at all.

Although Easy Pay Direct doesn’t get as much attention as other, better-known processors, it’s a solid choice for merchants in the high-risk category or those who need an offshore account. We particularly recommend the company for high-risk eCommerce businesses due to the robust feature set of their EPD Gateway.

Pros

  • Load balancing feature for high-risk merchants
  • No equipment leases
  • No early termination fee

Cons

  • $99 account setup fee
  • Three-year contract with automatic renewal clause

Check out our full review of Easy Pay Direct for more information.

Final Thoughts

Having a hard-to-place business doesn’t mean you have to run your company through Bitcoin. You can accept credit card payments just like any other business by finding a payment processor that will set you up with the right acquiring banks. At the same time, you need to be fully aware that, for a US-based business, signing up for an offshore merchant account is a risky endeavor. You’ll want to be very cautious and carefully research any provider you consider, even the ones we’ve recommended above. Take extra care to protect your sensitive personal financial data and be sure your account includes additional fraud prevention features. You might also want to consider registering your business in the country where your merchant account is located – just in case. Having a merchant account in Panama might sound very tempting if you’ve been repeatedly turned down by domestic providers, but it will be very expensive to have to travel there in person if you later run into legal troubles with your account provider.

Of the four offshore merchant account providers we’ve reviewed above, Durango Merchant Services is undoubtedly the best all-around provider of the group. They disclose more detailed information about offshore accounts than any of the other providers. SMB Global is also an excellent choice. While the company itself is very new, they have an impressive track record from their days operating as the high-risk division of Payline Data. Finally, both Easy Pay Direct and Host Merchant Services offer a solid line-up of products and services for both eCommerce and retail merchants. If you need an offshore account to break into the world of accepting credit cards, they both have everything you need to get started.

Finally, we can’t caution you strongly enough that selecting and setting up an offshore merchant account involves a higher level of risk on your part, and you’ll need to be extra cautious in choosing a company to go with. Relaxed underwriting guidelines and a general lack of monthly processing limits make offshore accounts very tempting to merchants who’ve had a hard time getting their business approved for a traditional account, but these advantages come at a price. If anything goes wrong in your relationship with your provider, you might face some real challenges in pursuing a legal remedy. You should also be aware that if this happens, the US-based provider that brokered your account will not be able to help you in most cases.

Do your homework! Research your provider thoroughly and review all contract documents very carefully before signing up. While these steps won’t eliminate the chance of things going sideways somewhere down the road, they will shift the odds considerably in your favor.

The post The Best Offshore Merchant Account Providers appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Cheapest Credit Card Processing Companies

Business owners today know that it’s more important than ever to be able to accept credit cards. Customers carry less cash, and rely on credit and debit cards for the majority of their purchases. If you’re an eCommerce merchant selling online, taking “plastic” is just about your only option. Unfortunately, you can’t accept credit cards unless you have a merchant account, and merchant accounts aren’t free. In fact, they can be very expensive – especially for a small business – if you choose the wrong provider.

The credit card processing industry can be very bewildering, especially for a first-time business owner. There are dozens of companies providing processing services, and each of them offers different processing rates, fees, and contract terms. A provider that’s a good deal for a very small business might be prohibitively expensive for a larger one, and vice versa. Naturally, merchants want to cut through the confusion and get a quick answer to the question “Which one is the cheapest?” There’s nothing wrong with wanting to save money, especially for a new business that has to count every penny. However, if you look up “cheap” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, you’ll note that while cheap can mean “charging or obtainable at a low price,” it can also mean “of inferior quality or worth.” If you’ve ever been disappointed with a product purchase when you thought you were getting a good deal, you know that these two definitions often go together.

Here’s a quick look at some of our favorite low-cost credit card processors. Some are free to use. You just pay for the transaction you process. We don’t cover all of these in-depth in this post, but you can check out our complete reviews for all the details. 

The Overall Cheapest Credit Card Processing Companies for 2018

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Best Choice For Small-ticket, Canada, Mobile, eCommerce  All businesses, Mobile, Retail eCommerce, Mobile Canada, Restaurants Large-ticket, All-in-one, Recurring billing
POS and Other Features Included Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Rate Matching/ Negotiable No Yes No Yes Yes
Pricing Structure Flat Rate Interchange-Plus Flat Rate Interchange-Plus Subscription
Retail Rates 2.75% 0.30% + $0.10 2.70% 0.20% + $0.10 0.00% + $0.08
Basic Monthly Fee $0 $0 $9 $9.95 $99

Before we delve into specific processors, there are two important points that you need to understand:

  1. The company offering the lowest processing rates or fees isn’t necessarily the cheapest. The total percentage of your credit card sales that you’ll have to fork over to your merchant account provider isn’t an easy thing to calculate in advance with any precision. Variable processing rates and hidden (or at least unanticipated) fees can easily result in you paying much more than you thought you were going to for processing. Companies offering flat-rate pricing fare much better in this regard, as their simple pricing structure makes it relatively easy to estimate your monthly processing costs.
  2. The “cheapest” processor isn’t necessarily the best one for your business. While you naturally want to be able to accept credit cards while paying the least amount of money for the privilege, companies offering the lowest rates often cut corners in other aspects of their service to make those low rates possible. Poor customer service, for example, is a common problem among the least-expensive processors. If you want the best overall, you might also check out our top picks for small business credit card processing.

Types Of Providers

With the advent of new, low-cost providers, there are now two broad categories of companies providing credit card processing services. These include traditional (or full-service) merchant account providers, and payment services providers, who offer credit card processing, but without some of the features of a full-service merchant account. It’s very important that you understand the difference between the two.

Payment service providers (PSPs) can process your credit card transactions, but they don’t provide you with a unique merchant ID number for your business. Instead, your account is aggregated together with other merchants. This lowers the cost of things like monthly account fees and PCI compliance, but it also means that your account is much more vulnerable to being suddenly frozen or shut down for the slightest hint of fraud. Getting your account working again is complicated by the fact that most PSPs provide little in the way of one-on-one customer service. For a very small business, a PSP may very well be more affordable than a full-service merchant account, especially since you won’t have to pay so many recurring fees just to keep your account open. Be aware, however, that you’ll constantly be running the risk of suddenly losing access to your account and not being able to accept credit cards at all with a PSP. If your business processes a high number of credit card transactions on a daily basis, the loss of business you’ll incur if your account is frozen is quite high. Popular PSPs include PayPal, Square, and Stripe.

Traditional merchant accounts include a number of features you won’t find with most PSPs. The primary distinction is that you will be assigned a merchant identification number that is unique to your business. This number automatically identifies you to processors, issuing banks, and credit card associations. While it might not sound like much, having a unique merchant ID number helps to lower the risk of fraud and improves the stability of your account. While you still might have to endure a hold on funds for an unusually large transaction, the chances of your account being completely frozen for no apparent reason are much less than they are with a PSP. Merchant account providers also offer a host of ancillary services, including PCI security scans, customizable payment gateways for online payments, support for ACH (eCheck) payments, and many others. These bells and whistles don’t come cheap, of course. You’ll pay more in monthly fees than you will for an account with a PSP. However, you’ll also pay lower processing rates, especially if your merchant account provider offers interchange-plus pricing. For many medium-sized and larger businesses, a full-service merchant account will actually be less expensive than a PSP.

How We Chose

We used a number of criteria to determine which processors offered the lowest overall costs and the best service in most situations, including the following:

  • Pricing: Since we’re profiling the cheapest processors in the industry, it should come as no surprise that pricing would be our top criterion. It isn’t that simple, however. Pricing can be very complex, and there are a lot of variables to analyze in making a cost comparison between one provider and another. Fortunately, flat-rate pricing is relatively easy to analyze, as there’s usually little or no variability in the processing rates. Interchange-plus pricing, on the other hand, is very complex, as there are a bewildering number of possible rates charged under the “interchange” portion of the processing rate formula. To get a better idea of just how complicated processing rates can be, check out our Complete Guide to Credit Card Processing Rates & Fees.
  • Contracts: No one wants to be stuck in a long-term contract with an expensive early termination fee if you close your account early, but that’s what many traditional merchant account providers will offer you. All the companies profiled here – including both PSPs and full-service merchant account providers – offer month-to-month contracts. You can close your account and switch to a different provider any time you want, and with no penalty.
  • Hardware: Unless you’re running an eCommerce-only business, you’re going to need some equipment to process your customers’ credit cards. Most of the companies profiled here offer a variety of EMV-compliant credit card terminals, POS systems, and mobile card swipers. Equipment is offered for sale at competitive prices – sometimes it’s even free! You can also buy your own equipment and have it reprogrammed to work with your provider’s service. Note that Stripe is eCommerce-only and PayPal only offers a mobile payment solution through their ancillary service, PayPal Here.
  • eCommerce support: Buying online continues to overtake traditional retail shopping, and all our profiled providers offer support for eCommerce. This includes both a payment gateway to send payment data to the processor and a virtual terminal to allow you to enter transactions on your computer or mobile device. Each provider also offers options for integrating your website with online shopping carts and developer tools for customizing the interface between your site and their services.
  • Customer support: While every provider offers customer support and service, some do a much better job at it than others. We looked for vendors that provided 24/7 telephone support, as well as an online knowledgebase that allows merchants to troubleshoot common problems on their own. As we’ve noted, some PSPs don’t provide very good customer support at all. That’s one of the trade-offs you’ll have to be aware of if you want to go with the “cheapest” option for credit card processing.

Remember, there isn’t a single processor out there that can offer the lowest costs to every merchant. What might be a very inexpensive solution for you might not be such a good deal for someone else. Also, paying the least amount of money for processing won’t be of much use to you if you have to worry about your account suddenly being frozen or shut down, or if the customer service behind your account isn’t adequate to solve technical problems for you when they arise. That said, here are our six top choices for the cheapest credit card processing companies:

Square Payments

Everyone has heard of Square (see our review) by now. With its free Square Reader, app-based payment system, and simple pricing structure, it’s one of the most popular processing services on the market for small businesses. Square’s pay-as-you-go system allows businesses that ordinarily couldn’t afford a merchant account to accept credit cards.

Retail businesses love Square for its low-priced card readers, which replace traditional credit card terminals with a smartphone-based system that’s both affordable and mobile. In addition to a card reader, you’ll need the free Square app, a smartphone, and an Internet connection. Square’s original card reader is free and you’ll receive one when you open your account. However, it can only read magstripe cards and requires a headphone jack to function. Most users will want to shell out a few extra bucks for a newer, EMV-compliant reader. The Square reader is only $49.00, and supports both EMV and NFC-based payment methods. It also uses Bluetooth to connect to your smartphone or tablet – no headphone jack required.

 

Cheapest Mobile Credit Card Processing Company

The Essentials:
✓ $0 monthly fee
✓ 2.75% for all card-present transactions
✓ Exceptional POS app included free
✓ Free credit card reader available
Proprietary software suite includes:
• Point of sale software
• Inventory management
• Mobile app
• Virtual terminal
• Invoicing/billing
• API for custom solutions
Visit the Square website
Read our Square review

Square’s pricing structure is about as simple as it gets. There are no monthly fees whatsoever for a basic account, and none of the types of “hidden” fees that traditional merchant account providers like to tack on. While some advanced features require a monthly subscription, these are entirely optional, and most businesses probably won’t need them. Square’s processing rates are also very simple:

  • 2.75% for all card-present transactions (including magstripe, EMV, and NFC)
  • 2.90% + $0.30 for all invoices and eCommerce transactions
  • 3.50% + $0.15 for all virtual terminal and keyed-in transactions

That’s it! You don’t have to worry about non-qualified transactions, batch fees, or anything else. Funds are deposited into the user’s account within 1-2 business days in most cases. Billing is month-to-month, so you don’t have to worry about long-term contracts and early termination fees. You can quit anytime you want without penalty.

This all sounds great – and it is – if you’re a small business that has to watch every penny and can’t afford to shell out a significant amount of money every month just to have a merchant account. For a larger business, however, Square’s pricing actually isn’t the best deal available. Flat-rate pricing is deliberately on the high side because it has to pay for all the other services that most providers bill you separately for. At a certain point (roughly $10,000 per month in processing volume), you’re actually better off going with a full-service merchant account provider that offers interchange-plus pricing. Yes, you’ll have to pay those pesky account fees, but your processing rates will be so much lower that you’ll save money overall.

Besides high processing rates, Square has a few other drawbacks as well. We’ve already mentioned that your account is much more likely to be frozen or terminated unexpectedly, but what makes this situation worse is that Square’s customer service isn’t so great. The company didn’t even have telephone support for several years after it launched, but it does now. Unfortunately, it’s only available during business hours, and the large number of complaints about it suggests that the quality of support you’ll receive if you call in with a problem is inconsistent at best.

But is it really the cheapest way to go? Well, it depends. For a very small business that doesn’t have a high processing volume, Square’s lack of account fees and predictable pricing can make it very affordable. On the other hand, a larger business with a high processing volume will end up paying much more under those flat-rate prices than it would with an interchange-plus pricing plan.

Square keeps costs low by aggregating accounts together rather than issuing each user a unique Merchant ID number. Because of this, you won’t get a true full-service merchant account. The trade-off is that there’s a much higher chance that your account will be frozen or terminated without notice if fraud is suspected. This might be a minor inconvenience to a retail business that mostly deals in cash and only occasionally takes credit cards, but it’s catastrophic to an eCommerce business where cash isn’t an option.

PROS:

  • No monthly account fees
  • Low-cost EMV-compliant card readers available
  • No long-term contracts or early termination fees

CONS:

  • Not a full-service merchant account; no unique Merchant ID number
  • Frequent account holds and terminations
  • Flat-rate pricing is more expensive than interchange-plus for larger businesses

For a more detailed look at Square, be sure to check out our full review.

Payline Data

Payline Data (see our review) covers all the bases for small business transactions, from mobile and online payments to in-store sales. They offer easy-to-understand pricing plans that are very affordable, especially for low-volume sellers. However, the company’s website fully explains all of the extra features and their associated costs, so you know up front what you’ll have to pay. Payline also stands out from the crowd for their corporate philosophy of charitable giving and support for non-profits through discounted pricing and their “Commercial Co-Venture” program.

 

Cheapest Merchant Account Provider

The Essentials:
✓ No early termination fees
✓ Transparent interchange-plus pass-through pricing
✓ Outstanding $0 monthly fee option
✓ Exceptional ecommerce shopping cart compatibility
Proprietary software suite includes:
• Excellent mobile processing app
• Easy integration API for customization
• Virtual terminal
• Billing management
Visit the Payline website
Read our Payline review

For brand-new or mobile businesses, Payline Start is the most affordable plan. There’s no monthly fee, and pass-through markup rates are set at 0.30% + $0.10 per transaction. In addition to the free virtual terminal, you’ll also receive a free Ingenico GX5 card reader and the Payline Mobile app to go with it. If you’re looking for value, but want better equipment and lower rates, the Payline Shop plan might be right for you. This plan includes the same features as the Payline Start plan, but lowers your processing rate. The plan costs $10 per month, and markup rates are set at 0.20% + $0.10 per transaction. Mobile businesses and small to medium retailers will benefit the most from this plan.

For more information, see our complete Payline Data review.

CDGcommerce

No account setup fees. No PCI compliance fees. No gateway fees. No monthly minimums, either. There’s a lot of things that CDGcommerce (see our review) doesn’t charge you for, making them a very affordable option for small businesses and those just getting off the ground. They also offer month-to-month contracts with no early termination fee, so in the unlikely event that you aren’t happy with their service, you can close your account without penalty.

So, what do you pay for? Besides processing charges, you’ll only have to pay a $10.00 monthly account fee. This gets you both a full-service merchant account and a payment gateway. You can select either CDG’s own proprietary Quantum gateway or Authorize.Net. Either way, there’s no fee for using the gateway, and no additional per-transaction processing fee. While this is a great deal, you also have the option of adding the cdg360 security package for an extra $15.00 per month. It comes with customized security alerts, PCI-DSS vulnerability scans, and $100,000 in data breach/theft protection. It’s well worth paying a little extra for, especially for eCommerce merchants.

Good Option for Online Payment Processing

The Essentials:
✓ No early termination fees
✓ Transparent interchange-plus pass-through pricing
✓ Free payment gateway option with activation within an hour
✓ Exceptional ecommerce shopping cart compatibility
✓ Over 20 years with excellent reputation
Proprietary fraud prevention suite includes:
• Automatic high-risk order detection
• Dialverify phone order verification
• Cardholder authentication (VbV/MSC)
• Chargeback defender
• Easy integration and API for customization
Visit the CDGcommerce website
Read our CDGcommerce review

We don’t recommend leasing a credit card terminal, but CDG has a program that’s very different from traditional leases, and is actually a good deal. For only $79 per year (for terminal insurance), CDG will provide you with a terminal and keep it updated. This works out to $6.58 per month, a fraction of what most terminal leasing companies will charge you. If you need a wireless terminal, you’ll also have to pay $20.00 per month for wireless data and an additional $0.05 per transaction in processing fees.

You won’t need to negotiate with CDG to figure out your processing rates. All their rate plans are interchange-plus and are fully disclosed on their website. The company offers a choice between Simplified and Advanced pricing plans, with Simplified pricing being designed for merchants processing less than $10,000 per month, and Advanced pricing being for those processing $10,000 or more per month. Here are their current rates:

Simplified Pricing:

  • Online: interchange + 0.30% + $0.15 per transaction
  • Retail (swipe or POS): interchange + 0.25% + $0.10 per transaction
  • Mobile: interchange + 0.25% + $0.10 per transaction
  • Non-profit: interchange + 0.20% + $0.10 per transaction

With very low account fees and competitive interchange-plus processing rates, CDGcommerce offers a great combination of price and value. If you’ve been using Square or PayPal and want to upgrade to a full-service merchant account, they’re an excellent option.

PROS:

  • Interchange-plus pricing
  • Month-to-month billing with no long-term contracts or early termination fees
  • Free payment gateway with virtual terminal
  • Excellent customer service

CONS:

  • Only available to US-based merchants

For more information, see our complete review here.

Dharma Merchant Services

Headquartered in downtown San Francisco, California, it should come as no surprise that Dharma Merchant Services (see our review) is far more socially responsible than just about any other merchant account provider in the industry. For you, that enlightened corporate philosophy translates into fair and transparent pricing, reasonable contract terms, and excellent customer support.

Because they don’t try to squeeze extra money out of struggling small business owners, you won’t have to pay an account setup fee or an annual fee. There’s no monthly minimum, either. You will pay a $10.00 monthly fee and a $7.95 per month fee for PCI compliance. Other fees (most of which are per-occurrence, such as chargeback fees) are fully disclosed on their website. Like many of our other favorite processors, Dharma doesn’t have long-term contracts, either. Billing is month-to-month, and there’s no early termination fee if you close your account.

Dharma Merchant Services review

Good Option for Nonprofits and B2B Payments

The Essentials:
✓ Provides discounted rates for nonprofits
✓ Exceptional customer service
✓ Transparent interchange-plus pass-through pricing
✓ Proven track record with nonprofits
Free MX Merchant Software includes:
• Level 2 and level 3 data for lower interchange rates on B2B processing
• Virtual terminal
• Invoicing/billing
Visit the Dharma Merchant Services website
Read our Dharma Merchant Services review

The company uses interchange-plus pricing exclusively and lists their rates right on their website. Here’s their current processing rate information:

  • Storefront: interchange + 0.25% + $0.10 per transaction
  • Virtual: interchange + 0.35% + $0.15 per transaction
  • Restaurant: interchange + 0.20% + $0.07 per transaction

If you need a terminal, Dharma will sell you either the First Data FD-130 or Verifone Vx520. They’ll also reprogram your existing terminal, if you have one. Need a POS system? Dharma offers the Clover Mini, and will sell it to you outright rather than leasing it. If you need a mobile payments system instead, Dharma offers the Clover Go for $99.00, plus a $10.00 monthly fee. For $139, you can upgrade to the Clover Go Contactless, which connects via Bluetooth instead of your phone’s headphone jack.

Dharma doesn’t have a minimum monthly volume requirement, but they do acknowledge that their fees and rates aren’t the lowest on the market for businesses that process less than $10,000 per month. You’re still free to sign up if you need a full-service merchant account, but they recommend either PayPal or Square if you don’t.

PROS:

  • Transparent interchange-plus pricing
  • Minimal account fees
  • Full range of services and equipment for both retail and online businesses
  • Great customer support

CONS:

  • Not a good fit for low-volume (less than $10,000 per month) accounts

For more information on Dharma, see our complete review here.

Helcim

Headquartered up in the Great White North, Helcim (see our review) provides outstanding service and affordable prices to both Canadian and US-based merchants. They offer interchange-plus pricing exclusively, and their website features one of the most detailed and transparent explanations of their rates and fees that you’ll find anywhere.

Transparency and honesty are major themes with Helcim, which is something you won’t often find with many other providers. Reading their website will give you a quick education on all the sneaky, misleading tricks that other companies use to squeeze more money out of their merchants. Fortunately, you won’t have to worry about this kind of behavior with Helcim. Not only do they fully disclose their processing rates, account fees, and contract terms, but they also provide all their services at fair, competitive prices.

 

Good Option for Canadian Businesses

The Essentials:
✓ No early termination fees
✓ Transparent interchange-plus pricing
✓ Exceptional reputation in Canada
✓ High-quality all-in-one payment platform
✓ Great educational material
Proprietary Helcim Commerce solution includes:
• Point of sale software
• Inventory management
• Billing and invoicing
• Virtual terminal
Visit the Helcim website
Read our Helcim review

Unlike many of their competitors, Helcim encourages merchants to buy their credit card terminals outright rather than leasing them. The company offers a number of popular models, most of which are EMV-compliant. For a little extra cash up front, you can also get an NFC-capable terminal that supports Apple Pay and other similar mobile payment methods. If you already have a terminal, they’ll reprogram it to work with their system for free. Unfortunately, Canadian EMV-compliant terminals are not designed to be transferred or resold, so Canadian customers will have to use the rental option or buy a new machine. Renting on a month-to-month basis (which is not the same as leasing) is usually the best choice for Canadian merchants.

Helcim offers three basic pricing plans: a Retail Plan, an eCommerce Plan, and a combined Retail + eCommerce Plan. The Retail Plan costs a flat $15.00 per month. This fee covers PCI compliance, and there are no account setup or statement fees. There’s also no monthly minimum. All swiped transactions are processed at a rate of interchange + 0.25% + $0.08 per transaction.

Helcim’s eCommerce Plan works the same way, but it costs $35.00 per month. This gives you access to the company’s proprietary Helcim Payment Gateway, which includes support for recurring billing, a customer information storage system, shopping cart integration, and a customizable payment gateway API. The plan also includes a virtual terminal that allows mail order or telephone order businesses to key in transactions on any computer. All online (i.e., card-not-present) transactions are processed at a rate of interchange + 0.45% + $0.25 per transaction.

The Retail + eCommerce Plan includes all features of the other two plans, and costs $50.00 per month. Processing rates are the same as for the other two plans.

There are few downsides to Helcim’s services. One way they’re able to keep costs so low is to exclude high-risk merchants from signing up. This policy lowers the company’s overall risk profile, but it also means you’ll be out of luck if you meet their high-risk criteria. Because they charge a monthly fee (albeit a very reasonable one), they’re also not quite as affordable as Square, PayPal, etc. if you’re processing below $2,500 per month. We’re also still waiting for the company to introduce an EMV-compliant mobile card reader. They currently offer a basic, magstripe-only reader that requires a headphone jack to communicate with your smartphone or tablet.

PROS:

  • Extremely transparent fee structure
  • Very competitive rates for businesses processing over $1,500 per month
  • Excellent customer service and support

CONS:

  • Not suited for very small businesses processing less than $1,500 per month
  • Not available for high-risk merchants
  • Mobile card reader isn’t EMV-compatible

For more information, see our complete review here.

Popular (But Less Reliable) Inexpensive Options

PayPal

Everyone has heard of PayPal (see our review). And just about everyone uses it. With an active user base of almost 200 million customers in 200 markets around the world, it’s a good bet that most of your customers use it, too. But can the company fill all your processing needs? The short answer is yes. PayPal has all the features you would need to run a business – either retail or eCommerce – using just their payment processing services and equipment. But would this be cost-effective? Here’s where it gets complicated. While the company offers flat-rate pricing and no monthly fees for its basic accounts, those flat-rate prices are kind of on the high side. Also, if you need features such as a virtual terminal, your account isn’t free. Instead, it’s $30.00 per month, plus your processing charges.

PayPal doesn’t offer true, full-service merchant accounts. Instead, they function as a payment service provider (PSP), which keeps costs relatively low, but also means that they’re quick on the trigger to freeze your account if they suspect that fraud has occurred. Like most PSPs, they don’t have long-term contracts and don’t charge early termination fees. Billing is month-to-month, and an account that doesn’t have a monthly fee is good for a business that only processes credit card transactions occasionally.

PayPal’s basic rate for online transactions is 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. International payments and transactions processed through their virtual terminal cost more, while registered charities and mobile payments get a discount. PayPal fully discloses their rates on their website, so you’ll always know in advance what you’ll be paying.

While PayPal is designed primarily for eCommerce businesses, the company also supports retailers through integration with numerous third-party mobile POS systems and their own mobile payments system, PayPal Here. The latter now includes a Bluetooth-enabled EMV card reader. While many companies offer a free virtual terminal, but charge a monthly fee for the payment gateway needed to use it, PayPal does just the opposite. Their PayFlow Payment Gateway comes with no monthly fee, but if you also need a virtual terminal, you’ll pay $30.00 per month for it. There’s also a small additional per-transaction processing charge.

While these are all great features, there are also some not-so-great things about PayPal that you should be aware of before you sign up. Customer support through their telephone support line is very inconsistent. Some customer service representatives are quite knowledgeable and helpful, while others are not. Fortunately, the company provides an online knowledgebase that should help you solve common problems on your own. As we’ve mentioned, sudden account holds or terminations are also a possibility. If you simply can’t afford to lose access to your account temporarily, consider a different option.

For some businesses, PayPal is really all you need. If you don’t need a virtual terminal or any of the other features of the $30 PayPal Payments Pro plan, you can avoid monthly fees altogether and operate on a pay-as-you-go basis. For larger businesses and those with more specialized needs, PayPal makes an excellent secondary payment option on top of your regular merchant account.

PROS:

  • No monthly fees (for standard account)
  • Transparent flat-rate pricing
  • Most customers have a PayPal account

CONS:

  • High flat-rate processing charges
  • Frequent account freezes, holds, and terminations
  • Inconsistent customer support

For more detailed information about PayPal, see our complete review here.

Stripe Payments

Stripe logo

Just like Square is popular with small retail businesses, Stripe (see our review) is the darling of the eCommerce world. The company functions as a payment service provider (PSP), aggregating accounts and keeping costs low for their clients. There are no monthly fees, and their flat-rate processing plan is extremely simple.

Stripe is so focused on eCommerce that they don’t offer much of anything to retailers. There are no credit card terminals, POS systems, or even mobile payments systems for your smartphone or tablet. So, if you’re a retailer, you can skip right on ahead to the next company profiled below. Stripe is not for you.

eCommerce-only merchants, on the other hand, will find a very robust variety of services to help them sell online. Integration is the name of the game at Stripe, and their payments processing service works with just about every online shopping cart on the market. They also have a vast library of APIs that allow businesses to customize the interface between Stripe and their websites. If you’d like to sell your products through your own app as well as on your website, they offer an impressive in-app purchasing capability.

So, how much does all this techy goodness cost? The short answer is not much – at least under certain circumstances. Since all your transactions will be processed online without a physical card being swiped or dipped, Stripe charges a flat 2.9% + $0.30 for all credit and debit card transactions. eCheck (ACH) and Bitcoin payments are charged a mere 0.8% per transaction. This is the same rate that Square and PayPal also charge for online transactions. There are no additional account fees, although you will be charged $15.00 for each chargeback. Chargeback fees are unavoidable with any processor, but unlike most companies, Stripe will refund your money if the chargeback investigation comes out in your favor.

You also won’t have to worry about long-term contracts or early termination fees, as Stripe bills on a month-to-month basis. This is a useful feature for a growing eCommerce business, as Stripe’s flat-rate pricing suffers the same flaw that plagues Square and PayPal: for a high-volume business, their flat-rate pricing is actually more expensive than what a full-service merchant account can provide through interchange-plus pricing.

While Stripe has some very impressive features, it also has a few serious drawbacks. Like other payment service providers (PSPs), account holds and terminations occur frequently and without notice. Stripe uses a machine learning-enabled algorithm to scan accounts for possible fraud, and it’s definitely programmed to err on the side of caution. This wouldn’t be so bad if you could call up a human customer service representative on the phone and resolve the situation. Unfortunately, you can’t – Stripe doesn’t offer telephone support at all. Instead, you’ll have to contact the company through email and wait for a response. Judging from the many complaints about Stripe’s customer service, the quality of those responses leaves a lot to be desired.

Despite its shortcomings, Stripe is a good choice for a new eCommerce venture. You’ll enjoy pay-as-you-go service with no monthly fees, and you won’t have to worry about long-term contracts. The company’s extensive library of developer tools can offer you options that you might not be able to find with other providers. Just be aware that when your business grows beyond a certain point, you’ll need the security and reliability of a full-service merchant account. You’ll also save money on processing charges by switching to interchange-plus pricing.

PROS:

  • Simple flat-rate pricing structure
  • No additional fees or long-term contracts
  • Huge API library for developers

CONS:

  • Flat-rate pricing is more expensive than interchange-plus for high-volume merchants
  • Frequent account holds and terminations
  • No telephone customer support

For more information, see our complete review here.

Final Thoughts

As you’ve probably noticed by now, pricing for credit card processing is a ridiculously complicated subject. With dozens of interchange rates and a wild assortment of fees, trying to figure out how much accepting credit cards is going to cost your business inevitably comes down to guesswork. While you can make a reasonable estimation based on your processing history and your business type, it’s not realistic to expect that you’ll be able to come up with a precise figure. Fortunately, the companies we’ve profiled here fully disclose their processing rates and fees, making your job of estimating your costs much easier.

We’ve only listed six of the most popular and most affordable processors here, so be aware that the cheapest processor for your particular business might not be one of them. There are plenty of other providers out there who are also competing for your business, so check them out, too!

Here are a few very general rules of thumb regarding merchant account pricing:

  • If your business has a low processing volume, you’ll want to find a provider with low monthly and annual fees. One of the most appealing aspects of Square or PayPal is that they don’t charge any monthly fees. This is a great feature if your business is seasonal or you only occasionally have a need to accept credit cards. Processing rates won’t be as important for low-volume merchants.
  • If your business has a high processing volume, fees aren’t as important, and you’ll want to get the lowest processing rates you can find. Paying one or more monthly fees for a merchant account is an insignificant expense for a larger business, but higher processing rates can make a serious dent in your profits.
  • Carefully analyze both the percentage rate and the per-transaction processing fee when evaluating rates. While you’d ideally like them both to be low, which one is more important will depend on your average transaction size. If you process a lot of smaller transactions, a $0.30 per transaction fee can add up quickly. On the other hand, if your transactions are usually larger, you won’t need to be as concerned with the per-transaction fee, and should try to get the lowest percentage rate you can find.

While all the companies we’ve profiled here provide excellent service at an affordable cost, some are better suited to particular types of businesses than others. Square, for example, works best for very small retail businesses. PayPal and Stripe, on the other hand, are a better fit for small eCommerce merchants. Full-service merchant account providers like Helcim, CDGcommerce, and Dharma are more well-rounded, but CDG is a better fit for smaller businesses, while Helcim and Dharma work better with larger ones. For a side-by-side comparison of some of the companies listed here (and a few other excellent providers), please see our Merchant Account Comparison Chart.

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Best Choice For Small-ticket, Canada, Mobile, eCommerce  All businesses, Mobile, Retail eCommerce, Mobile Canada, Restaurants Large-ticket, All-in-one, Recurring billing

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The Best Credit Card Machines And Terminals

When you scan or insert your debit or credit card at the mall or your local convenience store, you probably don’t put a lot of thought into what type of machine is reading and processing your payment. And really, why should you? To consumers, they’re all pretty much the same (except for maybe those machines that angrily beep at you to remove your card. Why is that sound so aggressive?) That said, if you’re a retailer and you’re not paying attention to what type of credit card machine you’re using, it could cost you. An unreliable or even just a slow machine can impact your bottom line. It’s imperative to know what you want and need from a credit card machine when you’re purchasing your hardware.

Let’s start out by defining some terms. This post will specifically talk about credit card machines and terminals as opposed to credit card readers. A credit card machine is a device that connects directly to or is integrated with your point of sale system, whereas a reader is a smaller, mobile device that generally connects to phones and tablets and can be used with an app.

While many terminals look similar (big buttons, a place to slide or insert your card etc…) there are a number of other features you should be looking for when you make your purchase.

Credit Card Machine Features

First off, you’ll need to make sure your machine is compatible with your processor. Some companies sell hardware that can only be used with their own processing plans. However, there are many universal options available that will sync up with any processor and will give you more flexibility. Some credit card processors will charge reprogramming fees for hardware not purchased directly, so keep this in mind. 

Your level of connectivity is also crucial as any downtime or lag that impedes your ability to process payments is going to have a significantly negative impact on your business. Most newer machines have both a phone and an internet connection and many are now equipped with wireless capabilities in case your landline connection fails or you are in a place where only WiFi is available.

You’ll also want to assess the type of payments you’ll be accepting. In this day and age, you will almost certainly need to process debit card payments, in which case you’ll want a PIN pad (either separately or built-in) for customers to type in their number. Depending on your industry, you may also need a device that handles EBT (electronic benefits transfer). If you’re accepting checks, you’ll want a device that can process them electronically — the same goes for gift cards if that’s an option your business offers. A more modern way to accept payment, like a tap terminal that allows customers to pay via their phone with a service like Google Pay, may also be advisable.

If you’re buying a new machine or terminal, you’ll almost certainly want to make sure that your system can accept EMV chip cards. These cards are becoming the standard in the industry (as of 2015) for their superior level of security; any quality processing machine should be compliant at this point.

What Do Credit Card Terminals Cost?

Now let’s get into what everyone is really interested in: the cost. Credit card machines are generally a bit more expensive than your standard credit card readers which simply hook up to a phone or mobile device. But, with that added expense, you’re also getting added security. To put it in broad terms, machines can run from anywhere between $50 for a bare bones terminal that simply takes card payments, to upwards of $500 depending on what features you want or need.

Each added feature will typically send the price a little higher. If you want to be capable of accepting mobile payments, like Apple Pay or Google Pay, expect a slightly higher cost. If you need a built-in printer for receipts, expect to pay a little more. If wireless capability is a must, that will also result in a slightly higher cost alongside the expense of a data plan. However, many companies offer payment plans and, depending on what services you’re signing up for, some companies run promotions where you can get hardware thrown in for free or at a discount.

Credit Card Hardware Options

When you’re shopping around for a credit card machine, you won’t be hurting for options. However, there are a handful of companies that you will want to check out.

Ingenico and Verifone have long been the gold standard in the credit card terminal industry, and for good reason. They both offer a wide variety of products that are reliable, durable, and competitively priced.

  • Ingenico: Chances are good you’ve used multiple Ingenico products, perhaps in just the past week. It’s difficult to recommend a specific item as they range from very basic readers with built-in PIN pads to others that accept virtually all forms of payment and can print directly all from a device small enough to fit in your hand. Ingenico’s products thrive on their user-friendliness, from set-up to the customer experience, and they have a highly-rated customer service department. Ingenico is also an international company with products that can function all over the world.
  • Verifone: Verifone is equally user-friendly and has an exceptionally sleek and modern interface in many of its credit card machines. Like Ingenico, they offer a wide range of products from a fully integrated POS to mobile and desktop devices. Verifone prides itself on the speed of its transactions and its versatility. The VX520 has been one of its most popular models and should be able to handle most small business needs for under $300. Verifone packs a lot into its devices and they are highly durable and built to handle large numbers of transactions.
  • Pax: Another company to keep an eye on in the credit card terminal game is Pax. While not as ubiquitous as Ingenico or Verifone, Pax is a cost-effective solution with many of the same features. Pax’s products are brightly colored and aesthetically pleasing. The S80 CounterTop terminal has an inbuilt contactless processor and can handle multiple payment types. Pax’s products offer speed and strong memory capabilities while featuring state of the art security measures. They also offer a wide variety of PIN pad options.

A current trend in the world of processing is fully integrated systems. These systems are ultra-modern with the ability to accept nearly any form of payment. They can connect to existing hardware but they’re also on the more costly side.

  • Poynt: Poynt has become a major player in the past few years. It currently offers a two-screen desktop system and a mobile device that allows customers to make payments from anywhere in your store. Poynt accepts gift cards, EBT, and mobile payments — among others — and has features like signature encryption, EMV, and a receipt printer built in. The system is incredibly simple to use and lets the customer see exactly what is happening with his or her transaction.
  • Clover: A similar product to Poynt is Clover Station, which also features a dual screen model. Clover has been extremely popular since its release. With Clover, you are locked into First Data processing, a fact that is still holding Clover’s devices back in our ratings here at Merchant Maverick. However, there’s still a lot to like with this hardware. The ability to customize your experience with Clover is a huge benefit and Station comes with 20 preloaded apps. There is also fingerprint log-in for employees to increase security. Clover accepts EMV cards and comes with an optional NFC printer, 4 GBs of memory, and access to the Clover app store.
  • Square: One of the newest integrated processing products on the market is Square Register. Square’s reputation and popularity speaks for itself and this rollout doesn’t disappoint. With the same dual-screen format as Poynt and Clover, customers can make payments seamlessly with a recognizable and simple interface. Square offers a simple and consistent plan for processing fees and pairs with existing hardware in seconds. You can literally be up and running in a matter of minutes once you’re registered with Square and it comes with a two-year limited warranty.

It’s likely that you’ll find multiple credit card machines that can offer you the functions and features you’ll need to successfully run your business. That’s why it’s important to go with a trusted company and a product that’s proven to be reliable. Having a credit card machine that processes payments quickly and runs smoothly is one less thing a busy merchant needs to worry about.

Final Thoughts

Make sure that you’re always staying on top of current payment trends. Hardware companies constantly update to make sure that their clients always have access to the latest technology. New ways to give and accept payment are constantly hitting the marketplace, and whether it’s a new app for making payments or the ability to accept crypto-currency, credit card terminals are adapting quickly and many low-cost credit card readers are now on the market as well. Hopefully, this post has made your credit card processing hardware search just a little easier. 

Want more information? Read our Complete Guide To Credit Card Machines and Terminals.

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Complete Guide To Credit Card Machines And Terminals

We don’t typically think about what happens in the moments after we swipe our debit and/or credit cards. More often than not, we simply run or insert our card into the credit card machine and hope that the cashier doesn’t use the next few moments to initiate small talk. The number in our checking account decreases or the number on our credit card bill increases, and that’s all we care about.

But, to the business owner, credit card processing is exceptionally important and it can play a huge role in your bottom line. There’s a lot of information to take in if you’re a novice when it comes to credit card processing, and you’ll need to decide what elements are most important to your business. Do you need mobility when accepting payments? Will you be accepting transactions online or over the phone? What security measures should you be taking to protect both your business and your customers? What companies are highly rated or come heavily recommended?

We’ll try and answer the bulk of your questions about credit card machines and terminals below.

Credit Card Machines

Credit card technology has evolved rapidly over the years. It doesn’t seem like that long ago when the process involved a terminal with just the option for credit. Then came debit cards. As the internet became the world’s go to for conducting business, the processing game had to change as well. Now, merchants can take payments with readers connected to their phones or tablets — they can even accept payments remotely without the physical card present. This has created a need for increased security which has led to encryption technology and the relatively recent advent of the EMV chip card.

Before we get into that, however, let’s start with some basics about credit card transactions. You have, no doubt, used hundreds of different types of card readers throughout your illustrious tenure as a consumer. But what happens once your card’s magnetic strip has been read? In simple terms, there are three phases involved in actual processing:

  • Authorization: Once your card is scanned, its information is sent over with a request to be processed. The processing request is then sent to the company of the cardholder (VISA, Mastercard etc…). The company sends the request on to the issuing bank. If there are enough funds in the account, and if the card is registered as valid, the purchase is approved. All of this takes place in a matter of seconds, generally speaking.
  • Settling: After a transaction has been approved, it is forwarded on to be cleared via an interchange. When the request is received, a credit is given to the merchant for the amount of the sale. The bank will then issue a statement to the customer in that amount which the customer must then pay off.
  • Funding: So far in the transaction, no actual money has changed hands. After the card has been authorized and the credit is issued, the payment company then makes a deposit into the merchant’s checking account. These funds can generally be accessed in just a few days.

In order to accept these forms of payment, you will need some type of card reader. Your options here have also evolved rapidly in the past couple of decades. The most common type of credit card machine is still the stationary card terminal. This is a machine that needs a physical connection either to a phone line or to the internet in order to process physical cards.

The next type of machine, and one that is rapidly gaining in popularity, is the wireless processor. These often look very similar to a stationary device, using a magnetic strip or chip reader to take a customer’s card information. However, these devices only require a wireless connection, making them far more versatile and mobile for merchants (albeit with slightly higher security concerns).

Finally, you can also accept payments via a virtual terminal, something we’ll get into more thoroughly a little bit later. In short, virtual terminals allow you to take a customer’s card information without that card being physically present.

Of course, within these different machines, you’ll have some other hardware choices to make. One item you may want to look into is a PIN pad. With this device, customers can manually type in their debit card password to process a payment. Debit cards with either a VISA or Mastercard logo can be processed almost identically to credit cards. However, with a PIN pad, a transaction that is specifically run as debit usually costs the merchant a smaller fee. This ends up saving you a lot of money in the long run, particularly on large transactions.

Some point of sale systems have this technology built-in, allowing customers to enter their PIN numbers on a touchscreen. PIN pads encrypt a customer’s information, giving an inherent level of security on those transactions. As previously mentioned, you don’t need a PIN pad to run these types of transactions. A signature debit card is processed just like a credit card, but the money comes directly from a customer’s checking account. However, in most instances, the merchant is still charged the same rate as if the transaction was run as credit.

One of the more recent changes in the world of credit card processing has been the introduction of the chip card. EMV (which stands for Europay, Mastercard, VISA) is a method of payment based on a standard for cards and machines that is meant to dramatically reduce the possibility for fraud when it comes to credit card payments. EMV cards store data in a chip within the card that is scanned when it is “dipped” or inserted into a card reader or payment machine. Companies have been steadily trying to meet EMV standards and the majority of processors and point of sale companies are now EMV compliant or claim to be in the process of becoming compliant in the near future. VISA and Mastercard have also issued standards for card-not-present transactions as a way to increase security measures in the world of eCommerce.

It’s difficult to predict what the future will look like when it comes to payment processing, but one trend that seems like a near sure bet is that consumers will continue to seek out convenience. This means that services like Apple and Android Pay will probably continue to spike in popularity. Given society’s increased dependence on iPhones for everything from communication to driving directions, the ability to pay with one’s phone is something all companies will want to make sure they can handle — sooner rather than later.

Looking for a credit card machine for your business? Buy, don’t lease! 

Virtual Terminals

What is a virtual terminal? Let’s delve in deeper to get a sense of whether or not it’s a solution your business needs. Virtual terminals are online applications that allow customers to input credit card information directly online to then be processed electronically. These terminals allow for transactions to be processed even when a credit card is not physically present. This can be an ideal solution for any business that is highly mobile or conducting transactions remotely with clients.

Many companies, including PayPal and Helcim, offer the ability to use a virtual terminal for payments. The implementation process is exceedingly simple. Generally, for a small, monthly fee, your processor can give you the ability to enter payment information from pretty much anywhere with an internet connection. Most companies will offer a percentage rate and a flat fee for virtual terminal transactions. This fee is often slightly higher than it would be for a typical transaction as card-not-present transactions have a slightly higher risk of fraud.

With PayPal, for example, all you need is a phone, tablet or computer and you can quickly log in to your account and go to the virtual terminal setting. This leads you to a screen similar to one you would see if you were entering your own information online for a purchase. Once the information is entered, you’ll receive confirmation. 

This simplicity and flexibility has made the virtual terminal an increasingly popular way for businesses of all types — not just mail order or eCommerce businesses — to accept payments. An increasing number of companies are now also offering USB card readers that connect directly to your terminal. These automatically take the card information and run it through your virtual terminal, keeping your transactions in the same location but charging you a lower rate since the card is present at the time. Some of these same companies offer pads which can collect customer signatures in the same way. Even with an external card reader, virtual terminals are usually not designed to accept advanced payment types, like contactless payments, from mobile wallets such as ApplePay. If you want to accept contactless payments, you’re better off getting a standard NFC-enabled credit card machine or credit card reader.

Virtual terminals can also take automated clearinghouse (ACH) payments for one-time or recurring transactions. These payments are processed in bunches, meaning the payment is usually received a little later. However, you aren’t subject to interchange fees for these payments.

Obviously, when making or accepting payments where credit card information is simply entered online, security is going to be of the utmost importance. It is highly recommended that you choose a payment provider that encrypts credit card data; this both reduces the risk of theft and the scope of the Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance.

From there, you will generally have two options.

You can choose a non-validated solution which can cut down the risk of having data stolen. This is an affordable option that is offered by most processing companies, though these solutions are not defined as secure by the PCI. In other words, there is an increased chance that hackers could gain access to encryption keys which could eventually lead to a data breach.

The other option is a PCI point-to-point (P2PE) provider which meets all of the PCI standards and includes secure hardware. Processors that provide this level of protection must accept Merchant P2PE Implementation Responsibilities. Because of this added security, a much smaller number of processors offer this service (although that list is growing). If you are set on providing increased security, you will need to make sure you have hardware that meets these standards — you will also have to submit to regular security check-ups.

Merchant Services

When we talk about merchant services, what exactly do we mean? In simple terms, ‘merchant services’ is a broad term to describe the hardware and software products that make it possible to accept credit and debit card transactions. These companies and services help to connect the issuing bank (the bank that gave your customers their credit cards) and the merchant bank (the bank that is behind your merchant account). In the last couple of decades, this term has expanded to include much more than just your standard terminal scanner. The internet has opened the door for payments to be made online and those purchases can be tracked and managed from your computer or mobile device.

Merchant services providers are any businesses which accept payments (aside from just cash and checks). These can include credit and debit card processors, point of sale terminals, analytic software etc. There are a handful of different kinds of merchant services providers, including:

  • Merchant Account Providers: These providers can set you up with a merchant account and services that allow you to collect your money following a debit or credit card transaction. Some larger companies also come with direct processing services.
  • Payment Service Providers: Even though it’s advisable, it’s not essential to have a merchant account to process payments. Payment service providers, like the ubiquitous PayPal, don’t give you an ID number and are popular because they generally do not come with account fees or long-term contracts. These accounts can be frozen, sometimes without notice, and customer service can be sketchy. However, for smaller or seasonal businesses, payment service providers are a popular choice.
  • Payment Gateway Providers: Payment gateway providers represent a service provider that has emerged with increased popularity of eCommerce. These providers may or may not come with a merchant account. Some give you a choice of using their own merchant account or using a gateway with an existing account. Others only offer a gateway service, meaning you’ll have to have a merchant account from a third party.

When you’re looking at various card processors, there are a few things that you should keep an eye on. Perhaps most importantly you’ll want to research the company’s reputation. Processing payments is a crucial aspect of your business and an unreliable company can give you a lot of headaches (and affect your bottom line).

You’ll also want to compare the costs and potential fees that various processors implement. Square, for example, charges no monthly fee, which is yet another appeal for smaller or mid-sized companies. However, they also implement a 2.75% fee on transactions — if your business takes off and you’re suddenly processing a high number of transactions, those fees will add up and quickly wipe out any savings you’re receiving from not paying a monthly fee.

You’ll also want to doublecheck the compatibility of your processor. If, for instance, you’ve found a point of sale system that you are comfortable with, you’ll want to make sure that the processor integrates seamlessly without additional costs. If you’re forced to set up an aforementioned gateway, you could end up paying a large monthly fee.

To enable transactions, merchants will have to fill out an application. If you’re opening a merchant account, this process can take a little longer than going through a third-party processor. One of the reasons smaller and mid-sized merchants lean towards a third-processing account like Square is that you can be up and ready to take payments almost immediately. The price for that instant gratification, however, is an increased likelihood for potential account freezes later on.

When you’re in the process of picking out a processor, you’ll also want to pay close attention to transaction fees. The best merchant account providers usually offer what is referred to as interchange-plus pricing. This means that the provider takes the wholesale cost of the transaction and tacks on a small, standardized markup. This ensures an affordable and transparent pricing plan. It also means a slightly higher rate for transactions when a card isn’t physically present since those transactions have a higher frequency of fraud. Third-party processors sometimes provide a flat rate for all transactions — this is convenient and offers a simple way to quickly figure out your fees. However, it may not be the most cost-efficient in the grand scheme of things. A company like Square, which offers a flat rate for swiped and dipped transactions, also charges a slightly higher rate for key-in and eCommerce transactions.

There are a few other things you’ll want to watch out for when finalizing your decision about a merchant accounts provider. Along with the potential for account freezes or funding holds, keep an eye on how businesses handle chargebacks (where customers dispute a charge) and fraudulent charges in general. There are ways to mitigate these dangers, of course. You can use fraud management tools, including things like address verification services. Using a chip card terminal also dramatically cuts back on fraudulent charges.

Here are a few of our most highly recommended processing companies:

  • Fattmerchant: Fattmerchant is one of the best companies for eCommerce transactions. Its pricing is transparent without undisclosed fees. There is also a 0% markup, meaning you pay only the wholesale cost plus the monthly fee and a small authorization fee. Fattmerchant also has terrific customer service.
  • Dharma: Dharma provides a full array of processing services and also has a simple, affordable pricing structure without hidden fees. They exclusively use the interchange-plus format and are a particularly good choice for non-profits, as they offer a discount to those companies.
  • Helcim: For slightly large companies, Helcim is a very strong option. While offering a wide range of services, they have extremely competitive rates for companies that process more than $2500 a month. They also have very strong customer service and their fee structure is transparent and easy to understand.
  • Square: For companies that don’t provide a full-service merchant account, Square is the standard bearer. There is no monthly account fee and they offer free or low-cost readers. Square also doesn’t force you to sign up for a long-term contract or charge you for early termination.

Your POS System

Another way to process payments is through your POS or point of sale system. Point of sale systems have come a long way, especially in the past decade. Today, you can virtually run your entire business from one, simple device. With the influx of cloud-based systems, you can make snap decisions and check the status of your operation from anywhere with a wireless connection.

With so many options available, and with point of sale systems offering more and more features all the time, choosing the correct system to meet your needs is an important decision. The first thing you’ll need to decide is whether you want a system that is cloud-based or locally installed. Most companies have been moving toward cloud-based options for numerous reasons. First and foremost, it’s incredibly convenient. All of your data is automatically stored off-premise, so if something happens to your store or to your system, all of your payment, customer, and inventory information is still accessible. These systems are often extremely user-friendly as well, designed to be intuitive with very little training time needed. They tend to be sleek, modern, and visually appealing both to your customers and employees.

Many cloud-based systems also perform routine updates automatically, fixing bugs and adding new features so that you always have the most current software at your fingertips. Along these same lines, the best POS systems sync seamlessly to any number of integrations that can help your business in ways you may not have even considered before.

When you’re looking at purchasing a POS system, there are a number of factors to keep in mind. First and foremost, it’s likely that the cost of the POS hardware and software is going to play a large role. Some systems allow you to purchase your system and all necessary hardware upfront for a flat rate, allowing you to own the software. But if dropping a few thousand dollars isn’t something you’re comfortable with, the majority of point of sale companies offer monthly rates. A few companies, such as Square, offer a free version of their software that is generally suited for small operations, though most other POS software systems run anywhere from $39 to $99 a month for basic services while often offering advanced packages with additional features.

Let’s talk about some features you can expect to find in pretty much any good, modern point of sale system:

  • Inventory Management: Not only can you view all of your stock on hand, you can set your POS to alert you when certain products are running low or, even more conveniently, you can set the system to automatically reorder products when they hit a certain level. This can be an enormous time saver and, in most systems, inventory management can be accessed remotely. You can set up quick transfers across multiple locations and, in many cases, create and print your own purchase orders.
  • Employee Management: Likewise, your staff is easy to track and manage from your centralized POS station. You can set permissions and create alerts for suspicious transactions to cut down on fraud. Employees can be given unique codes when they log into the system and can view their hours and current schedules.
  • Customer Management: Many point of sale systems come with their own built-in loyalty programs or integrate with other companies for a small monthly fee. But these days, your POS can help with so much more when it comes to analytics and marketing. Most systems allow for customer data to be stored and easily searched. Customers can look up their own loyalty points and control their own profiles in some cases. More useful for business owners, however, is the ability for the system to analyze what items are being purchased by certain customers, assessing buying habits and creating personalized marketing campaigns that can be implemented with ease, helping to maximize profits. The same can be done with coupons, targeting customers to boost repeat business.

You will also want to do your research to see what systems specifically cater to your particular business. For example, if you’re opening a pizza shop, you may want to look for a system with built-in features that makes online ordering simple, or functions that allows customers to create a custom order which is then automatically sent to the kitchen, freeing up your employees. There are also niche POS systems for specific types of businesses. Quetzal, one of our highest-rated systems here at Merchant Maverick, is built for the retail industry with a significant bent towards shoe stores.

Many POS software systems have their own app store, like Clover, or integrate with scores of apps that might help your business out tremendously. If you’re technically savvy, most POS providers also give you access to an open API, meaning that you or a developer can create your own apps within the software.

When you’re doing your research there are a number of other features you’ll want to keep an eye on. Definitely check to see what features come in the form of add-ons which will increase your monthly fee. You will also want to make sure you have appropriate, compatible POS hardware. Several companies offer hardware packages that can be purchased directly through their websites.

A robust reporting feature should be available in most highly-rated systems and many offer their own eCommerce platforms, making it easy to set up your own website and sell online, all from your POS device.

Another key factor to research is what credit card processors are compatible with your system. While some offer a wide range of choices, integrating with most major companies, others lock you into a limited number of options or offer their own processing services for credit card payments, for better or worse.

You’ll also want to see what your system has in terms of an offline mode. Most point of sale systems have evolved to now offer at least some offline functionality, but what you can actually do in the case of an outage can vary. Many systems still function as normal, allowing you to process credit cards, encrypt transactions, and store the data to be run once the internet is restored.

It’s difficult to make a decision, but at Merchant Maverick, we’ve come across a number of point of sale systems that we would happily recommend depending on your business.

  • Shopkeep: Shopkeep is routinely on the top of our lists. This simple and reasonably priced system features everything you would expect in a point of sale system. It’s well suited for small to mid-sized retail shops and restaurants with a sleek design, excellent reporting and management tools, and terrific customer service.
  • Revel: For slightly larger restaurants or retail establishments, we often recommend Revel, a product that can manage multiple locations and large amounts of inventory with ease. Revel is intuitive and extremely robust with a top-notch kiosk function and Kitchen Display System.
  • Lightspeed: Lightspeed is another highly rated company and offers both a Retail and Restaurant product. Lightspeed has great customer service and is easy to set up while also providing intuitive front end and back end features. It also has an excellent and simple to use eCommerce platform.
  • ERPLY: ERPLY is one of the top retail point of sale systems that we’ve reviewed. One of its biggest features is the ability to integrate with most major credit card processors. It also has terrific shipping integrations and excellent customer management tools, particularly when it comes to loyalty.

Final Thoughts

There is obviously a lot to process when it comes to… well… credit card terminals and payment processing. If you’ve made it this far, hopefully you’re feeling a little more confident about your knowledge of credit card processing machines, virtual terminals, merchant services, point of sale systems, and what you should be looking for from the various companies that provide this technology. Make sure you have a good grasp on what each company charges for different transactions and what might be the best option for your type and size of business. Also don’t overlook things like a company’s customer service reputation. It’s a competitive market and you have the ability to make sure you end up with a credit card terminal and processing system that can best help your business thrive.

Interested in learning more? Download our free Beginner’s Guide To Payment Processing.

The post Complete Guide To Credit Card Machines And Terminals appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Payment Processing Companies And Services For Small Businesses

Payment Processing Services And Companies For Small Businesses

Navigating the world of payment processing services can be confusing for a small business owner, and it’s easy to make a mistake that can have a negative impact on your bottom line. With fast-talking sales agents lurking around every corner, waiting to sign you up for a lengthy, expensive contract, you need a good understanding of the basics of processing services, as well as specific things to watch out for.

While most merchant services providers offer a full range of products and services for every business, most of them are geared toward the needs of larger, established companies rather than small businesses and startups. Which services you need to run your business will depend primarily on the where and how you sell your products. For example, retailers and eCommerce businesses have very different requirements, although there are also some services (such as basic credit card processing) that are universally required.

In this article, we’ll provide you with a quick overview of the primary merchant services that you’ll need to accept credit card, debit card, and electronic check payments. We’ll also briefly review several of the best all-around merchant services providers for small businesses. All of them offer easy-to-use solutions at a fairly low cost compared to what the major credit card processors usually charge.

Payment Processing Services

It’s important to give your customers as many possible ways of paying for their purchases as you can, as this naturally leads to increased sales. At the same time, you don’t want to invest extra money into supporting payment methods that few, if any, of your customers actually use. Here’s a brief overview of the primary payment methods available and the services you’ll need to support them:

Credit Card Payment Processing

Providing credit card processing services is one of the most basic merchant services, and all providers will offer this feature. To accept credit cards, you’ll need either a full-service merchant account or an account with a payment service provider (PSP) such as Square (see our review). While every provider will allow you to accept major credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard, you’ll want to check carefully if you need support for less popular cards such as Discover, JCB, or Diner’s Club. American Express is also treated differently, as they function as both the issuing bank and the credit card association. Fortunately, Amex offers their OptBlue program, which simplifies the process of accepting their cards.

Debit Card Payment Processing

Virtually all merchant services providers support debit card transactions. In setting up your account, however, be aware that the interchange rates for debit transactions are usually much lower than it typically is for credit card transactions. The reason for this is simple: banks don’t have to issue a credit when the card is used like they do with credit cards. If the customer has sufficient funds in their bank account to cover the cost of the purchase, the transaction is usually approved, and funds are withdrawn immediately. Unfortunately, some merchant services providers set their processing rates without taking this distinction into account, which means you’ll end up paying much more for debit card transactions than you should. Tiered pricing plans and flat-rate plans are the usual culprits here, so look carefully at your proposed rate quote before signing up. You won’t have this problem with interchange-plus pricing, as the actual interchange rate is passed on to you, and the processor’s markup is the same for every transaction.

ACH Payment Processing

eCheck (ACH) payment processing operates on a different network from those used to process credit and debit cards. For this reason, most providers will require you to sign up for a separate ACH processing service as an optional feature when setting up your account. Adding eCheck processing to your account will allow you to accept bank transfers (i.e., eChecks) and paper checks with optional check scanning hardware. Processing rates for eChecks are very low because the money is coming directly out of the customer’s bank account. However, most providers will charge you a separate fee (usually around $20.00 – $30.00 per month) to add an eCheck processing service to your account. For small businesses, this might not be economical unless you have a significant number of customers who prefer to pay by check.

NFC Mobile Wallet Payment Acceptance

NFC-based payment methods such as Apple Pay and Google Pay have only been on the market for several years, and consumers have been slow to adopt them. However, they are becoming more popular over time, and it’s a good idea to offer them to your customers if you can. Most, but not all, modern credit card terminals and point-of-sale (POS) systems can accept these payment methods, but you’ll want to check the specific requirements for each particular NFC-based method you want to be able to accept. While NFC-based payment methods are ultimately tied to the user’s credit or debit card, they offer superior security and protection from fraud over traditional magstripe and even EMV card reading methods.

Mobile Payment Processing

Traditionally, mobile payment acceptance required a bulky wireless terminal. Not only were the terminals expensive by themselves, but they also needed a separate data plan (usually around $20.00 per month) to transmit the payment processing data. Then smartphones came along, and it wasn’t long before companies figured out that you could create an app that would effectively turn your phone into a credit card terminal. Coupled with an inexpensive card reader that plugged into the phone’s headphone jack, you had a simple mobile payment system that was far lighter and less expensive than the old wireless terminals.

While Square was the first company to pioneer this system, almost all other processors have followed suit, and today it’s hard to find a provider that doesn’t offer a similar mobile processing solution. Unfortunately, most of those competing systems fall far short of what Square has to offer. The apps themselves are very basic, and we’ve seen plenty of complaints about poor reliability, poor handling of tips, and a general lack of features. Magstripe-only card readers, while still offered for free or very low cost, are essentially obsolete liability traps with the switch to EMV-based chip cards. The gradual disappearance of the headphone jack from late-model smartphones further complicates matters. While this situation is bound to improve, today only Square and a small number of other merchant services providers offer both a fully-featured app and an EMV-compliant, Bluetooth-connected card reader.

eCommerce Payment Processing

To accept payments over the internet, you’ll need a software service called a payment gateway. Gateways can send transaction data to your provider for processing, and they also offer a number of other features you’ll need to run an online business. While features vary from one provider to another, most gateways offer support for recurring billing, online invoicing, and a secure customer information database to store your customer’s payment method data. Security features are also very important, with most providers offering some form of encryption or tokenization of data to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Most merchant services providers offer either their own proprietary gateway or a third-party product such as Authorize.Net (see our review).

Online Reporting

Online dashboards are very popular these days, and almost all merchant services providers offer them. With these web-based dashboards, you can monitor the state of your business and track your transactions in real-time. They’re particularly valuable for eCommerce businesses and retailers who have more than one location.

Canadian Payment Processing

Unfortunately, most US-based providers do not offer accounts to businesses located in Canada. However, there are a few choices available north of the border that provide excellent service and fair prices. Helcim (see our review), one of our favorite providers, is based in Calgary and operates throughout both Canada and the United States.

Nonprofit Payment Processing

If you’re in the nonprofit sector, you’ll want to reduce your costs wherever possible. While you can sign up with any merchant services provider, it’s usually a better idea to go with one that offers reduced processing rates for nonprofits. Dharma Merchant Services (see our review), one of our highest-rated providers, specializes in helping nonprofits get set up with merchant services.

High-Risk Payment Processing

If your business falls into the high-risk category, your options for finding a provider will be more limited than they are for other merchants. The majority of merchant services providers, including most of those profiled below, do not accept high-risk merchants and will terminate your account if they later determine that you’re in the high-risk category. While there are many providers on the market that specialize in serving high-risk merchants, beware that many of them will charge you very inflated processing rates and account fees while providing poor customer service. For a look at the more reputable high-risk providers, check out our guide to the best high-risk merchant account providers.

Low-Volume Payment Processing

If your business only processes a few thousand dollars per month in credit/debit card transactions, or you’ve just launched, you’ll want to find a low-cost provider that won’t eat up your profits through high processing rates and hidden fees. Businesses at this end of the spectrum often don’t need a full-service merchant account and are better off going with a payment services provider (PSP). While you’ll pay somewhat higher processing rates, you’ll save money overall because most of these providers don’t charge any monthly fees. They also don’t require long-term contracts or charge early termination fees (ETFs), so you’ll be free to switch to a full-service merchant account with a different provider when your business is large enough to need one. For low-volume retailers, Square (see our review) is an excellent choice. The quickest and easiest option for eCommerce merchants is PayPal (see our review).

Payment Processing Companies

Below are short overviews of some of the best merchant services providers we’ve found for small businesses. Be sure to check out our full reviews for companies that you think might be a good fit for your business.

Square

Square Logo

Possibly the most popular provider for small businesses, Square offers simple flat-rate processing with month-to-month billing and no early termination fee. With Square, you can accept all major credit and debit cards. However, their processing rates don’t offer any discounts for debit card processing. Rates are fixed at 2.75% for swiped (or dipped) transactions, 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction for online payments, and 3.5% + $0.15 per transaction for keyed-in transactions.

Square offers a mobile-only processing solution with their Square Reader, which is now available in an EMV-compliant, Bluetooth-enabled product. While it’s not free like the old magstripe-only reader, it’s a great investment and much less expensive than competing products from other providers. The new reader also accepts NFC-based payment methods, future-proofing your system (at least for the time being).

Square also offers eCommerce payment processing, as well as a host of other features for both retail and eCommerce merchants. While it’s also available in Canada, high-risk merchants are not supported. There’s also no discount for nonprofit businesses. Square specializes in meeting the needs of low-volume merchants, and we recommend them for businesses processing less than $5,000 per month. For more details, see our complete review.

CDGcommerce

Another excellent choice for low-volume businesses, CDGcommerce offers a full-service merchant account for a low monthly fee of just $10.00 per month. That’s about as low as it gets for an actual merchant account, although you’ll want to seriously consider adding the optional cdg360 security package for an additional $15.00 per month. The company also offers true month-to-month billing with no early termination fee, which is a great feature for small businesses that don’t want to get trapped in a long-term contract.

In addition to basic credit/debit card processing, eCheck (ACH) processing is available for an additional fee. For eCommerce merchants, CDGcommerce offers a choice between their proprietary Quantum gateway and Authorize.Net (see our review). Either option is completely free, with no monthly gateway fees or additional per-transaction charges. For retailers, your account includes a “free” Verifone Vx520 EMV-compliant terminal. While there’s no charge for the terminal, you’ll have to pay a $79 per year maintenance fee, which is fully disclosed. You can also include a free mobile card reader with your account, but it’s magstripe-only at this time.

For businesses processing less than $10,000 per month, the company offers a simplified interchange-plus pricing plan. Rates are interchange + 0.25% + $0.10 per transaction for card-present transactions and interchange + 0.30% + $0.15 per transaction for online transactions. Discounted rates are also available for qualified nonprofit businesses.

CDGcommerce is not available in Canada and does not support high-risk merchants. For all others, it’s a great choice for a small business that wants a true merchant account with a minimum of expense or commitment. If the company sounds like a good fit for your business, check out our complete review.

Helcim

Helcim logo

With offices in both Canada and the United States, Helcim is another excellent provider that’s geared toward the needs of small business owners. Their Retail pricing plan costs only $15.00 per month and features interchange-plus rates starting at interchange + 0.25% + $0.08 per transaction. You’ll have to supply your own terminal, but the company offers them for sale at very competitive prices and doesn’t use overpriced terminal leases.

For eCommerce merchants, Helcim’s eCommerce pricing plan costs $35.00 per month and comes with the fully-featured Helcim Payment Gateway. Processing rates are all interchange-plus, and start at interchange + 0.45% + $0.25 per transaction. As with the Retail Plan, these are the highest rates available, with lower rates available if you meet their monthly processing volume requirements. Merchants who sell both online and from a storefront can get a combined Retail + eCommerce plan for $50.00 per month. Discounted rates are available for nonprofit businesses.

Helcim offers eCheck (ACH) processing as an optional add-on for $25.00 per month and $0.25 per check. Their mobile processing solution is free and included with all retail accounts. However, they currently only offer a magstripe-only card reader. To keep costs low, the company does not accept high-risk merchants. One caveat: Helcim freely discloses that their pricing structure will not be cost-effective for low-volume businesses processing less than $1500 per month. Read our full review for more details.

Dharma Merchant Services

Dharma Merchant Services review

You’d be hard-pressed to find a merchant services provider that’s more ethical and transparent than Dharma Merchant Services. They offer true month-to-month billing with no early termination fees, interchange-plus pricing, and low account fees – all of which are fully disclosed on their website. Account fees are only $10.00 per month for basic credit and debit card processing. eCheck (ACH) processing is available through one of several optional programs.

Dharma has special pricing plans for storefront, restaurant, and virtual (eCommerce) businesses. Processing rates range from interchange + 0.20% + $0.07 per transaction to interchange + 0.35% + $0.10 per transaction depending on your business type. Recurring and incidental fees are all disclosed on their website, including a $7.95 per month PCI compliance fee. The company also offers special discounted rates for nonprofits.

Mobile processing is supported through First Data’s Clover Go card reader and app. This service costs an additional $10.00 per month, plus $99 for the Clover Go Basic Reader (or $139 for the Clover Go Contactless reader). Dharma is only available to US-based merchants and can only support certain limited categories of high-risk businesses. The company’s fee structure is only suitable for businesses processing at least $10,000 per month, something which they also fully disclose on their website. For a more in-depth look at Dharma Merchant Services, please see our complete review.

Payline Data

Payline Data high risk merchant accounts

Another great option for small or new businesses is Payline Data. They offer a number of simplified pricing plans, all featuring interchange-plus pricing. Their Payline Start plan, designed specifically for new businesses, has no monthly fee and features a single processing rate of interchange + 0.50% + $0.10 per transaction. There’s also a $99.00 per year PCI compliance fee and a $25.00 monthly minimum, but that’s about it for recurring fees. Lower rates are available under the Payline Shop plan, which costs $9.95 per month. For eCommerce merchants, Payline Connect charges somewhat higher rates, but includes a payment gateway and virtual terminal for $10.00 per month.

While all accounts include basic credit/debit card processing, eCheck (ACH) processing is a separate service. Payline doesn’t disclose the cost of this option. They also offer Payline Mobile, their proprietary mobile processing solution. It costs $7.50 per month for merchants on the Payline Start plan, and features the Ingenico RP457c card reader, which can accept magstripe, EMV, and NFC-based payment methods and connects to your smartphone (or tablet) via either the headphone jack or Bluetooth.

Payline Data offers discounted rates to nonprofit businesses and can also support some high-risk merchants. It doesn’t advertise this capability, however, so you’ll have to ask your sales representative about it. The company’s services are only available to businesses in the United States. For a more detailed look at Payline Data, check out our complete review.

Fattmerchant

For a unique take on merchant account pricing, take a look at Fattmerchant and their subscription-based pricing. Their standard account pricing plan for both retail and eCommerce merchants includes a $99.00 per month subscription fee, but offers processing rates of interchange + $0.08 per transaction (for retail sales) or interchange + $0.15 per transaction (for online sales). These low rates eliminate the standard percentage markup that most other providers charge, as those charges are included as part of your monthly subscription fee. Almost all other account fees are also included in your subscription price, although you’ll have to pay an extra $7.95 per month if you need a payment gateway.

Fattmerchant can also process eCheck (ACH) payments, although they don’t disclose pricing for this option. Mobile processing is supported via the Fattmerchant Payments Mobile app, which is currently only available for iOS. The Fattmerchant Mobile Card Reader can accept either magstripe or EMV transactions and is included with your account.

Fattmerchant doesn’t advertise any discounted rates for nonprofits, and they don’t accept high-risk businesses. They’re also only available to US-based merchants. While their subscription-based pricing can result in significant savings for businesses with a sufficiently high processing volume, they’re not ideal for very low-volume merchants or businesses that are just starting out. If you’re regularly processing over several thousand dollars per month, however, we encourage you to compare their pricing with what you’re currently paying. You might be able to save a lot of money overall despite the relatively high subscription fee. For a more in-depth look at Fattmerchant, please see our complete review.

Final Thoughts

Selecting a merchant services provider should be approached with great caution. You need to really do your homework in evaluating the numerous plans and options each provider has to offer, as well as coming up with the most accurate estimate of total costs that you can. While a basic account for credit or debit card processing can be had for relatively little money, additional services will add to your costs quickly. Credit card terminals, a payment gateway, or an eCheck processing service will usually cost you more, although they will obviously be worth the price if your business needs them.

The six merchant services providers we’ve profiled here represent the best choices for a small business or one that’s just starting out. If you’re just opening your business and don’t have an established processing history or any idea of how much your processing volume will be, Square is probably your best bet. The up-front cost to start processing is exceptionally low, and the pay-as-you-go nature of their service will help you avoid monthly fees if you don’t need to process transactions every month.

When your business is large enough that you need the stability and additional features of a true merchant account, CDGcommerce, Helcim, and Payline Data are great choices. You’ll get a full-service merchant account for a very low price and will have the flexibility to switch providers without incurring a penalty. Once your business gets a little larger and more stable, Dharma Merchant Services and Fattmerchant can really save you money on your overall processing costs. To compare our top-rated providers side-by-side, check out our Merchant Account Comparison Chart.

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What Is A Merchant Services Provider?

What is a merchant services provider?

If you’ve just started your own business or you’re looking to add credit and debit cards as payment methods, you’re going to be bombarded by a bewildering variety of new terms and concepts that you’ve never encountered before. One very basic term you’ll want to familiarize yourself with is the type of business entity known as a merchant services provider.

To understand what a merchant services provider is and what it can do for your business, you’ll first need to understand the concept of merchant services. This term describes the range of services and hardware and software products that allow merchants to accept and process credit or debit card transactions. Before the internet came along, things were pretty simple. Merchant services consisted of countertop terminals to input card payments, processing services to approve the transaction, and merchant accounts to deposit the money in after the sale. Today, it’s a much more complicated landscape, with eCommerce opening up far more opportunities for selling products remotely than just mail and telephone ordering. Software products such as payment gateways allow customers to pay for purchases directly over the internet, while inventory management and online reporting services give you the power to track virtually every aspect of your business on your computer.

Merchant services providers are sometimes also referred to as acquirers, processors, or merchant account providers. Here at Merchant Maverick, we use the term merchant services providers as a catch-all to cover entities such as merchant account providers, payment services providers (PSPs), payment gateway providers, and any other type of business that allows you to accept payment methods other than cash or paper checks.

Types of Merchant Services Providers

Not all merchant services providers offer the same features, but most fall into one of several categories that help to differentiate them a little from their competitors. The most common types of merchant services providers include the following:

Merchant Account Providers

These entities are the most commonly encountered merchant services providers. A merchant account provider can, at a minimum, provide you with a merchant account and processing services to ensure that you receive your money when a customer pays by credit or debit card. While all merchant account providers can set you up with a merchant account, only a few of the largest companies can also offer processing services to process your transactions. These companies are called direct processors, and include industry leaders such as First Data (see our review), Elavon (see our review), and TSYS Merchant Solutions (see our review). Most other merchant account providers rely on one of these direct processors to process their merchants’ transactions.

Payment Services Providers (PSPs)

While having a merchant account is a good idea for all but the smallest of businesses, you don’t absolutely need one to accept credit or debit card payments. A payment services provider (PSP), such as Square (see our review) or PayPal (see our review) can give your business the ability to accept these kinds of payment methods without a dedicated merchant account. Instead, your account will be aggregated with those of other merchants, and you won’t have a unique merchant ID number. This arrangement has the advantage of virtually eliminating the account fees and lengthy contract terms that often come with a traditional merchant account. However, these accounts are more prone to being frozen or terminated without notice, and customer service options aren’t as robust as they are with a full-service merchant account. PSPs are an excellent choice for businesses that only process a few thousand dollars a month in credit/debit card transactions or only operate on a seasonal basis.

Payment Gateway Providers

With the advent of eCommerce, a new kind of provider has come on the scene: the payment gateway provider. These companies can offer you a payment gateway, which you’ll need to accept online payments. However, they may or may not also offer you a merchant account to go with it. Authorize.Net (see our review), one of the largest and oldest gateway providers, gives you a choice between one of their merchant accounts or using their gateway with your existing merchant account. Other providers, such as PayTrace (see our review), offer a gateway-only service. You’ll have to get your own merchant account from a third-party provider.

Types of Merchant Services

Most merchant services providers offer a wide variety of products and services to allow merchants to accept credit and debit card payments, as well as manage their inventory and track other aspects of their business. Your needs as a merchant will depend on the nature and type of your business. While all businesses will need either a merchant account or a payment service account (if you’re signed up with a PSP), other features will only be useful for certain types of businesses. For example, if your business doesn’t sell anything online, you won’t need a payment gateway. Here’s a brief overview of the most common types of merchant services:

Merchant Accounts

Every business that wants to accept credit or debit cards as a form of payment will need a merchant account. While most merchant account providers offer full-service merchant accounts, those from PSPs like Square (see our review) lack a unique merchant ID number. Merchant ID numbers make your business easier to properly identify to payment processing systems, giving you some protection from fraud and adding stability to your account. A merchant account is simply an account where funds from processed transactions are deposited. Those funds are then transferred by your provider into a business account that you specify, such as a business checking account.

Credit Card Terminals

Retail merchants will also need a hardware product that can read your customers’ credit and debit cards and then transmit that information to your provider’s processing network. Traditional countertop terminals such as the Verifone Vx520 can connect to processing networks via either an Ethernet connection or a landline. Wireless models are also available, but they tend to be bulkier and more expensive than wired models, and require a wireless data plan (usually around $20.00 per month) to operate.

Terminals may be purchased outright or leased from your merchant services provider. Because most providers support the same terminals, we recommend either buying your terminal directly from your provider or purchasing it from a third-party supplier. Terminals require a software load which must be installed before they can accept transactions. If you buy your terminal from a third-party source, you’ll need to have it re-programmed to install this software. We strongly discourage terminal leasing due to the noncancelable nature of the leases and the fact that you’ll pay several times more than the value of the terminal over the lifetime of the lease.

In shopping for a terminal, you should select an EMV-compliant model as a minimum. Support for NFC-based payment methods (such as Apple Pay and Google Pay) is also a good choice as these methods are becoming more popular among customers.

Point of Sale (POS) Systems

POS systems combine the functions of a credit card terminal with a large computer display, enabling you to manage inventory and monitor your sales through a single piece of equipment. These systems include fully-featured, dedicated terminals and tablet-based software options that can run on an iPad or Android tablet. Many providers offer optional accessories such as tablet mounts, cash drawers, and check scanners, allowing you to accept any form of payment through a single device.

Mobile Payment (mPOS) Systems

These systems allow you to use your smartphone or tablet as a credit card terminal. mPOS systems consist of a mobile card reader that connects to your mobile device and an app to communicate with your provider’s processing network. While Square (see our review) was the first provider to offer a simple mPOS system, most providers now offer similar products. Although they’re difficult to find and cost more than simple magstripe-only readers, we recommend selecting a card reader with EMV compatibility and a Bluetooth connection (rather than the traditional headphone jack plug) to future-proof your system.

Payment Gateway

A payment gateway is simply software that communicates between your website and your provider’s processing networks, allowing you to accept payments over the internet. Because not all merchants need a gateway, providers usually charge a monthly gateway fee (around $25.00) to access this feature. Most gateways include support for recurring billing, a customer information management database, and security features such as encryption or tokenization to protect your customers’ data.

Virtual Terminal

A virtual terminal is another software product that turns your computer into a credit card terminal. Transactions can be entered manually or swiped using an optional USB-connected card reader. Virtual terminals are most commonly used by mail order/telephone order businesses that don’t have an eCommerce website.

Online Shopping Carts

Shopping cart software is designed for eCommerce merchants who need a more specialized shopping experience or want to customize the features of their website. Shopify (see our review) is one of the most popular online shopping carts. Check compatibility with your merchant services provider before selecting an online cart.

eCheck (ACH) Processing

eCheck processing is an optional feature offered by most merchant service providers. It allows you to scan paper checks and instantly confirm that funds are available to cover the purchase. This service protects you from fraud and saves you a trip to the bank.

Merchant Cash Advances and Small Business Loans

Merchant cash advances and small business loans provide another way for your business to receive funds when you need them, and most merchant services providers offer them. Check out our Merchant’s Guide to Short-Term Loans for more information.

Final Thoughts

Which specific merchant services you need will depend on the nature of your business. Retail-only businesses won’t need a payment gateway, but they will need reliable credit card terminals. eCommerce businesses can’t function without a payment gateway, but do not require terminals. Of course, if your business operates in both the retail and eCommerce sector (which is becoming more common), you’ll need just about every service your provider has to offer.

Every merchant service provider has their own unique combination of products and services, so you’ll want to ensure that a provider offers the features that you need before you sign up. Many of these services are proprietary, meaning they’ll only work with the provider that offers them. While this helps to ensure compatibility between different products, it also means you won’t be able to take your favorite product with you if you switch providers. This is more of a factor in the eCommerce sector, where payment gateways are often proprietary products. For an overview of our highest-rated merchant services providers, check out our Merchant Account Comparison Chart.

The post What Is A Merchant Services Provider? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best First Data Credit Card Processing Alternatives

First Data logo on the websiteIf you’re a business owner searching for a merchant account provider, you’re going to hear about First Data sooner or later. They’re rather hard to ignore, as they’re the largest provider in the United States. The company currently processes 45% of all credit and debit card transactions in the US, either directly or through a network of sub-ISOs and third-party partners. There are several really large providers in the processing industry, but First Data is simply huge.

The company dominates the processing industry in the same way that Amazon and Walmart dominate the retail sector. Unfortunately, First Data’s outsized chunk of the market share is the only thing they have in common with these two retail giants. While Amazon and Walmart have succeeded by offering lower prices than their competitors, First Data is more like the Apple of the processing industry. They provide a high-quality product, but you’ll pay top dollar for it, and they make no effort to lower their prices to accommodate customers of more modest means.

We’ve reviewed First Data and found that their products and services are generally quite good. However, their prices and contract terms are geared toward the top end of the market. If you’re a large business processing over $100,000 per month, they can offer you very competitive rates. They’ll also charge you high account fees, but you’ll still save money overall. Small businesses, on the other hand, will be far more impacted by the higher fees, and won’t qualify for the lowest possible rates. First Data also continues to push outrageously expensive terminal leases through their subsidiary, First Data Global Leasing.

If you’re a small business owner, you’ll want to consider several alternatives to signing up with First Data. Below, we’ve presented four alternative processors that work better for smaller businesses. One (Dharma Merchant Services) is a merchant account provider that uses First Data as their backend processor. This relationship gives you access to many of First Data’s powerful features, but at a much lower cost and with far more personal customer support. The others (Helcim, Fattmerchant, and Chase Merchant Services) offer services similar to First Data but are much more affordable for small businesses. Of these four alternatives, only Chase Merchant Services is a direct processor, able to manage your merchant account and process your transactions.

Overview of First Data

If you’re still thinking about signing up with First Data, you’ll want to read our in-depth review of the company before making a decision. While we’ve given them a decent score overall, the fact remains that their services are geared (and priced) more toward big businesses. They’re not a good deal for smaller companies, and merchants who only occasionally need to process credit or debit card transactions should steer clear altogether due to their high account fees.

First Data’s standard contract imposes a four-year term, with an automatic renewal clause that extends the contract for one-year periods after that. The contract is enforced through an early termination fee (ETF). Rather than charge a fixed amount for breaking your contract, First Data adds your monthly minimum, monthly customer service fee, and monthly account fee together, then multiplies this amount by the number of months remaining in your contract to calculate your ETF. This amount can easily exceed $1000 in the first year or two of your contract – far more than most providers charge for an early termination fee. While the company is sometimes willing to waive this fee altogether, you might prefer to avoid liability for this fee entirely by choosing one of our alternative providers, none of whom charge early termination fees at all.

First Data doesn’t disclose any information about processing rates on their website, but they offer a combination of both tiered and interchange-plus pricing plans. Of these two, tiered pricing is almost always more expensive. Because it brings in more revenue for First Data, you’re likely to be offered this type of pricing if you don’t ask for interchange-plus. Sales representatives have some leeway to negotiate the kind of pricing plan you’ll receive and the rates you’ll pay, but very small businesses or those without an established processing history might have no choice but to accept a tiered plan. You can avoid the uncertainty and the possibility of overpaying for processing by looking into one of our alternative providers. Dharma and Helcim offer fully-disclosed interchange-plus rates exclusively, while Fattmerchant uses a unique subscription-based pricing system that offers very low interchange-plus rates in exchange for a higher monthly account fee. Chase Merchant Services offers a combination of both tiered and interchange-plus rates, but seems more amenable to offering interchange-plus rates to smaller businesses than First Data.

First Data also charges a number of monthly, annual, and incidental account fees to maintain your merchant account. While none of these fees are directly disclosed on their website, you can find information about most of them in the sample contract. While some of these fees may be waived or reduced through negotiation, they’re generally higher than industry averages. If you don’t want to pay extra just to maintain your merchant account, you’ll be happy to know that our preferred alternatives charge lower fees than the industry average. Better yet, Dharma, Helcim, and Fattmerchant fully disclose their fee schedule right on their website. You won’t have to talk to a sales representative or sift through pages of fine print to figure out what your fees will be for your merchant account. Chase doesn’t disclose their fees in such a transparent manner, but merchant feedback indicates that they’re reasonable and in line with industry averages.

While pricing is understandably the most important concern for most merchants when choosing a provider, customer support and service after the sale should also be an important consideration. All our suggested alternative providers offer excellent customer support. First Data has a surprisingly good reputation in this area despite their huge size, but we’ve found that smaller providers generally offer better, more personalized service than the larger companies. With these considerations in mind, let’s take a closer look at our recommended alternatives to First Data:

Dharma Merchant Services

Dharma Merchant Services review

If you want to harness the power of First Data’s specialized services and products, but at a lower cost, take a look at Dharma Merchant Services (see our review). While the company uses First Data as one of its backend processors, they have a completely different pricing structure and a unique corporate philosophy. Dharma Merchant Services takes its name from the term dharma, which is found in several Eastern religions and roughly translates to a “right way of living.” The folks at Dharma take this concept seriously, offering a full spectrum of credit card processing services for a fair and reasonable price. Their fee structure is completely transparent, with all fees and charges disclosed on their website. All merchants receive interchange-plus pricing, and there are no annual fees. They also don’t charge account setup fees, early termination fees, or have a monthly minimum. Fees that they do charge (including PCI compliance fees) are fully disclosed. Dharma is unique in the world of credit card processing companies in that they donate a significant percentage of their profits to charity, living up to their motto “Commerce with Compassion.”

In addition to merchant accounts, Dharma offers a variety of wired and wireless countertop terminals for in-store use, including the First Data FD130. Their terminals are EMV-compliant and support Apple Pay. If you need a full-featured POS system, they offer the popular Clover Mini. Dharma also offers their proprietary MX Merchant system, which integrates a payment gateway, virtual terminal, and mobile processing solution into a single product.

Dharma easily offers the fairest and most transparent fee structure in the industry. In addition to a flat $10.00 per month fee for storefront and eCommerce accounts, transactions are billed according to an interchange-plus pricing model. In-person transactions are charged interchange + 0.25% + $0.10 per transaction, while eCommerce transactions are charged interchange + 0.35% + $0.15 per transaction. For restaurants, Dharma offers a special discounted rate of interchange + 0.20% + $0.07 per transaction. Other additional fees (such as PCI compliance fees) are clearly spelled out on Dharma’s website.

While there is no minimum monthly volume requirement, Dharma openly acknowledges that their full-service merchant accounts don’t make financial sense for low-volume businesses processing less than several thousand dollars per month in transactions. If your business falls into that category, they recommend either PayPal or Square.

Helcim

Helcim logo

“Trust, transparency, and fair pricing” is Helcim’s motto, and they live up to it by providing the most up-front, clearly-explained pricing structure of any of the credit card processing companies we’ve reviewed. A Canadian company, they also have an office in Seattle and provide full support to US-based merchants.

Helcim (see our review) offers a full gamut of services and equipment for both storefront and online businesses. Their website features a variety of EMV-compliant and NFC-capable credit card terminals, starting at $199. Unlike many of their competitors, they encourage US customers to buy their terminals outright, rather than renting or leasing. Helcim will reprogram your current equipment for free if it’s up-to-date. If your current terminal isn’t compatible, they’ll exchange it for a refurbished model for $75.00. Unfortunately, Canadian EMV-compliant terminals are not designed to be transferred or resold, so Canadian customers will have to use the rental option or buy a new machine. Renting on a month-to-month basis (which is not the same as leasing) is usually the best option for Canadian merchants.

Helcim has recently introduced their Helcim Commerce system, a web-based solution that processes both online and manual payments on your computer or with a traditional terminal, generating receipts that can be emailed or printed. This system includes a virtual terminal, payment gateway with API, support for recurring billing, billing information vault storage, e-invoicing, shopping cart integration, and hosted payment pages. Best of all, you get all these features for a flat $15.00 per month for retail users or $35.00 per month for eCommerce merchants.

Mobile payments are supported through the free Helcim Commerce Mobile app for iOS and Android. To use the app, you’ll need the Helcim Mobile Reader, which supports magstripe swiping and plugs into your smartphone’s audio jack. Readers cost $30 each.

Helcim uses an interchange-plus pricing model for all merchants. Rates for retail merchants range from as high as interchange + 0.25% + $0.08 per transaction to as low as interchange + 0.10% + $0.05 per transaction, depending on your monthly processing volume. Online rates range from as high as interchange + 0.45% + $0.25 per transaction to as low as interchange + 0.10% + $0.10 per transaction, again depending on monthly processing volume. Helcim doesn’t charge fees for account setup or termination, and PCI compliance is included in the monthly subscription fee. All contracts are month-to-month, with no early termination fees. For small businesses processing at least $1500 per month, Helcim will save you a significant amount of money over First Data through lower interchange-plus rates and lower account fees.

Fattmerchant

Fattmerchant (see our review) is a newcomer to the merchant account industry, starting up in 2014. Focusing on transparency and lower costs for merchants, the company offers several subscription-based pricing plans. Under these plans, you’ll pay a higher monthly fee, but you won’t pay any markup percentage on your processing costs. With a high enough processing volume, this can lead to significant savings in overall costs over traditional interchange-plus pricing plans. Your monthly subscription fee also covers things like PCI compliance, eliminating most of the additional fees that traditional processors like to add to your bill.

With Fattmerchant, you’re encouraged to buy your own terminals, and they’ll re-program them to work with their services for free. They also offer EMV-compliant terminals and POS systems with some of their pricing plans. For mobile payments, the company offers their free Fattmerchant Payments Mobile app, which is currently available for iOS only. An Android version is under development.

Fattmerchant offers a choice between two subscription-based pricing plans. The $99 per month plan is available for businesses that process up to $1 million annually. Larger businesses processing over that amount pay $199 per month for their subscription. With the $99 per month plan, retail merchants pay interchange + 0% + $0.08 per transaction. Enterprise users on the $199 per month plan pay interchange + 0% + $0.06 per transaction. Online and mobile transactions cost interchange + 0% + $0.15 per transaction under the $99 per month plan, and interchange + 0% + $0.12 per transaction under the $199 per month plan. As you might have guessed, the bulk of your monthly subscription fee goes to covering the markup that traditional interchange-plus pricing plans charge. If your processing volume is high enough, you could save quite a bit in processing charges with one of these plans. On the other hand, it’s probably not cost-effective for low volume or seasonal businesses. Fattmerchant doesn’t charge PCI compliance fees, batch fees, or statement fees, as these are all covered by your monthly subscription fee.

While Fattmerchant claims that there are no contracts, what they really mean is that there are no long-term contracts. Their merchant accounts are billed month-to-month, and there is no early termination fee if you close your account.

Fattmerchant offers an intriguing alternative to traditional merchant accounts. Their processing rates are extremely low, although this is offset by the high monthly subscription costs. You’ll want to run the numbers carefully and compare your current processing costs to what you’d pay with them to see if their plans make sense for your business. While mid-sized companies could save as much as 40% over the cost of a First Data merchant account, smaller businesses might find the subscription cost to be too high to save money overall on processing costs.

Chase Merchant Services

Chase merchant services review logo

While all the alternatives to First Data we’ve discussed so far have been smaller providers, Chase Merchant Services (see our review) is one of the larger merchant services providers in the industry. They’re large enough to be a direct processor, much like First Data itself. As such, they can offer you many of the same powerful features that First Data can. However, their pricing and terms are more competitive, and they have a much better reputation for customer service.

Like First Data, Chase doesn’t disclose any pricing information on their website. However, they offer a similar combination of both tiered and interchange-plus pricing rates. Merchant feedback suggests that they’re more likely to provide you with interchange-plus pricing, and that their account fees are reasonable. They also sell their equipment rather than leasing terminals, which is a big plus.

While the company doesn’t appear to offer true month-to-month billing, they no longer include an early termination fee in their contracts. So, while you might still be bound by a three-year contract with an automatic renewal clause, it will be much easier to close your account early, and you won’t be charged a penalty for doing so. As always, we strongly advise you to read your entire contract thoroughly before signing up, and don’t rely on any verbal assurances from sales representatives.

Chase Merchant Services is a good choice for both retail and eCommerce merchants. They offer several EMV-compliant credit card terminals, which you can purchase outright rather than leasing. Their Orbital Payment Gateway is one of the best in the industry. They also have a solid mobile payments system, which uses their Chase Mobile Checkout app (available for both iOS and Android) and an EMV-compliant mobile card reader. Note that, as of this writing, they’re one of the few providers in the industry to offer an EMV-capable mobile card reader.

Chase Merchant Services is also a good choice for companies that do business overseas or process a lot of B2B transactions, offering payments in over 120 currencies and providing the ability to process Level II and Level III card data.

While you won’t find the same high level of transparency that our other alternative providers offer, Chase Merchant Services is a good choice for mid-sized and larger businesses looking for a provider that can match First Data’s services, but at a more competitive price. The company also has a remarkably low complaint volume relative to its size. As a point of comparison, Chase Merchant Services has 37 complaints within the last three years, while First Data has over 1000.

Final Thoughts

With nearly half the market share in the United States, it’s impossible to ignore First Data in your search for an ideal merchant services provider. However, bigger isn’t always better, and First Data is really only a good choice if you’re already very successful in your business and experienced in negotiating with providers. Smaller businesses and merchants who are just starting out should steer clear of First Data and consider one of our preferred alternatives instead.

One of the significant advantages offered by Dharma, Helcim, and Fattmerchant is that they fully disclose their pricing upfront. Not only does this eliminate the need to negotiate with a sales representative, but it also allows you to make a far more accurate estimate of your anticipated processing costs before you ever contact their sales department. While you won’t be able to do this with Chase Merchant Services, a price quote from them will allow you to make an accurate estimate of how their costs stack up against our other, more transparent, providers.

In selecting between these four alternatives, Dharma and Helcim are best for nonprofit businesses, as they offer discounted pricing for qualified nonprofits. Dharma is also an excellent choice for restaurants, being one of the few providers in the industry to provide lower pricing just for restaurant owners. Helcim is a great all-around choice for small or newly-established businesses. Fattmerchant can offer the most significant savings over more traditional providers to businesses that are large enough to afford their subscription rates. Finally, if your business needs the power of a direct processor and you can negotiate a good deal, Chase Merchant Services is a great alternative to First Data. If your business is too small to afford any of these alternatives, we recommend that you look into a payment service provider (PSP), such as Square or PayPal.

The post The Best First Data Credit Card Processing Alternatives appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Top 7 Things to Look for in a Merchant Account

online transaction

While credit cards have existed in one form or another in the United States for almost a century, it’s only been during the last few decades that their use has become commonplace. It wasn’t all that long ago that most people made just about every purchase with either cash or a personal check. Today, most consumers have a variety of credit and debit cards, and prefer to use them instead of cash whenever possible. As a business owner, it’s more important than ever that you have the ability to accept credit cards, whether you’re running a traditional retail store or selling items online. Simply put, credit card acceptance translates directly into more sales and, hopefully, more profits.

Unfortunately, accepting credit cards is anything but free. Credit card associations, issuing banks, and transaction processors will all get a cut of every credit card transaction you accept. Obviously, you’ll want to minimize the cost per transaction as much as possible, but there are other factors that are equally important. The processor with the lowest processing rates might not provide the best overall service.

In order to accept credit cards, you’ll need a merchant account. This is simply an account with your credit card processor that you can use to both deposit funds from cleared transactions and also to pay the various fees and per-transaction charges that you will incur. Merchant accounts can also include a variety of associated products and services that you’ll need to run your business, such as credit card terminals, mobile credit card readers, point-of-sale (POS) systems, and more.

Selecting the merchant account provider that’s best for you and your business is not an easy task. Too many merchants fall into the trap of simply looking for the provider with the lowest processing rates. This can turn into an expensive mistake over time, as the credit card processing industry is notorious for tacking on a host of pricey – and often undisclosed – monthly and annual fees for just about every service provided as part of maintaining your merchant account. So, don’t get too focused on processing rates – it’s the overall total cost over time that really counts. This includes processing rates, account fees, and other costs (such as chargebacks) that you might have to deal with.

Not all merchant accounts provide the same level of service. Popular small-business processors such as Square, for instance, don’t actually provide a full-service merchant account. While you’ll still be able to process credit card transactions, you won’t get certain features (i.e., a unique Merchant ID number, PCI compliance services, and robust customer service) that full-service merchant accounts include. The lack of these features often create real problems for merchants, with complaints about frozen or terminated accounts and poor customer service being very common. For a very small business that’s just starting out, this might be a reasonable trade-off in exchange for the money you’ll save over a full-service account. However, once your business grows beyond a certain point, you’ll need to transition to a more stable, full-service account and the security features it provides.

We’ve identified seven different features that you need to look at very carefully in selecting a merchant account provider. They’re all equally important, and you’ll want to examine all of them in evaluating any merchant account provider that you’re thinking of signing up with. While it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to come up with a precise estimate of your overall costs, you should be able to get a pretty good idea by evaluating these seven features.

1. Hardware that meets the unique needs of your business

No matter what kind of business you run, you’ll need equipment to process your sales. Even a purely eCommerce venture is still going to need some hardware – even if it’s just your own personal laptop. For most other businesses, however, your hardware needs will be more extensive. Basically, you’re going to need some type of equipment to read your customer’s credit card information and send it to your processor for (hopefully) approval.

Options for reading credit cards are a lot more robust today than they were just a few years ago. In addition to the traditional wired credit card terminals commonly seen in retail establishments, there are now numerous wireless terminals and mobile processing systems that combine a smartphone with a very basic credit card reader to offer the same capabilities as a dedicated terminal.

Wired credit card terminals are still the most commonly-used card readers out there, and they offer a number of distinct advantages. Perhaps most importantly, they’re simply more reliable. You don’t have to worry about your wireless internet connection suddenly going down and leaving you unable to process a sale. Wired terminals are also generally better at supporting newer features such as EMV credit cards and contactless payments using near-field communications (NFC), such as Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Android Pay, and others.

Today, wired terminals are more affordable than ever, and we highly recommend that you buy your own terminals outright rather than leasing them from your merchant account provider. Unfortunately, the credit card processing industry figured out a long time ago that they could make a lot of money by leasing terminals to their merchants rather than selling them directly. Here’s how the scam works: You sign up for a traditional merchant account, with comes with a three-year contract. You need terminals to actually process your customer’s cards, so you lease them from your merchant account provider. What you don’t realize (and your sales agent usually won’t tell you) is that the lease agreement for the terminals is actually with a separate company – and it’s for four years, not three. Not only that, but your terminal lease is non-cancellable, meaning that you’ll still have to pay for all of the remaining months on your lease if you try to cancel early. Even if you close your account and send the terminals back, many companies will still charge you for every remaining month of your lease. The end result? You’ll wind up paying literally thousands of dollars for a piece of equipment that you can buy outright today for as little as $100.00.

Some companies will even try to tell you that it’s more cost-effective to lease your terminals rather than buy them. Don’t believe it! In almost all cases, this is simply not true. If you read the terms of your leasing agreement and most importantly, do the math, it should be pretty obvious that, in most cases, those “low” monthly leasing fees and associated charges will add up to far more money out of your pocket than simply buying your own equipment. One possible exception to this general rule is if your business needs a large number of terminals, but you don’t have the capital available to buy them all at once. Given that businesses large enough to need a lot of terminals generally aren’t short on capital, this is a pretty unlikely scenario.

Another very unique exception is if you sign up with CDGcommerce, one of our favorite processors. Rather than lock you into an expensive, four-year contract, CDG provides their terminals in exchange for a $79.00 per year insurance fee. This works out to about $6.59 per month, far less than what most other processors will charge you in leasing fees. This fee also includes any necessary re-programming and software updates, plus you can also exchange your terminal for a newer model. It’s the one exception we’ve found where you’ll get a good deal by “renting” your terminals from your merchant account provider.

When shopping around for terminals, there’s one last thing to bear in mind. With the advent of EMV terminals in the US in 2015, there are a lot of older, magstripe-only terminals still out there. Not only are these terminals essentially obsolete, they’re also potential liability traps with the EMV liability shift that occurred on October 1, 2015. Many of the true bottom-feeders in the processing industry are still trying to push these terminals onto unsuspecting merchants. Sometimes they’re advertised as being “free” (they’re really not), and other times they come with a traditional lease. Now that it’s 2016, there is simply no reason whatsoever to buy or lease a non-EMV-compliant terminal. Yes, some customers will still have magstripe-only credit or debit cards, and this will be true for some time. Nonetheless, since almost all currently available EMV-compliant terminals also include a magstripe reader, you should never accept a terminal that doesn’t include both capabilities.

In addition to EMV, you’ll also want a terminal that supports contactless payments through near-field communications (NFC). NFC-based payment systems allow customers to leave their wallets behind and use their smartphone to make a payment. Apple Watch and Android Wear users can also use the technology to make payments with their smartwatches. Currently, the world of NFC-based payments is very splintered, with Apple Pay only working on Apple devices, Android Pay only working on Android devices, and Samsung Pay being proprietary to Samsung’s Android-based smartphones. Despite the confusing choices out there, NFC payments are currently the most secure form of payment that’s available. Read more about it here.

Wireless terminals are also available, and while they’re not necessary for a traditional retail establishment, they can be very useful for any type of business where you have to go to the customer, rather than having the customer come to you. Plumbers, electricians, and others in similar trades will find them essential. If you’re in a business that needs a wireless terminal, realize that 1) the terminal itself will be more expensive than a wired terminal, and 2) wireless terminals also require a wireless data plan (typically about $20.00 per month). Depending on your needs, it might make sense to go with a mobile processing solution, such as Square, as a lower-cost alternative.

Mobile processing itself is a capability that didn’t even exist just a few years ago. Square, launched in 2009, was the first company to combine a smartphone with a plug-in credit card reader, allowing merchants to process credit card transactions anywhere they had cell phone or Wi-Fi coverage. Today, Square has a lot of competitors and many traditional processing companies are trying to get in on the action by offering their own apps and card readers. Unfortunately, none of them offer anywhere near the robust capabilities that Square offers, and many of them are actually more expensive. Square itself is certainly not perfect – complaints about frozen accounts and poor-to-nonexistent customer service are all too common. Nonetheless, it’s a respectable alternative for very small businesses, startups, and seasonal sellers who neither need nor want a full-service merchant account. It’s also a very economical way to add mobile processing to your existing merchant account.

Point-of-sale (POS) systems are also very popular with merchants today, combining transaction processing with database capabilities that allow you to track not only sales, but also inventory, customer relations, employee performance, and numerous other metrics. Modern POS systems truly bring “big data” concepts to small and not-so-small businesses. Again, your merchant account provider will usually have a POS solution that they’ll want to sell to you. Whether you truly need (or can afford) their “solution” is another matter. While a modern POS system is ultimately a software solution, the hardware required to input and display the data involved can vary from a dedicated terminal (such as Clover) to a tablet-based system that runs on your iPad or Android tablet. For most small businesses, we recommend a cloud-based POS solution rather than a far more expensive dedicated terminal. See our Best Small Business POS article for more specific recommendations.

2. Software to keep track of your business and help it grow

The days of tracking your sales in a paper ledger and collecting a shoebox full of sales receipts are, thankfully, long gone. Today’s merchant accounts harness the power of the internet to track and store your account data digitally. Cloud-based systems make that data available just about anywhere, on any internet-connected device. Physical and eCommerce businesses alike will need the appropriate software to take advantage of these capabilities.

If your business operates out of a physical location and you don’t make any sales online, your needs will be pretty simple. One useful product to consider is a virtual terminal. This is simply a software program or web service that allows you to process credit card transactions on your computer using a USB card swiper. While it won’t be quite as mobile as using Square, it will still allow you to process card-present transactions and access your sales data.

eCommerce merchants will have more extensive needs in order to run their virtual businesses. For online sales, you’ll have to have a payment gateway as part of your merchant account. Payment gateways connect customers wanting to make a payment with the bank or merchant account provider that processes the transaction. Most merchant account providers in business today will offer a payment gateway as part of their services, usually through Authorize.net. One of our highest-rated providers, CDGcommerce, will offer you either their own proprietary Quantum gateway or one through Authorize.net – for free. Most other providers, however, charge a monthly fee for payment gateways.

For eCommerce merchants, an online shopping cart that allows customers to select items and place orders is also essential. Shopping carts integrate directly into your website rather than functioning as a stand-alone feature. Shopify, one of our favorites, is perhaps the most well-known online shopping cart. For a good overview of the best shopping carts available, check out our Shopping Cart Comparison chart.

3. Reasonable, transparent fees

Merchant accounts don’t come cheap. In addition to the processing rates you’ll have to pay on each transaction, your merchant account provider will also charge you a bewildering variety of one-time, monthly, and annual fees for the privilege of maintaining your account. For a small or recently-launched business, these fees can quickly eat up your profits and threaten the growth of your business.

Just as there’s no such thing as a free lunch, you’re also never going to find a free merchant account. Merchant account providers have to make a profit in order to stay in business, and they have to charge reasonable fees in order to do so. Traditionally, merchant account providers have relied on tacking a lot of nickel-and-dime fees onto your bill to compensate for the low processing rates they offer to entice you into signing up with them. These fees allow a processor to make money from a merchant account regardless of your monthly processing volume. In fact, they often still make money even if you’re not processing any transactions at all. Fortunately, a number of newer, more technology-focused merchant account providers are disrupting this old business model by offering accounts with low, fully-disclosed fees. It’s no coincidence that many of our highest-rated providers fall into this category.

In evaluating any merchant account provider, you’ll want to look for a fee structure that is both reasonable and transparent. Fees that are in line with the industry average aren’t necessarily reasonable, as there are still a lot of “junk” fees out there. For our purposes, a reasonable fee is one where the account provider actually provides a valuable service in exchange for that fee, and the fee is reasonably related to the value of that service. Fees should also be transparent, or fully disclosed before you sign up for an account. While all of our favorite providers fully disclose their fees right on their websites, most traditional processors do not. Instead, they’re buried in pages of fine print and often not disclosed by sales agents.

So, what kinds of fees might you be charged? Here’s a brief overview of common fees associated with merchant accounts:

Account setup or application fees: While they’re gradually becoming less common, some merchant account providers will charge you a hefty, one-time fee for setting up your account. We consider this a junk fee because it only requires a few minutes of an agent’s time to set up your account, and both the agent and the account provider stand to make money off of you, not the other way around. Usually running around $150 (!), a setup or application fee is a clear red flag that you should avoid doing business with that account provider.

Monthly or annual account fees: Almost all providers – good and bad alike – charge some sort of fee to maintain your account. This might be billed monthly, or charged as an annual fee. Either way, it’s something of a catch-all charge to cover all the things your account provider isn’t charging you for directly. This can include things like PCI compliance scans, “free” credit card terminals, “free” virtual terminals, and other services that come with your merchant account. What constitutes a reasonable account fee will depend on how many services come with your account and whether or not you actually need them.

Monthly minimums: Not a fee in itself, a monthly minimum is a requirement that your business process a sufficient total amount in transactions to incur at least a specified amount (typically $25.00) in processing charges. As a hypothetical example, if all of your transactions were charged a flat 2.0% processing rate, you’d have to process $1,250.00 in total sales in order to meet the $25.00 minimum. You only have to pay if you fail to meet the minimum, and even then you only pay the difference between your actual processing charges and the amount specified as the monthly minimum. While they’re won’t affect a large, established business, they function as a penalty for very small, part-time, and seasonal businesses. If you fall into that category, you’ll want to avoid any provider that includes a monthly minimum in their contracts.

PCI compliance fees: Your merchant account must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) security standards. This protects both you and your customers who, after all, are entrusting you with their credit card information. Since an in-depth discussion of PCI compliance is beyond the scope of this article, you’ll want to read this post for a good overview of the subject.

PCI-related fees come in two flavors: 1) PCI compliance fees, which are fees for services that your processor provides in order to ensure that your account remains PCI compliant, and 2) PCI non-compliance fees, which are effectively penalties for not being PCI compliant. See our article on the subject for more in-depth information. PCI compliance fees are a reasonable cost of doing business as long as a) your provider is actually doing PCI scans and taking other steps to protect your account and your customers’ data, and b) the fee is reasonable ($99.00 per year is the current industry average). On the other hand, you should never have to pay PCI non-compliance fees. If your provider can’t keep you compliant, find another provider. Also note that some of the newer providers do not charge a discreet PCI compliance fee. In most cases, you’re still paying for this as part of your monthly or annual account fee.

Statement fees and other “junk” fees: Traditional merchant account providers are notorious for adding any number of miscellaneous fees to your monthly bill, often with little or no actual service provided to you in exchange. While most of these fees are pretty minor and won’t add much to your costs, things like statement fees can add up quickly. Although the processing industry is slowly phasing out the statement fee, there are still plenty of companies that continue to charge it. Statement fees are usually around $8.00 per month. Think about that for a minute. That’s an extra $96.00 per year – just for them to send your statement to you every month. Considering that your statement is automatically generated by software and most companies today send your statement via email, it’s a complete rip-off.

Early termination fees: Most of the traditional merchant account providers in the industry will sign you up for a long-term contract (typically three years), and will charge you an early termination fee (ETF) if you try to close your account early – for any reason. ETFs are expensive (typically around $495.00) and are designed to discourage you from switching your account to a different processor. None of our favorite processors charge an ETF, allowing you to maintain your account on a month-to-month basis with no penalty for closing it.

Chargebacks: Any time your processor has to reverse a charge and issue a credit, you’ll be hit with a chargeback. Chargebacks can occur due to technical errors, returned merchandise, or actual fraud. Even though you as the merchant probably haven’t done anything wrong, most processors will still charge you a chargeback fee (typically about $20.00) to investigation what happened and issue a refund. For more information, see our article on avoiding chargebacks.

4. Fair, understandable processing rates

The processing rate is simply the total percentage of a transaction that you’ll have to pay to your merchant account provider in exchange for their processing the transaction. Processing rates can be very complicated and confusing, especially since the processor only keeps a portion of whatever they charge you. Fees (called the interchange) have to be paid to the credit card association (i.e., Visa, MasterCard, etc.) and also to the bank that issued the card, with the remainder going to the processor. Companies have devised several different pricing models to pass these costs onto you, including the following:

Interchange-plus pricing: Like its name, this pricing model consists of an “interchange” and a “plus.” As we’ve noted, the interchange is paid to the issuing bank and also the credit card association. The “plus” is simply the amount that your processor actually keeps from each transaction. Interchange-plus rate quotes are often expressed as “interchange + X %,” with the X % being the “plus.” Some processors also charge a fixed per-transaction fee (typically $0.10 to $0.25) as part of the “plus.” Because you can easily see exactly how much your processor is keeping from each transaction, it’s considered the most fair and transparent pricing model. It’s also usually less expensive overall than tiered or flat rate pricing.

Tiered pricing: This pricing model consolidates dozens of different processing rates into three tiers: qualified, mid-qualified, and non-qualified transactions. Which tier a transaction will fall into depends on a number of variables, such as whether the card was swiped or manually entered, what the items purchased were, when the transaction was actually sent to the processor, and many others. Companies offering tiered pricing often only advertise their qualified rates, with phrases like “rates as low as…” In reality, most transactions will fall into the mid-qualified or non-qualified categories, where the rates are almost always much higher.

Flat-rate pricing: eCommerce-focused companies such as Square and PayPal offer flat-rate pricing as an alternative to traditional pricing models. Each transaction is charged a flat percentage rate, and often a fixed per-transaction fee as well. Rates are simple, easy to understand, and fully disclosed right on the companies’ websites. Flat rates are usually higher than what you’ll get with interchange-plus pricing, but companies that offer them also charge you a lot less in monthly and annual fees.

Which pricing model is right for you is going to depend on a number of factors, with your monthly processing volume being one of the most important ones. For small or newly-established businesses with a low processing volume, flat-rate pricing is more economical because you’ll avoid most of the nickel-and-dime fees that make maintaining a traditional merchant account so expensive. On the other hand, a larger business that isn’t as concerned about fees will save money with interchange-plus pricing. For more information about processing rates, please see our Complete Guide to Credit Card Processing Rates and Fees.

5. Honest, non-misleading marketing and advertising

“My sales agent lied to me!” It’s an all-too-common complaint we see from merchants who’ve signed up with a traditional merchant account provider – and it’s often true. Rather than hiring and properly training a staff of professional, in-house sales agents, many companies rely on independent sales agents who are only paid on a commission basis. With practically no educational or experience requirements, just about anyone can become an agent. Combine this with generally inadequate training and intense pressure to close a deal, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Independent agents have a bad reputation for failing to disclose some of the more onerous terms of the contracts they’re selling, especially early termination fees. Yes, there are some naturally talented independent agents who have done well and can provide you with quality service. However, the odds are against it. We recommend that you stick with companies that have their own dedicated, in-house sales staff. Some of the best companies will even assign you a dedicated account representative, which is about as good as it gets.

Online advertising has now become the single most important way to market any business, including merchant account providers. A website can tell you a lot about a company, both good and bad. Unfortunately, most merchant account providers have very poor websites. Filled with misleading advertising gimmicks and lacking any sort of educational information, they frequently tease you with claims of low processing rates, while failing to disclose any of the actual rates or fees you’ll be paying. You’ll know that you’re dealing with a good, ethical company if their website includes some (or all) of the following features:

  • Full disclosure of processing rates and all monthly and annual account fees
  • Educational articles that discuss the details of credit card processing
  • A detailed knowledge base for customer self-service
  • Clear options for contacting customer service (telephone, email, and chat)
  • No misleading low rate claims or “lowest rate guarantee” gimmicks
  • Positive testimonials from actual merchants, including full personal and business names

6. Month-to-month contracts

The credit card processing industry has an absolutely horrible (and well-deserved) reputation when it comes to contracts. Signing up for a merchant account typically locks you into a long-term contract, usually for three years. If that wasn’t bad enough, most contracts also include an automatic renewal clause that will extend your contract for an additional year if you don’t take very specific steps to cancel it ahead of time. Most processors will also include an early termination fee in your contract, which serves as a penalty (typically around $495.00) for terminating your contract early. Some of the worst processors will even include a liquidated damages clause in their contracts, which could potentially cost you even more money if you try to get out of your contract.

Naturally, these one-sided contract provisions have generated a huge number of complaints from merchants over the years. Fortunately, the industry is responding in a positive way, albeit very slowly. Most of our highest-rated processors will allow you to sign up for an account on a month-to-month basis. There’s no long-term contract, no early termination fee, and no liquidated damages clause. Given a choice between the two, there’s simply no reason whatsoever to sign up for anything other than a month-to-month account.

7. High-quality customer service and support

Service after the sale is just as important for merchant accounts as it is for anything else – maybe more so. Things can and will go wrong. Credit card terminals will suddenly stop working on a busy day. Mysterious, unexplained charges will show up on your statement. Chargebacks will occur, despite your best efforts to prevent them. For all of these and many other possible issues, you’ll want solid customer service and support from your merchant account provider.

For minor issues, self-service should always be an option. Good providers maintain extensive FAQs and knowledge bases on their websites, allowing you to fix a problem on your own. This is particularly handy during non-business hours.

Most processors (even the bad ones) offer support via telephone or email. Chat support through the company’s website is also becoming more common. Telephone support that’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year is ideal. Realize that many companies offering 24/7 telephone support outsource that function, so you might end up talking to someone who may or may not be able to resolve your problem. Some companies will assign you a dedicated account representative, which is about the most personalized support you can hope for.

Final Thoughts

It’s 2016, and it seems like today just about everyone’s an entrepreneur in one way or another. More people are opening their own businesses than ever before, either as a side gig or a full-time occupation. The advent of eCommerce and low-cost processing options like Square make it easier than ever to start up a business. Whether you’re taking the plunge for the first time or you have many years of experience running a business, selecting the best possible merchant account provider is a critically important decision that can have a real impact on how well your business does.

If you’re just starting out, or your business is never going to be anything more than a side gig, you might not need a full-service merchant account. Low-cost providers such as Square will allow you to process credit cards without having to pay for many of the bells and whistles that come with a true merchant account. At the same time, you won’t have a unique merchant ID number for your account, increasing your risk for account freezes and terminations. Square also doesn’t provide much in the way of customer service, although they are getting better. Larger businesses will definitely need a full-service merchant account for the security features and robust customer service that come with it.

What if your business falls in the high risk category? If you’re a high-risk merchant, your options are more limited and you might not be approved for an account by some of our top-rated processors. Many of the processors that will give you an account will charge you higher rates and fees than the industry average. For a good processor that specializes in high-risk merchants and offers fairly-priced accounts, we recommend Durango Merchant Services.

Despite all the unscrupulous practices in the processing industry, there are some good companies out there that offer high-quality service at a fair, reasonable cost. For a side-by-side comparison of our top-rated processors, see our Merchant Account Comparison Chart. For a more detailed look at the features and benefits of each company, check out this article.

The post The Top 7 Things to Look for in a Merchant Account appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Worst Credit Card Terminal Leasing Companies

Upset man holding credit card with laptop on background

Unless you’re running a purely eCommerce business, you’re going to need a credit card terminal to accept credit cards. If your business is large enough, or if you operate out of multiple locations, you might need more than one. Credit card terminals come in many shapes and sizes, from simple wired terminals that aren’t much bigger than a smartphone up to fancy POS terminals that can do much more than just process credit card transactions.

Procuring terminals for your business can be an expensive proposition for a first-time small business owner. Because of this, many traditional merchant account providers have used leasing arrangements to supply their merchants with the hardware they need. If you get anything out of this article, above all remember this: Don’t do it! While that low monthly leasing fee might seem like a bargain compared to the cost of buying a terminal, it’s anything but.

How Leasing Works

Almost all terminal leasing contracts contain the same two provisions: (1) a 48-month (four-year) term, and (2) a clause that makes the lease completely non-cancelable. The standard four-year term deliberately takes advantage of the fact that most merchant accounts start with a three-year term, and automatically renew for one-year periods after that. In other words, even if you successfully close your merchant account after the three-year period is up, you’re still on the hook for your terminal lease for another year. You’ll be paying for equipment that you don’t actually own and won’t even be able to use at that point.

The non-cancelable provision in leasing contracts is far and away the most onerous thing about them. Once the leasing company has your bank account information, they’ll keep deducting monthly leasing fees from your account until the contract expires, regardless of the state of your business. Even if you’ve closed your business and shipped the terminals back, they’ll keep charging you under the terms of your lease. Deliberately breaking your lease before it expires puts you on the hook for an immediate payment of all remaining months of your contract.

Those monthly lease payments can seem tempting, especially if you’re trying to start a new business on a shoestring budget. What the sales representatives pushing these leases don’t tell you, however, is that in addition to a monthly leasing fee, you’ll also pay sales tax and a monthly equipment insurance fee. Here’s a hypothetical example: Let’s say you can lease a terminal for “only” $30.00 per month. Add in $5.00 per month for insurance and 8% sales tax, and you’re actually paying $37.80 per month. Multiply that by 48 months, and the true cost of the contract comes out to $1,814.40. Yikes! Considering that a terminal that leases for that amount can usually be purchased outright for under $300, it’s clear that you’re being ripped off.

Myths About Terminal Leases

If terminal leases are such an obvious rip-off, why do merchants sign up for them? There are several reasons for this. For one thing, the leasing companies have a number of arguments in favor of leasing that can be very persuasive if you don’t do your homework. Here’s what they’ll tell you:

Your upfront costs will be lower. Yes, that first month’s payment will be lower than buying a terminal outright. If you need multiple terminals, you’ll save even more – for a few weeks. After that, the costs just keep adding up until they’ve exceeded the cost of buying a terminal by several hundred percent.

Your leased terminal will be compatible with your merchant account. Again, this is true on its face. What they aren’t telling you is that you can buy your own terminal and have it re-programmed by your merchant account provider to work with their system. While some providers will charge you a re-programming fee, many of the better providers will re-program your existing equipment for free. Even if you have to pay a re-programming fee, you’ll still save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over leasing.

Your leased terminal is insured in case it gets damaged or stops working. It’s true that if you buy your terminal outright, you’ll have to find either a way to insure it or go without the insurance. If you buy your terminal directly from your merchant account provider, they might be able to cover this. If you buy your terminal online through a third party, it won’t come with any insurance protection. Here’s the thing, though: credit card terminals aren’t nearly as delicate as many of the other electronic gadgets we rely on every day. They’re rugged, and absent deliberate abuse they’ll last for years – possibly even decades – without needing repairs. Obsolescence is a bigger threat to your terminals than physical damage. Given the horrible reputation that terminal leasing companies have for customer service and support, I wouldn’t expect much help if you actually had to make a claim. Overall, terminal insurance is both expensive and unnecessary.

Leasing costs are tax-deductible. Like any legitimate business expense, you can deduct the cost of your terminal lease on your taxes. Of course, you can also deduct the cost of buying your terminals outright just as easily. Don’t let a sales representative convince you that paying 6-10 times the retail price for a terminal is a good deal because you can write it off on your taxes. You’ll still come out way ahead overall by buying your own terminals.

What Happens at the End of Your Lease?

Here’s the worst part about leasing: At the end of your lease, you still won’t own your terminals. They remain the property of the leasing company. Your options at this point vary depending on which leasing company you’re working with. Here are the more common possibilities.

  • You can terminate your lease and return your terminals. You’ll be out from under your lease, but now you won’t have any way to process credit card transactions.
  • You can buy the terminals from the leasing company. Some companies will let you buy your terminals at the end of your lease, but they’ll usually charge you much more than they’re really They won’t give you any credit for all those lease payments, either.
  • You can continue leasing your equipment. Leasing companies will usually allow you to continue leasing your terminals after your initial four-year lease expires. While some companies will allow you to continue leasing on a month-to-month basis, others will put you on another four-year contract. In either case, it’s just not worth it.

How Do They Get Away with This?

If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably asking yourself why anyone would agree to a terminal lease. Unfortunately, it usually comes down to merchants falling for misleading, high-pressure sales tactics from the representatives pushing the lease. Unethical sales agents will tell you that it’s more economical to lease than to buy. They might also tell you that your merchant account provider only offers leases and that if you buy your own equipment, it won’t be compatible. None of this is true.

Credit card terminals used to be a lot more expensive than they are today. Back then, it might have made at least some economic sense to lease a terminal. Today, thanks to increased competition and advances in technology, you can buy a modern, EMV-compliant, NFC-capable credit card terminal for as little as $120. You’ll still need to have the software load installed to make it compatible with your merchant account, but some of the better merchant account providers will do this for free. Even if you have to pay a re-programming fee, it’s still far less expensive than leasing a terminal.

Some of the more unethical sales agents will deliberately obscure the fact that your merchant account provider and your terminal leasing company are two different entities. This mostly comes down to the fact that they don’t want you to see your leasing contract before you sign it. As we’ll see later, there’s evidence that some of the most unethical leasing companies have gone so far as to deliberately forge merchant’s signatures on their leasing contracts. The best way for you as a merchant to avoid this kind of blatantly illegal conduct is to avoid terminal leases completely.

While there really aren’t any ethical, honest terminal leasing companies that we can recommend to you, we have assembled a rogue’s gallery of the worst companies that you should stay away from. You’re quite likely to run into one or more of these companies in your search for a merchant account, so it’s important that you understand how they operate and how to protect yourself. Here are the companies that you never want to do business with:

First Data Global Leasing (FDGL)

First Data logo

First Data Global Leasing is a subsidiary of mammoth First Data, which is probably the largest merchant account provider in the United States. Although we’ve reviewed First Data favorably, we can’t say the same thing about First Data Global Leasing. With expensive, non-cancelable leases ranging from 24 to 48 months in length, FDGL has generated a huge number of complaints from merchants for its business practices.

FDGL primarily leases proprietary First Data-branded credit card terminals and POS systems, including the very popular Clover Station POS. While First Data’s hardware offerings are all solid products, it’s much more affordable in the long run to buy them rather than leasing them. The Clover Station POS, for example, can be bought for around $1,000.00. While this is a big investment for a small startup business, it’s a lot less than what you’d pay overall for a four-year lease. You’ll also own your equipment outright from the beginning, rather than having to either send it back to FDGL or pay a second time to buy it after your lease expires.

FDGL’s website is remarkably basic, and doesn’t provide much information about either the terms of their leases or the leasing fees associated with their products. They do, however, include a brief FAQ that should be enough to convince you that leasing through them is a terrible deal. Hey, at least they’re honest.

You should also check out First Data’s Merchant Services Terms and Conditions, which includes a copy of the leasing contract. It’s on pages 31-32, and I’ve highlighted some of the most egregious provisions. Because FDGL is part of First Data, you won’t have two separate contracts for your merchant account and your equipment lease. At the same time, it’s easy for merchants to skip reviewing this section when they sign their contract since it’s buried in the middle of 48 pages of fine print.

FDGL doesn’t have a separate profile with the BBB, so you’ll have to look under the main First Data profile. Here, you’ll find that First Data has an A+ rating – despite being unaccredited by the BBB and having over 1,000 complaints on file. Looking through those complaints, it’s apparent that a significant number of them involve issues with FDGL’s leasing terms. Unfortunately, responses from First Data make it very clear that they will strictly enforce the terms of the lease in almost all cases.

Ripoff Report has an additional 72 complaints filed against FDGL, including several merchants alleging that FDGL’s sales agents forged their signatures on leasing contract documents. At ConsumerAffairs.com, you’ll find another 56 1-star reviews from merchants who have been abused by this company. There’s even a Facebook group called First Data Global Leasing Victims, where merchants have posted complaints about FDGL and its leasing contracts.

When shopping around for a merchant account, you need to be aware that First Data has a very extensive network of resellers, some of whom use FDGL to lease their equipment. Merchant account providers such as Elite Pay Global, TransFirst, and many, many others use First Data as their backend processor and offer First Data terminals and Clover POS systems. If you’d like to use First Data’s equipment or take advantage of the services such a large processor can provide, take a look at Dharma Merchant Services. One of our favorite providers, Dharma utilizes First Data (and other processors) but doesn’t partner with FDGL. In fact, they don’t lease terminals at all. They’ll either sell you a terminal at a fair price or re-program your own equipment for a reasonable fee.

Northern Leasing Systems, Inc.

Northern Leasing Systems logo

If you think FDGL is a terrible company, I have bad news: there are even worse leasing companies out there that you need to avoid at all costs. Based in New York City, New York, Northern Leasing Systems, Inc. has been in business since 1991. In that time, the company has managed to build such a terrible reputation with merchants that it’s resorted to doing business under numerous DBAs and through various subsidiaries, including Golden Eagle Leasing LLC, Lease Finance Group LLC, MBF Leasing LLC, Lease Source-LSI, LLC, and others.

Like most terminal leasing companies, Northern Leasing uses a standard contract that runs for four years and is utterly non-cancelable. If you’d like, you can review their Lease Agreement right here. It’s pretty clear from even a brief overview that the contract can’t be canceled and you can’t break it early without having to pay off the remaining months of the contract. So why do merchants ever agree to this? The truth is they often don’t know what they’re getting themselves into when they sign up for a merchant account. Northern Leasing usually doesn’t sell or market their terminal leases directly. Instead, they partner with many different merchant account providers, who package their “services” as part of setting up a new merchant account. Merchants often don’t understand that their lease is through a separate company and not their merchant account provider. Northern Leasing’s contract is buried inside the fine print of a merchant’s contract with their merchant account provider, and many merchants don’t read everything in their contracts before signing them. Also, sales representatives – particularly independent agents – often do a poor job of explaining the terms of the equipment lease when trying to sell a merchant account.

Northern Leasing is not accredited by the BBB and currently has an F rating. There have been an unbelievable 631 complaints filed against the company within the last three years, with 260 complaints being filed within the last twelve months. Even more complaints can be found on the BBB profiles of several of Northern Leasing’s subsidiaries.

On the company’s BBB page, you’ll also find details about a lawsuit filed against Northern Leasing and several of its subsidiaries in April 2016 by the New York Attorney General. The company is accused of fraudulently forging merchant’s signatures on contracts and illegally obtaining default judgments against merchants who have stopped making payments on their leases. The lawsuit seeks compensation for merchants who have been harmed by Northern Leasing’s predatory and illegal practices, and the complete dissolution of the company. If you’ve been victimized by Northern Leasing or one of their subsidiaries, by all means go to the Attorney General’s press release about the lawsuit. It contains websites and phone numbers where you can find out more about the suit and get your claim added to it.

Northern Leasing also has 282 complaints on Ripoff Reports, with the same allegations being raised. You can also find many other complaints on the web. In fact, a search for “Northern Leasing” mostly leads to consumer protection websites where merchants have complained about the company’s business practices.

Unfortunately, many merchant account providers continue to use Northern Leasing to provide leased terminals to their merchants. These providers include Central Payments (CPAY), Elite Pay Global, TransFirst, Velocity Merchant Services, and many others. While many of these providers are solid, reputable companies themselves, you’ll definitely want to avoid leasing your equipment from Northern Leasing.

Lease Finance Group (LFG)

Lease Finance Group logo

Based in Chicago, Illinois, Lease Finance Group (LFG) has been happily ripping off unsuspecting merchants since 1992. The company is actually a subsidiary of Northern Leasing Systems, Inc., and pretty much everything we’ve said about Northern Leasing applies to LFG as well.

LFG claims on their website to be the “#1 Point of Sale (POS) equipment lessor in the country.” Whether it’s actually true or not, this is a dubious distinction at best. LFG utilizes the same absurd non-cancelable four-year leases to charge merchants as much as ten times the actual retail value of their terminals over the life of the lease. It’s clear from LFG’s primitive, bare-bones website that they’re not directly marketing their “services” to merchants. Instead, they’re looking to partner with merchant account providers so they can sneak their awful lease contracts into the overall contract between the merchant account provider and the merchant. This way, merchants often overlook the onerous terms of the lease contract, and in many cases don’t even know that they have a separate contract with LFG at all.

This sort of unethical behavior is compounded by independent sales agents, who often fail to disclose any of the terms of the lease when signing merchants up for an account. Even the most inexperienced merchant would refuse to agree to one of these leasing contracts if they knew and understood what the terms of the lease entailed.

Lease Finance Group is not accredited by the BBB and currently has an F rating. The company currently has 379 complaints, almost all of which involve the absurd terms of their leases and the company’s tendency to continue charging merchants after their leases have expired. There is also an alert for the lawsuit brought in April 2016 by the New York Attorney General against LFG, Northern Leasing, and several of their other DBAs. While this action is still making its way through the courts, it’s encouraging to see that state governments are finally cracking down on this kind of unethical and illegal behavior.

Like its parent company, the internet is littered with complaints against LFG, including 598 complaints on Ripoff Report alone. Unfortunately, LFG is still being used by TransFirst and many other merchant account providers to supply leased equipment to their customers. If you’re looking into a merchant account provider, be sure to read our reviews and any other reviews you can find online. Merchant account providers rarely disclose the identity of their leasing partners on their company websites, and you certainly can’t count on a sales agent to give you an honest answer about this, either.

LADCO Global Leasing Solutions

LADCO Global Leasing Solutions logo

LADCO Global Leasing Solutions is a subsidiary of Elavon, one of the largest merchant account providers in the United States. The company is located in Knoxville, Tennessee (with a second office in Thousand Oaks, California) and appears to have been in business since 1979. While Elavon provides a decent line of products and services for merchants, the same cannot be said about LADCO. Like all our other worst-rated leasing companies, the company relies on noncancelable, four-year leases to extract far more money from their merchants than what their equipment is worth.

Elavon goes out of its way to avoid disclosing its relationship with LADCO, and for a good reason. The leasing company has a terrible reputation among merchants for high prices and unfair leasing contracts. LADCO’s reputation is so bad that it no longer maintains its own company website. The company’s former site, www.ladco.com, now re-directs to Elavon’s website. So much for keeping the relationship between the two entities a secret…

While LADCO and other leasing companies go to great lengths to keep merchants from fully reading their contracts, we’ve found copies of them on the internet. Even a brief look at LADCO’s Equipment Finance Lease Terms reveals how one-sided these contracts are. The first thing you’ll (hopefully) notice is that the word noncancelable is right in the title of the agreement. Merchants often don’t understand just how strictly this term is enforced. What this means is that you are liable for the full cost of all 48 monthly payments (and possibly more) from the moment you sign your merchant account provider contract. LADCO will not let you out of your contract under any circumstances. Did you sell your business? Too bad. Did your business fail and you are shutting down altogether? Again, too bad. I’ve even seen complaints where the business owner has died, and the executor is frantically trying to get the lease canceled and the equipment returned – to no avail.

You should also note that LADCO, like most other leasing companies, provides their equipment on an “as is” basis, with no warranties or guarantees whatsoever. In other words, if your equipment doesn’t work, it’s up to you to contact the manufacturer and get it fixed – which you have to pay for. The fact that your monthly lease payments also include charges for “insurance” that won’t do you any good just makes it that much worse.

LADCO does not have a separate profile with the BBB, but you can find plenty of complaints against them under Elavon’s profile for their Knoxville location. While the profile shows 182 complaints over the last three years, some of them refer to problems with leased equipment and many others refer to other aspects of Elavon’s merchant account services. There are also 132 reports on Ripoff Report alleging similar problems with LADCO.

Like Northern Leasing and its numerous subsidiaries, LADCO has frequently found itself in legal trouble over its business practices. In April 2012, the Ventura County District Attorney’s office settled a case against LADCO’s Thousand Oaks office after uncovering evidence that sales agents were misrepresenting just about everything in their leases, including the length of the lease, the fact that it couldn’t be canceled, and the true cost of the lease. LADCO was also apparently leasing used equipment and misrepresenting it as being new, among other practices. There was also evidence that sales agents were forging merchant’s signatures on their leases. To settle the lawsuit, LADCO agreed to pay over $418,000 in fines and restitution, and to be bound by a permanent injunction prohibiting similar violations of the law. Unfortunately, this settlement only seems to have brought relief to merchants located in Ventura County.

The Elavon BBB profile also discloses a similar legal action by the Tennessee Attorney General in 2015. Under the terms of this settlement, LADCO is providing refunds to affected merchants. Again, this settlement seems only to apply to merchants in Tennessee. Despite these legal settlements, the complaints keep coming in from angry merchants, and it’s clear that LADCO hasn’t reformed its business practices in any significant way in response to these legal setbacks.

Needless to say, if you’re considering signing up with Elavon for a merchant account, you’ll want to avoid being stuck with a terminal lease through LADCO. Be aware that many of Elavon’s re-sellers, including Costco Merchant Services, also use the company to furnish leased equipment. Helcim, one of our favorite providers, uses Elavon as a processor but sells terminals directly rather than offering leases through LADCO.

Exceptions to the Rule

While in almost all cases we recommend that you buy your terminals or POS systems outright, there are two notable exceptions to this general rule. One exception is if you’re working with CDGcommerce, one of our favorite providers. If you need a credit card terminal, CDG will provide one at no upfront cost to you. The only thing you’ll have to pay is an annual $79.00 fee for insurance and equipment upgrades. This works out to $6.58 per month – a fraction of what the leasing companies will charge you. Unlike the terminal leasing companies, your contract with CDG is month-to-month, so you’re free to close your account and return your terminal without having to pay anything extra.

The other exception applies only to Canadian merchants. In Canada, EMV-compliant terminals are not designed to be re-sold, so you’ll have to rent them instead of buying your own. Helcim, our favorite Canadian merchant account provider (and one of the best choices for US-based merchants as well), will rent you a terminal for a reasonable fee. Helcim’s contracts are also month-to-month, so you can return the terminal at any time with no penalty.

Conclusion

It’s not hard to see how the leasing companies make their money. With credit card terminals being more affordable than ever, it’s easy for a company to buy a huge number of terminals at wholesale prices and then lease them out to unsuspecting merchants. The initial cost of buying the terminals is recouped within the first few months of the lease, and from there it’s pure profit. By providing the equipment on an “as is” basis, the company avoids the additional cost of servicing terminals once they’ve been leased. In fact, it’s apparent that none of these companies have an actual customer service department to speak of. The incredibly one-sided nature of the leasing contracts makes them a literal “license to steal.”

How can you protect yourself? First and foremost – buy your own equipment. If you don’t have the money to pay for your terminals, put it on your business credit card or consider a merchant cash advance. Even with the additional interest, you’ll save a lot of money over getting stuck in a lease. Don’t ever let a sales agent tell you that you have to use their leased terminals. As long as you use a terminal that your provider supports, you can have it re-programmed to work with their service. While some providers will re-program your equipment for free, others will charge a fee for this. Re-programming fees can run as high as $150, but they’re usually much less. In any event, you’ll still save money over leasing.

Also, beware of “free” terminal offers. While some of these offers are legitimate, many are not. Yes, there are a few providers out there that will let you use a terminal for free as long as you maintain your merchant account with them. Other providers will include the fee for the terminal in your monthly account fee, so the terminal isn’t really free. In the worst cases, a sales agent will deliberately lie to you and tell you you’re getting a free terminal, when they’ve actually signed you up for one of these leases without your knowledge or consent. Don’t accept a “free” terminal offer without checking it out first.

The unscrupulous business practices of the leasing companies we’ve profiled here represent sociopathic capitalism at its worst. While many of the more reputable merchant account providers have abandoned terminal leases altogether in favor of selling the terminals directly (or allowing you to bring your existing equipment), there are still plenty of other providers who are still pushing terminal leases. It’s reassuring that a few state and local government agencies are finally beginning to crack down on these shady companies, but their actions so far don’t seem to have put much of a dent in their business activities. Until a more comprehensive legal remedy becomes available that puts these companies out of business, the best way to protect yourself is simply to avoid doing business with them completely. If you’ve had any experience with any of the companies we’ve profiled in this article, please feel free to tell us about it in the comment section below.

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