How To Accept Credit Card Payments For Your Small Business

Whether you’ve been in business for a while or are just starting out, you know how important it is to be able to accept credit and debit cards as payment from your customers. Credit card usage has soared over the past twenty years or so, while the use of traditional payment methods such as cash and paper checks has dwindled. Put simply, accepting credit cards will lead to increased sales and happier customers.

Unfortunately, adding credit card acceptance to your suite of business tools is neither easy nor inexpensive. The credit card associations (i.e., MasterCard, Visa, etc.) charge a fee known as interchange every time their cards are used, and you’ll need to sign up with a credit card processor to process your transactions and pay those fees for you. Your processor will, in turn, add a markup to your processing charges to cover their costs, and – in most cases – also charge you a bewildering variety of fees for maintaining your account.

In this article, we’ll provide a brief overview of the requirements you’ll need to meet to set up credit and debit card processing for your small business. There are a huge number of providers out there on the market, all offering different variations on the same basic services that most companies need. We’ll give you a quick and dirty explanation of how credit card processing works, what a merchant account is, and whether you need one to accept credit or debit cards. We’ll explain the various options for taking card payments, including the required hardware and software you’ll need to get started. Finally, we’ll give you some tips to help you avoid having your account suddenly frozen or terminated – a situation you can and should avoid.

If you’re looking for the best credit card processing companies for your business, you should take a look at our favorite payment processor shortlist to get you headed in the right direction.

How Credit Card Processing Works

You don’t need to be familiar with all the intimate details of processing a credit card transaction, but it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of the steps involved and how they go together. A little knowledge of how processing works can help you avoid some of the common problems that can result when a transaction doesn’t go smoothly.

First, you’re going to need a way to accept your customer’s card data. This can be accomplished using either a traditional credit card terminal or a payment gateway in the case of online transactions. Another option is a software service known as a virtual terminal, which turns your computer into a credit card terminal and allows you to either input the card data manually or read it using a compatible card reader.

Once you’ve input your customer’s card data, it’s sent to your provider’s processing system for approval. Your provider’s network will check with the cardholder’s issuing bank to confirm that funds are available to cover the transaction. For debit cards, this is a simple check of the remaining balance on the banking account linked to the card. Credit cards require that the cardholder won’t exceed their available credit if the transaction is approved. The processing networks will also run a few anti-fraud checks to (hopefully) detect a suspicious transaction. If sufficient funds are available and there aren’t any clear indications of fraud, the transaction is approved, and you can complete the sale.

At the end of the day, you’ll upload all completed credit/debit transactions to your processor’s network for processing. This usually occurs automatically if you’re using a payment gateway or a modern credit card terminal. For each transaction, your processor will deduct both the applicable interchange (which is then forwarded to the cardholder’s issuing bank) and their markup. You’ll receive whatever is left over after these fees have been deducted. It usually takes another two to three days for these funds to be transferred back to your bank account.

From our payment processing infographic:

Do You Need A Merchant Account To Accept Credit Cards?

For many years, the only way to accept credit cards was to open a merchant account. At its most basic, a merchant account is simply an account to deposit funds into from processed credit/debit card transactions. Of course, maintaining a merchant account also requires transaction processing services, equipment and software to process the transactions, security features, and numerous other services, depending on the needs of your business. Traditional merchant accounts tend to end up being rather expensive, and merchant services providers often require that you agree to a long-term contract with a hefty early termination fee in case you close your account before the contract expires. As a result, traditional merchant accounts tend to be expensive, especially for a small business that’s trying to minimize their expenses.

In recent years, an alternative has become available that lowers costs for small businesses while still providing most of the essential features available with a full-service merchant account. Payment service providers (PSPs) allow you to accept credit and debit card transactions without a traditional merchant account. PSPs such as Square (see our review) and PayPal (see our review) have revolutionized the processing industry by offering simple, flat-rate pricing, no fees for basic services, and month-to-month billing that eliminates long-term contracts. They’re able to do this by aggregating accounts together, so you won’t have a unique merchant identification number for your business. PSP accounts are easier to set up, but they’re also vulnerable to sudden account freezes or terminations which can make them a risky proposition for businesses that depend on being able to accept cards without interruption.

Cheapest & Easiest Ways To Accept Credit Cards Without A Merchant Account

There are now quite a few well-known PSPs on the market, each one specializing in providing credit card processing services to particular segments of the business community. Here’s a brief overview of each of the most popular options:

Square:

This is the best all-in-one solution for low-volume users, especially those in the retail sector. Square also supports eCommerce businesses, but doesn’t have quite as many features for online enterprises as its competitors. Square features a mobile processing system that uses a new, EMV-compliant card reader, no monthly fees, month-to-month billing, and a simple flat-rate pricing system that’s more affordable for a small business than a traditional merchant account. See our review for complete details.

Shopify:

This is the best option for eCommerce merchants looking to easily set up a fully-featured webstore. While Shopify has better eCommerce tools than Square, it’s also more expensive. Pricing starts at $29.00 per month for the Basic Shopify Plan, with a flat-rate processing fee of 2.9% + $0.30 per online transaction. Billing is month-to-month, but you can receive a discount if you pay for a year (or two) in advance. See our review for more specifics.

 

PayPal:

Easily the oldest and best-known option for online credit card acceptance, PayPal is now available for retail merchants also. While a standard PayPal account comes with no monthly fee, you’ll have to pay $30.00 per month for the PayPal Payments Pro Plan. This upgraded plan includes a virtual terminal and a hosted payments page. PayPal uses a flat-rate pricing plan for processing fees that’s nearly identical to what Square charges. See our review for details about PayPal’s services.

Stripe Payments:

Stripe logo

Very tech-oriented, Stripe only supports eCommerce businesses. They don’t charge any monthly fees and have no long-term contracts. All transactions are processed at a fixed rate of 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. Stripe offers a huge library of APIs that allow you to customize your eCommerce website just about any way you like. However, utilizing these features will require either extensive coding experience or the services of a developer. Check out our full review for more details about what Stripe has to offer.

Braintree Payment Solutions:

Braintree Payment Solutions logo

Another eCommerce-only provider, Braintree is very similar to Stripe in terms of features and pricing. The primary distinction is that, unlike Stripe, Braintree is a direct processor. This translates to increased account stability, which is very important for an online business where credit and debit cards are just about the only forms of payment you can accept. Braintree charges 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction, but doesn’t require a monthly fee or a long-term contract. They also offer a variety of developer tools to help you customize your website any way you like. For more details, check out our complete review.

When & How To Set Up A Merchant Account

With so many low-cost alternatives available, you may be wondering why you would ever consider the added expense and complication of a full-service merchant account. The primary reason that merchant accounts are still alive and well today is that for many businesses the overall cost of a merchant account is actually lower – sometimes much lower – than using a payment services provider. How is this possible? It primarily comes down to processing rates and how your monthly volume and average ticket size affect them. With a full-service merchant account, you can obtain interchange-plus processing rates that are significantly lower than the flat rates charged by PSPs. Providers such as Square (see our review) have to charge an inflated processing rate to pay for all the ancillary services they aren’t charging you for with a monthly fee. A traditional merchant account provider bills for those services separately, so they can afford to offer a lower per-transaction markup.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to determine the point at which it’s more cost-effective to upgrade to a full-service merchant account. The primary factor you’ll want to look at is your monthly processing volume. Your average ticket size is also important, but to a lesser extent. We’ve seen providers recommend merchant accounts for businesses processing anywhere from $1500 to $10,000 per month at a minimum, and sometimes even more. Where to draw the line will ultimately depend on the unique needs of your business, and what options for upgrading are available to you. You’ll want to compare your current processing costs with an estimate based on a quote from a merchant account provider to see which option is cheaper. Be sure to factor in all the hidden costs that come with merchant accounts. You can usually uncover these in the fine print of your proposed contract.

For more, see our complete guide to credit card processing rates and fees.

Account stability is also an important factor. With a PSP, a single unusually high transaction can be enough to have your account suspended or even terminated. For some businesses, particularly eCommerce merchants, this can be catastrophic. While this situation can still happen with a traditional merchant account also, it’s far less likely and you’ll have better access to customer service to get your account working again if it does occur.

Setting up an account with a PSP is usually very easy. Most PSPs have online application forms that you can fill out and submit without ever having to talk to a sales agent. If you need a card reader, your PSP will mail it to you. Account activation is usually also accomplished online.

Traditional merchant accounts are more complicated to set up. You’ll need to contact the sales team at the provider you’re interested in and negotiate the terms of your agreement. There’s also a lot more paperwork, although some providers now offer you the opportunity to complete your merchant application online. Beware that automation can sometimes work against you when setting up a merchant account, as some sales agents are now using tablet devices to get your electronic signature. This practice often locks you into a long-term contract before you’ve had any chance to review your contract terms and conditions. Insist on a paper copy of all contract documents and study them very carefully before you sign anything. For some suggestions on making this process go more smoothly, please see our article How to Negotiate the Perfect Credit Card Processing Deal.

How To Accept In-Store Credit Card Payments

For retail merchants, you’re going to need at least one credit card machine per location. These days, you have a choice between a traditional countertop credit card terminal and a point of sale (POS) system. Countertop terminals can process transactions, but most models offer little or no other functionality. A POS system, on the other hand, can handle things like inventory management, employee scheduling, and a host of other features to help you run your business. Naturally, POS systems cost more than most countertop terminals, although tablet-based systems such as ShopKeep (see our review) are more affordable (and mobile) than a standalone POS terminal.

Whatever type of equipment you decide to purchase, make sure it’s EMV-compatible. EMV (Europay, MasterCard, and Visa) is now the standard method for accepting credit and debit cards in the United States, and since the EMV liability shift in October 2015, you can be held responsible for a fraudulent transaction if you accept an EMV-enabled card using the magstripe instead of the chip. EMV-compatible terminals are widely available and less expensive than ever. With most customers now carrying EMV cards, there’s really no good reason to continue using a magstripe-only card reader.

If you want the latest and greatest in card acceptance technology, it’s pretty easy to find a terminal or POS system that accepts NFC-based payment methods. NFC stands for near-field communications, and it’s found on payment systems such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay. NFC technology is built into most modern smartphones, tablets, and even smartwatches. While it hasn’t seen widespread adoption by the general public yet, it’s gaining in use as more people become aware of its availability and convenience.

Regardless of what type of terminal or POS system you decide to get for your business, we highly encourage you to buy your equipment outright rather than signing up for a lease. Equipment leasing is still being pushed by sales agents, who cite misleading arguments about the low up-front cost and the possibility of writing off the lease payments on your taxes. While these arguments are technically true, they mask the reality that leasing a terminal or POS system will cost you far more in the long run than buying. Equipment leases typically come with four-year contracts that are completely noncancelable. The monthly lease payments will, over the term of the lease, far exceed the cost to simply buy the equipment. Adding insult to injury, you won’t even own your equipment when the lease finally expires. Instead, you’ll either have to continue making monthly lease payments or buy the equipment (often at an inflated price). For more details on why leasing is such a bad idea, see our article Why You Shouldn’t Lease A Credit Card Machine.

How To Accept Credit Card Payments Online

If your business is eCommerce-only, you’ll have it a little easier because you won’t need a credit card terminal or POS system. However, you will need either a payment gateway or at least a virtual terminal to accept payments from your customers. A virtual terminal is simply a software application that turns your computer into a credit card terminal. Mail order and telephone order businesses use them to enter their customers’ credit card data manually. They can also be combined with a card reader (usually USB-connected) to accept card-present transactions. For retail merchants, a virtual terminal can replace a dedicated countertop terminal if you add a card reader. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen many EMV-capable card readers that are compatible with virtual terminals yet.

A payment gateway is a web-based software service that connects your eCommerce website with your processor’s payment networks. Payment gateways allow customers to enter credit card data from wherever they are, as long as they have access to the internet. Most merchant services providers charge a monthly fee (usually around $25.00) for the use of a payment gateway. You might also have to pay an additional $0.05 – $0.10 per transaction for the use of the gateway in some cases. Authorize.Net (see our review) is one of the most popular payment gateway providers, but there are many others today as well. Many of the larger processors now offer their own proprietary gateways that include the same security and ease-of-use features that you’d find in a more well-known gateway. For more information on payment gateways, see our article The Complete Guide to Online Credit Card Processing With a Payment Gateway.

Depending on how many products you sell on your website and the options you want to give your customers, you may or may not need to use an online shopping cart in conjunction with your payment gateway. Shopping carts allow you to feature products, conduct secure transactions online, and perform a variety of other functions related to running your business. You’ll want to ensure that your chosen shopping cart is compatible with your payment gateway before you set up your site. Most of the popular shopping carts today are compatible with almost all of the more well-known payment gateways. For more information on online shopping carts, see our article Shopping Carts 101: How to Choose a Shopping Cart for Your Business.

How To Accept Credit Card Payments With Your Mobile Phone

When Square (see our review) first introduced their original card reader in 2009, it was revolutionary. For the first time, merchants could accept credit or debit cards using their smartphones or tablets. Square was (and still is) a great choice for very small businesses, startups, and merchants who operate seasonally. Naturally, they’ve spawned a lot of competitors, and today almost all merchant services providers offer some type of mobile payment system.

Visit Square

These systems inevitably include both an app for your smart device and a card reader. Unfortunately, many of the apps are very basic and don’t offer the depth of features that Square does. Card readers have lagged behind current technology, with many providers still offering magstripe-only readers. The current trend among smartphone manufacturers to remove the headphone jack has also caused problems, as most mobile card readers use a plug that fits into the jack to connect to the device. Today, Square and a few other providers now offer upgraded card readers that feature both EMV compatibility and Bluetooth connectivity. These card readers are significantly more expensive than the older models, but they’re still cheaper than a traditional countertop terminal. For businesses that need to accept transactions out in the field, they’re lighter and far less costly than wireless terminals, which usually run at least twice as much as their wired brethren and require a separate wireless data plan. For more information on mobile payment systems, please see our article on why accepting credit cards with your phone is the easiest option.

Can You Accept Credit Card Payments For Free?

Whether you ultimately use a PSP or a traditional merchant account, you’re still going to pay several percent from every sale to cover your processing costs. While there are many ways to get this percentage down to a reasonable level and avoid overpaying, at some point you’re going to ask yourself why you have to pay for processing instead of your customers. After all, they’re the ones who consciously choose to pay with credit and debit cards rather than cash or a paper check. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to transfer this expense to your customers rather than having it come out of your profits?

In fact, there is a way to do this. Transferring the cost of processing onto your customers, also known as surcharging, is allowed in 41 states. However, the practice is currently going through a series of legal challenges that will ultimately either lead to it being banned or expanded into all jurisdictions. With surcharging, your processor will calculate the processing charge when a transaction is submitted for approval and add it to your customer’s bill.

Needless to say, your customers aren’t going to like unexpectedly having a few percentage points added to their bill just for using a credit card. For this reason, surcharging isn’t popular with most merchants, and you’ll usually only encounter it in certain industries where it’s become an accepted practice, such as taxi cabs and busses. For most merchants, it’s much easier to “adjust” your prices to cover your anticipated processing costs rather than passing those costs directly onto your customers. For a more in-depth look at surcharging, check out our article The Truth Behind Free Credit Card Processing.

How To Avoid Account Terminations & Funding Holds

Once you’ve got your merchant account up and running, you’ll naturally want it to be available and fully functional every day. While this isn’t normally a problem, account holds, freezes, and terminations sometimes occur. You’ll want to understand how this happens, and what you can do to prevent it from happening to you.

An account hold usually occurs when a single transaction is held up, and you don’t receive the funds you were expecting. In most cases, your processor’s risk department has flagged the transaction as suspicious, and you won’t get your funds until they can investigate and confirm that the transaction is legitimate. A single transaction that’s for much more money than your average ticket size is most likely to trigger a hold. Fortunately, you should still be able to process other transactions while the matter is being resolved.

This isn’t the case with an account freeze, unfortunately. Your processor can and will freeze your account – preventing you from getting paid for previous transactions or processing new ones – if fraud is suspected that would affect your entire account. While the wait can be excruciating, account freezes are usually temporary unless your processor decides to terminate your account.

As the name implies, an account termination is final. Your account is shut down, and you won’t be able to reopen it. The risk of an account termination is higher with a PSP than a traditional merchant account. Account terminations usually occur when your processor determines that you’ve misrepresented your business and the type of goods you’re selling. It doesn’t matter if this was intentional or just an honest mistake on your part. If your business type is one that usually falls into the high-risk category, save yourself the aggravation and get a high-risk merchant account from a provider who specializes in these kinds of accounts. It will cost you more, but you’ll have a much more stable account. For more information on the various hiccups that can affect your merchant account, please see our article How to Avoid Merchant Account Holds, Freezes, and Terminations.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking that merchant accounts and credit card processing are pretty complicated. You’re right! There’s a lot to know, and unfortunately, there’s also a lot of misinformation out there. The credit card processing industry has a lousy reputation for misleading sales practices, high costs, hidden charges, and long-term contracts that are very difficult to get out of. The main reason that PSPs like Square (see our review) have become so popular is that they offer a simpler, more transparent alternative to traditional merchant account providers, both in terms of costs and contract requirements.

For many businesses, however, Square can actually be more expensive than signing up for a traditional merchant account, even when factoring in the various account fees and the cost of buying processing equipment. While we heartily recommend Square for very small businesses and startups, realize that if your business grows large enough, you’ll eventually want to switch to a full-service merchant account. You’ll enjoy lower costs, improved account stability and (hopefully) better customer support. PayPal is also a great choice for eCommerce businesses that are just starting out. Again, if your business grows large enough, a full-service merchant account with a fully-featured payment gateway will be a better choice.

Note that this article only provides a relatively brief overview of the significant factors that affect credit card processing for small businesses. For more information, please take a look at the other articles we’ve linked to above for a deeper dive into subjects you aren’t already familiar with. For an overview of several highly recommended providers, please see our article The 5 Best Small Business Credit Card Processing Companies. You can also compare several excellent providers side-by-side using our Merchant Account Comparison Chart.

The post How To Accept Credit Card Payments For Your Small Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Loans For Freelance Businesses: Your 13 Best Options

loans for freelancers

Freelancer. The very word evokes freedom (and lances). If you’re a self-employed freelancer, I’m sure I don’t have to lecture you about the perks and drawbacks of running a freelance business. You probably enjoy the independence — the feeling of freedom that comes from choosing your own work assignments and making your own financial choices without a boss looking over your shoulder.

However, you’re probably less than thrilled with the difficulty of getting a small business loan. It’s not easy for any business to qualify for a loan from a big bank these days, but it’s all the more difficult for a freelance business. Most banks see sole proprietors as a lending risk, as you are personally liable for all losses and debts your freelance business incurs. Plus, your entire business is dependent on your good health and ability to work.

For these and other reasons, many freelancers would benefit from exploring alternate means of financing. Thankfully, many different types of financing are available from online lenders. When compared with the big banks, online lenders tend to be somewhat more relaxed in their eligibility requirements. But while you may face fewer hurdles regarding your credit score, annual revenue, and time in business, online lenders usually charge higher interest rates than bank loans. That’s the trade-off you accept in exchange for the convenience and less stringent eligibility barriers of online lenders.

Let’s explore the main categories of financing available to freelance businesses and the top reputable lenders that offer loans within each category. Note that many online lenders offer more than one type of loan, so if I list a lender under a particular loan category, that doesn’t mean they don’t offer other loan products!

Personal Loans

Freelancers will find it difficult to get a business loan, whether from a bank or an online lender. In fact, this goes for most young businesses, freelance or not. Lenders of business loans closely examine your business’s revenue, net income, debt-to-asset ratio, business credit, and collateral, and only the most profitable and well-established businesses tend to qualify.

Personal loans are different. With a personal loan, the lender assesses your credit-worthiness, not that of your freelance business, though you will have to disclose the fact that the loan will go towards supporting your freelance business. However, whether or not you qualify for a personal loan will mainly depend on your personal credit score, credit history, source of income, and debt-to-income ratio. Borrowing amounts are also less than with business loans. Typically, the maximum borrowing amount for personal loans is $35K to $50K.

I’m going to walk you through some of the top online vendors of personal loans. But first, here are some links to articles we’ve done on using personal loans for business expenses.

  • The Merchant’s Guide To Personal Loans For Business
  • Top Personal Loans For Business Compared

Upstart

Borrower requirements:
• Must have a personal credit score of 620 or higher.
• No time in business or revenue requirements.
Visit the Upstart website
Read our Upstart review

Upstart is a great personal lender for the freelancer whose credit might not be stellar. In contrast to the personal lenders who scrutinize your credit score/history and finances to the exclusion of all else, Upstart takes a broader view of your earning potential by considering factors such as your employment history and education. You’ll likely still need decent credit to qualify — your credit score must be 620 or higher — but it’s good to see a lender whose conception of credit-worthiness isn’t quite so exclusionary.

You can borrow a maximum of $50K (in most states) from Upstart — more than with many competitors. As far as Upstart’s terms and fees go, the APR ranges from 7.73% to 29.99%, term lengths are for three or five years, and there’s an origination fee of up to 8%.

Overall, Upstart is a top-rated personal lender with a relatively progressive lending ethos. Check out our full Upstart review and Upstart’s website using the links above.

Lending Club

lending club logo
Borrower requirements:
• Must have a personal credit score of 600 or higher.
• No time in business or revenue requirements.
Visit the Lending Club website
Read our Lending Club review

Founded in 2006, Lending Club was one of the first non-bank online lenders to come upon the scene. They remain one of the most popular online lenders out there, as their rates are competitive and their loans are relatively easy to qualify for. What’s not to like?

For personal loans, Lending Club’s maximum borrowing amount is $40K. The APR ranges from 5.98% to 35.89%, term lengths are for three or five years, and there is an origination fee of 1-6%.

Lending Club has lent money to countless people in its decade-plus in business. To learn more about Lending Club, links to the company’s website and our Lending Club review are posted above.

Prosper

Borrower requirements:
• Must have a personal credit score of 640 or above.
• No time in business or revenue requirements.
Visit the Prosper website
Read our Prosper review

Another pioneer in the online lending industry is Prosper, founded in 2005. As with the previous lenders listed, Prosper offers personal loans you can put towards your freelance business.

Prosper offers fixed-term loans with lengths of three or five years. The company’s APRs range from 5.99% to 35.99%, which includes a closing fee of 0.5% to 4.95%, and the maximum borrowing amount is $35K. You will need a credit score of at least 640, however.

Check out our Prosper review at the link above if you’re intrigued. Afterward, visit Prosper’s website and see what kind of rates you can get compared to the other personal lenders I’ve mentioned.

SoFi

sofi logo
Borrower requirements:
• Must have a personal credit score of 660 or above.
• No time in business or revenue requirements.
Visit the SoFi website
Read our SoFi review

SoFi describes itself as “a new kind of finance company.” Short for “social finance,” SoFi offers free career coaching and financial advising to all members. SoFi’s loans are quite flexible in comparison to the other personal lenders listed here.

SoFi’s maximum borrowing amount of $100K is remarkably high for a personal loan vendor, and term lengths run from three, five, or even seven years. With fixed APRs from 5.49% to 13.49% and no origination fees, SoFi’s flexible personal loans are quite competitively priced indeed. On the other hand, SoFi’s borrower requirements are a bit more stringent than those of the other personal lenders listed here, plus the loans are slower in coming — after you’re approved, it can take up to 30 days for you to get your funds.

Visit the above links to read our SoFi review and check out their website to see what they can offer you. Remember, with lenders, as with life, it pays to comparison shop!

Lines Of Credit

Many online lenders include lines of credit as part of their product offerings. If you own a credit card, you’ll understand the concept of a line of credit loan. You’ll get access to a certain amount of funds, and you can draw upon these funds at any time while paying interest only on what you actually borrow.

Lines of credit actually tend to be less expensive than credit cards. Moreover, the repayment terms usually differ.

I’m going to list some lenders offering business lines of credit, but first, here’s further information about this common loan type.

  • The Merchant’s Guide To Line Of Credit Loans

StreetShares

Borrower requirements:
• Must be in business at least 12 months with a revenue of $25,000 per year (sometimes StreetShares will make exceptions for high-earning businesses at least 6 months old).
• Must have a personal credit score of 620 or above.
Visit the StreetShares website
Read our StreetShares review

StreetShares is an online lender offering lines of credit along with traditional installment loans and contract financing. While StreetShares was founded by veterans and takes pride in catering to the particular needs of veteran-owned business, any business owner can use StreetShares to take out a loan — including freelancers!

Take note of the requirements listed above, as there are revenue/time-in-business requirements to be met. As for the lines of credit themselves, the maximum amount you can borrow is $100K, but the amount of the line of credit you can actually get will depend on your revenue. The more you earn, the more you can borrow. All things considered, StreetShares’s borrower requirements for a business line of credit are not terribly onerous.

The draw term length for a StreetShares line of credit is 3 to 36 months, the APR range is 7% – 39.99%, and there is a draw fee of 2.95% each time you draw from your line.

BlueVine

bluevine logo
Line of credit borrower requirements:
• Must be in business at least 6 months with a revenue of $10,000 per month.
• Must have a personal credit score of 600 or above.
• Lines of credit are not available in all states. See full review for details.
Visit the BlueVine website
Read our BlueVine review

Founded in 2013, BlueVine is an online lender that offers both business lines of credit and invoice factoring (more on that later). Let’s examine their lines of credit.

While the amount you can borrow will depend on your revenue, BlueVine’s maximum borrowing amount is $200K. Term lengths are for 6 or 12 months. APRs range from 15% to 78%, and there is a draw fee of 1.5%.

Along with the borrower requirements listed above, note that BlueVine lines of credit are not available in all 50 states.

Invoice Factoring

Invoice factoring is a way for B2B businesses to maintain a consistent cash flow by selling their invoices, at a discount, to factoring companies in exchange for cash upfront. It’s a way to even out your cash flow when you have clients who take their sweet time paying their invoices.

Invoice factoring has some complexities to it, so if you’re thinking it makes sense for your freelance business, I highly recommend reading our explainer article on the subject.

  • A Basic Introduction To Invoice Factoring

Fundbox

Invoice financing borrower requirements:
• No specific time in business, revenue, or credit score requirements.
Visit the Fundbox website
Read our Fundbox review

Founded in 2013, FundBox offers an invoice financing product called FundBox Credit. Invoice financing is very similar to invoice factoring — the difference to the borrower is that you must make payments on your loan on a weekly basis, not whenever your customer pays their invoice.

Fundbox Credit will hold great appeal to many freelancers due to its relaxed eligibility requirements — you don’t have to meet any time in business, revenue, or credit score threshold! However, you are required to have been using compatible accounting or invoicing software for at least three months, or a compatible bank account for at least six. See our Fundbox review for details.

Fundbox Credit lines are offered up to $100K, the term lengths are 12 or 24 weeks, and there is an advance fee of 0.4% to 0.7% per week when you make your weekly payments.

Riviera Finance

Invoice factoring borrower requirements:
• No specific time in business, revenue, or credit score requirements.
• Best for B2B and B2G businesses.
Visit the Riviera Finance website
Read our Riviera Finance review

Founded all the way back in 1969, Riviera Finance is no newcomer when it comes to invoice factoring. Riviera Finance offers non-recourse factoring, which means you won’t have to repurchase an invoice if a customer goes bankrupt.

While Riviera Finance is a real-world meatspace lender with 20 offices throughout the U.S. and Canada, you can nonetheless apply online to use their services.

Riviera Finance offers contracts that run anywhere from month-to-month to 12 months long, and the credit faculty size runs from $5K a month to a whopping $2 million per month! Check out the links above to learn more about Riviera Finance.

P2P Loans

P2P (peer-to-peer) lending is a lending model employed by many online lenders. Instead of borrowing from a central banking entity, your loan application is instead approved by a banking platform to go live for online bidding, where everyday investors who like the cut of your business’s jib can invest in your business.

Small-time investors can be risk-averse, so freelance businesses with bad credit may have difficulty securing the needed financing. Nonetheless, you’re still more likely to be approved for a P2P loan than a bank loan.

Many online lenders of personal loans and other kinds of loans are P2P lenders. In fact, of the lenders I’ve mentioned thus far, Upstart, Lending Club, Prosper, and StreetShares are all P2P lenders!

Microloans

Microloans are small loans — under $35K but typically in the range of $5K to $10K — offered at low interest rates. Microlenders typically focus on marginalized groups that face difficulties getting a loan elsewhere. As such, they are a solid option for women and minority freelancers seeking smaller loans, though any freelancer can take advantage of the generous terms offered by microlenders.

Kiva U.S.

kiva logo
Borrower requirements:
• No specific time in business, revenue, or credit score requirements.
Visit the Kiva U.S. website
Read our Kiva U.S. review

Kiva U.S. is a remarkable microlender in that not only are there no revenue, credit score, or time-in-business requirements to meet in order to qualify, but Kiva U.S. loans carry no interest or fees whatsoever! Pretty cool, eh?

With Kiva U.S., the only requirement to get a loan is that you run a business and that you put your funding towards your business. You can take out a Kiva U.S. loan for as much as $10K or as little as $25. Yes, that’s 25 dollars. Your APR will be a big fat 0%. Term lengths are for 6 to 36 months.

Does this sound too good to be true? Well, keep in mind that Kiva’s application process is significantly longer than that of other online lenders. The process can take up to two months. For more information, check out our Kiva U.S. review and Kiva U.S.’s website at the links above.

Accion

Borrower requirements:
• Requirements vary based on location — see full review for details.
Visit the Accion website
Read our Accion review

Accion is a nonprofit microlender that also happens to be one of our highest-rated lenders, period. Their reputation, customer service, and financial education programs are all top-notch. While Accion’s loans aren’t “free” like those of Kiva U.S., Accion is an excellent funding option for the freelance business owner.

Borrower requirements vary by location, so you’ll need to visit Accion’s site at the link above to see just what is required of you to get an Accion loan. Credit score requirements vary from 550 to 575, and you must demonstrate that you have sufficient cash flow to repay the loan.

While Accion’s loan offerings vary by U.S. state, you can borrow as little as $300 to as much as $1 million (and yes, it would be a stretch to call that a microloan!). APRs generally range from 7% to 34%, and you may need to put up specific collateral in some situations. Check out our full Accion review above for more details, then head to Accion’s website to see what specific offerings are available in your area.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is an excellent way for freelancers in the creative industries to get funded by those who enjoy their work. Note that while P2P lending is sometimes referred to as debt crowdfunding, the kind of crowdfunding I’m talking about is rewards crowdfunding in which backers support you financially and get exclusive access to your work in return. It’s not technically lending, as you don’t have to pay back your backers!

Of course, running a crowdfunding campaign will require much more of your time and energy than a loan application, so know what you’re getting into. Below is a basic primer on running a crowdfunding campaign. (Note that I mention debt and equity crowdfunding in that article — I’m not focusing on those here.)

  • Crowdfunding For Startups: 8 Tips You Should Know Before Launching

Kickstarter

Campaign requirements:
• Must offer rewards to your backers.
Visit the Kickstarter website
Read our Kickstarter review

Founded in 2009, Kickstarter has become synonymous with crowdfunding. With over $3.6 billion in funding sent to creators and entrepreneurs, Kickstarter is the largest commercially-focused crowdfunding site in existence. If your freelance business is devoted to making creative works, Kickstarter is a great way to raise money for a big project.

Kickstarter requires all crowdfunding campaigns to create something that can be shared with others. There’s no limit to the amount of money you can raise on the platform. Your funding campaign can last for up to 60 days (though Kickstarter recommends 30-day campaigns), and Kickstarter will take 5% of what you raise as a platform fee. An additional 3% + $0.20 per pledge goes to the payment processor.

One thing to keep in mind with Kickstarter is that in order to collect the funds at the end of your campaign period, you must reach or surpass your funding goal. Fail to reach your funding goal, and you get nothing — no soup for you.

Check out our Kickstarter review at the link above if you’re interested, then cruise on over to Kickstarter’s website.

Indiegogo

indiegogo
Campaign requirements:
• Offering rewards to your backers is strongly recommended.
Visit the Indiegogo website
Read our Indiegogo review

Indiegogo is a crowdfunding platform that caters to a similar audience as Kickstarter — creative and tech projects and the backers who love them. Initially founded as a funding engine for independent films, Indiegogo soon expanded their mission, offering crowdfunding for a wide variety of commercial purposes. However, Indiegogo differs from Kickstarter in a few key ways.

While Kickstarter pre-screens campaigns for suitability before letting them campaign, Indiegogo serves all comers — just sign up and get started (though this doesn’t mean there are no rules to abide by). Another difference is that you’re not actually required to offer rewards to your backers. However, as you can imagine, you’re probably not going to raise much money if you offer people nothing, so I don’t recommend doing that!

Another difference with Kickstarter is that when you run an Indiegogo campaign, you can choose to employ the keep-what-you-raise crowdfunding model in which you keep whatever you raise at the conclusion of your campaign regardless of whether you’ve met your funding goal. Indiegogo is more flexible in its terms than Kickstarter.

Fees are largely the same as those of Kickstarter — there’s a 5% platform fee and a 3-5% per pledge payment processing fee. Check out the links above if you’re interested in Indiegogo’s crowdfunding model.

Patreon

patreon
Campaign requirements:
• Must offer rewards to your backers.
• Funding is ongoing on a per-month or per-creation basis.
Visit the Patreon website
Read our Patreon review

Patreon differs fundamentally from Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Instead of campaigning for a fixed period of time for a single project, Patreon lets you crowdfund on an ongoing basis. You can just keep creating on your own time schedule. Your patrons (assuming you attract some!) sign up to support you either on a monthly or per-creation basis. It’s a great way for freelancers to monetize their creative output indefinitely, not just for one specific project.

Patreon is generally more relaxed in the sort of campaigns it allows than Kickstarter or Indiegogo — you can probably get away with producing “edgier” content than with the other two. As for fees, Patreon takes 5% off the top, with payment processing fees coming to approximately 5% as well.

Final Thoughts

Life’s not easy for the freelancer. With all the other challenges you face, securing the funding you need can seem like an insurmountable hurdle. Thankfully, there are many viable funding options out there for the freelance business owner determined to make it work.

Be sure to explore multiple options in your funding quest so you can weigh each option on its relative merits. Now go forth and let your freelance flag fly!

The post Loans For Freelance Businesses: Your 13 Best Options 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.

The post Payment Processing Companies And Services For Small Businesses appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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What Is Payment Processing?

What Is Payment Processing?

Running your own business always works much better when your customers actually pay you for the products and services you provide for them. Paying for purchases has become a lot more complicated in the modern world than it used to be. It wasn’t all that long ago that cash and paper checks were the preferred payment methods, but now consumers increasingly prefer credit or debit cards. Online payments, while commonplace today, have only been available for a little over twenty years. The recent introduction of NFC-based payments, which allow a consumer to make a payment with their smartphone (or smartwatch), adds yet another way for your customers to complete a purchase.

Each of these payment methods requires specific hardware (and, in some cases, software) that you’ll need if you want to support them. The days of just having a cash drawer in your shop are long gone. In this article, we’ll review the various payment methods you’ll want to be able to accept, as well as explain how those payment methods are processed so you can receive your money.

Payment Methods

Customers have a lot more options for paying for purchases today than they did just a few years ago. While cash is still the simplest payment method, it’s fallen out of favor as the use of credit and debit cards has risen. Merchants, of course, prefer to be paid in cash because they don’t need a merchant account to process these transactions, and they receive 100% of the sale price immediately. Paper checks are almost as good, although they require a trip to the bank and there is a significant risk of fraud or having the check “bounce” due to insufficient funds. While some customers prefer to pay in cash or by paper check, they’re a dwindling minority. Most customers today will want to use a credit or debit card, which requires a merchant account and a processor to ensure you receive your payment.

Credit Card Processing

While credit cards have been around for over 100 years, their use has skyrocketed within the past few decades. Although this has also led to a nationwide crisis in consumer credit card debt, it’s also created headaches for merchants who have to set up a merchant account and pay for processing costs. Nonetheless, credit card use has become so prevalent that for most merchants, the additional sales more than make up for the cost of maintaining a merchant account.

While most credit cards are issued by banks, they’re also sponsored by a small number of credit card associations, such as Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express. These entities charge a variety of fees whenever a purchase is made with one of their cards. These fees are collectively known as interchange. When a transaction is processed, the processor will charge you both the interchange and a markup in exchange for its processing service. Unfortunately, interchange rates vary widely based on the type of card used and other factors, and this has made it easier for processors to rake in higher profits by offering merchants “simplified” processing rate plans such as flat-rate or tiered pricing. For this reason, we recommend interchange-plus pricing for most established businesses. This pricing method adds a fixed markup to each transaction, regardless of types. Example: interchange + 0.30% + $0.15 per transaction. While the interchange variable will vary widely with each transaction, the markup that you pay to your processor will always be the same.

In addition to paying processing rates for each transaction, maintaining a merchant account also usually requires the payment of a variety of account fees. These fees are different for every processor, and sometimes even among merchants using the same processor. For a more in-depth discussion of merchant account fees, please see our Complete Guide to Credit Card Processing Rates and Fees.

The advent of interconnected banking and credit card processing networks has drastically sped up the process of purchasing with a credit card. While the transaction approval process is rather complicated, it can be completed within just a few seconds in most cases. Here’s a very simplified explanation: The consumer’s credit card data is submitted to the processing network, which contacts the issuing bank to ensure that sufficient credit is available on the consumer’s account to cover the cost of the purchase. Several anti-fraud checks are also completed, and if no red flags are raised, the transaction is approved. The processor then processes the transaction, paying the interchange to the issuing bank and credit card associations, and keeping the remainder of the processing charge. Only then are funds released to the business owner’s merchant account. Unfortunately, this part of the process takes much longer, as most merchants submit their transactions in a batch at the end of the day. It can take up to several days before funds are deposited into your account.

Debit Card Processing

Paying with a debit card is also increasingly popular with consumers, particularly for small, day-to-day purchases such as groceries and automobile fuel. These transactions are also much easier to process, as the issuing bank doesn’t have to decide as to whether to issue a credit to the consumer to cover the cost of the purchase. As long as there are sufficient funds in the consumer’s bank account, the transaction will usually be approved.

Because there is no need to issue a credit, the overall risk associated with debit card use is significantly lower than it is with credit cards. For this reason, the interchange rates for debit card use are substantially lower as well. One of the reasons we encourage you to avoid tiered pricing plans is that many of the processors that offer these plans charge the same rates for debit card use as they do for credit cards. This can result in you paying significantly more for debit card processing than you should. This issue is also a shortcoming with flat-rate pricing plans offered by providers like Square (see our review). However, the lack of account fees usually associated with these types of processors often outweighs this consideration, especially for small or seasonal businesses.

eCheck (ACH) Payment Processing

Although it’s becoming less common, some consumers still prefer to pay by check whenever possible. Merchants can accept paper checks without the need for an eCheck processing service, and you’ll receive 100% of the sale price. However, you’ll have to make a trip to the bank to cash the check, and it might be rejected due to insufficient funds. There’s also the possibility of losing a paper check.

eCheck processing services eliminate all these problems, but they’re not free. Because not all merchants need them, most providers offer eCheck processing as an optional service, and charge a monthly fee for it (usually $20.00 – $30.00). You’ll also have to pay a small transaction fee for each processed check, but it’s much less than most credit or debit card transactions.

Most eCheck processing services require the use of a check scanner, which scans an electronic copy of the check and submits it to the customer’s bank to confirm the availability of funds. As long as the check won’t bounce, the transaction is approved immediately. Because of the monthly fees associated with most eCheck processing services, we recommend them only to businesses that accept a high volume of paper checks from their customers.

Digital Wallet Acceptance

We’re using the term “digital wallet” here to include payment methods that rely on near-field communication (NFC) technology. NFC-based payment methods utilize small, very short-range radios in both the consumer’s payment device (typically a smartphone or smartwatch) and the merchant’s credit card terminal. Apple Pay and Google Pay are currently the most popular forms of NFC-based payments. This technology has only been on the market for a few years and acceptance has been slow. The use of this payment method is growing, however, and merchants should consider adding it to meet the increasing demand. NFC payment methods are, of course, ultimately tied to the user’s credit or debit card, and these transactions are processed as a regular card transaction without any additional fees or markup. While they’re generally not available to independent merchants, other forms of digital wallet payment, such as Walmart’s proprietary Walmart Pay, use the smartphone’s camera and a QR code scanner to accept payments.

Payment Processing Methods

Credit and debit card transactions will be processed either through a traditional, full-service merchant account or a third-party payment processor like Square (see our review). While eCheck payments also go through your merchant account, they are processed under an Automated Clearing House (ACH) system that’s separate from the one used to process credit/debit cards.

Merchant Account and Payment Gateway

Merchant accounts can be used to accept both card-present and card-not-present transactions. Processing rates for card-not-present transactions are usually higher due to the higher level of risk associated with not having the cardholder’s magstripe or EMV data available. While card-present transactions require a magstripe or EMV terminal, card-not-present transactions can be keyed in manually or processed online using a payment gateway. While eCommerce-only merchants require a gateway to accept payments, retailers don’t need them. However, they’re becoming increasingly popular with retail merchants who want to add an online sales channel or take advantage of their integration with cloud-based reporting or inventory management applications.

Third-Party Payment Processor

Third-party payment processors (also known as payment service providers (PSPs)) offer credit/debit card processing services without a full-service merchant account. These types of payment processors are also known as aggregators, as they combine their merchant’s accounts rather than issue each business a unique merchant identification number. This arrangement eliminates most of the account fees associated with traditional merchant accounts, but also results in an increased risk of account freezes or terminations. Third-party processors generally charge using a simplified flat-rate pricing plan with rates that are higher than those available under interchange-plus pricing. The most well-known PSPs include Square (see our review) and PayPal (see our review).

ACH Payment Processor

As we’ve noted above, eCheck payments go through a separate processing method than credit/debit cards. While it’s possible to have an eCheck-only service without the need for a merchant account, this arrangement won’t be practical for most businesses. eCheck processing is usually offered as an optional service (at additional cost) due to the decreasing use of paper checks by consumers.

Final Thoughts

With so many payment methods to choose from, you’ll have to decide which ones are important to your business. While there are still a handful of cash-only businesses out there, today most retail merchants accept credit and debit cards due to the increased sales generated by offering this payment option. Whether you need a full-service merchant account or a third-party payment processor will depend on the size and nature of your business. Merchants operating seasonally or processing only a few thousand dollars per month can usually save money by signing up with a third-party payment processor. Most other businesses will require a full-service merchant account due to the lower processing costs and increased account security. For a brief overview of our highest-rated merchant account providers, check out our Merchant Account Comparison Chart.

The post What Is Payment Processing? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best American Express Business Credit Cards

American Express is best known for their charge cards. These are cards with no hard credit limit that have to be paid off in total every month. But they don’t represent the full extent of Amex’s product line.

Like its competitors Visa and MasterCard, Amex offers credit cards, on which you can carry a balance from month to month if you so choose (note, you shouldn’t if you can help it). Compared to charge cards, credit cards tend to have lower annual fees and less aggressive rewards programs, although this isn’t always the case. And one particularly nice perk offered to Amex business credit cardholders is the OPEN Savings program.

But which American Express business credit cards are the best? Read on.

American Express Blue Business Plus

If you’re overwhelmed by myriad rewards options provided by business credit cards and your business expenses aren’t concentrated in any one area, you may want to try Amex’s Blue Business Plus card. With 2% back on all purchases up to $50,000 and no annual fee, it’s one of the better cash back business cards on the market.

American Express Blue Business Plus
Annual Fee $0
APR 12.24% – 20.24% variable (0% first 15 months)
Signup Bonus $0
Rewards 2 pts./$1 spent on all purchases up to $50K/yr
1 pt./$1 spent on all purchases after $50K/yr
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The American Express Blue Business Plus is a great first business credit card as it offers both a simplified reward system and no annual fee. In fact, it’s the perfect credit card for businesses that don’t plan to make many charges. (There’s no signup bonus encouraging you to spend a ton of money in the first few months.)

Most cash back credit cards offer a roughly 1.5 pt. return per dollar. Blue Business Plus instead frontloads your rate, giving you a 2 pt. return on your $50,000 worth of purchases per year. This comes at the expense of a subpar 1 pt. rate after you hit that limit. If you anticipate putting more than $50K per year on your business card, you may want to consider a different card (or an additional card).

American Express Blue Business Plus reward points can be redeemed for travel, shopping, or statement credit.

American Express SimplyCash Plus Business Credit Card

Another great option for businesses with modest credit card spending habits is Amex’s SimplyCash Plus Business Credit Card, particularly if you want your rewards in the form of cash back.

American Express SimplyCash Plus Business 
Annual Fee $0
APR 12.24% – 20.29% variable (0% first 9 months)
Signup Bonus $250 statement credit after you spend $5K in first 6 months, and an additional $250 if you spend $10K in the first year
Rewards 5% cash back on wireless telephone services from U.S. providers, 3% cash back on selected category for first 50K/yr
1 pt./$1 spent on all purchases after $50K/yr
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SimplyCash dispenses with a point-based reward system, automatically applying a percentage of your purchases to your account as statement credit instead.

This card had an unusually complex reward system for a cash back program. A 5% cash back reward tier is huge, but it’s limited to hardware, equipment, and services purchased directly from U.S. providers.

You’ll also get 3% back in one of the following categories you choose (you can change this category once per year):

  • Airfare directly purchased from airlines
  • Hotel rooms purchased directly from hotels
  • Car rentals from select rental companies
  • U.S. gas stations
  • U.S. restaurants
  • U.S. purchases in select media
  • U.S. purchases for shipping
  • U.S computer hardware, software, and cloud computing from select providers

Be aware that the 5% and 3% tiers are limited to the first $50K you spend each year, combined. So if you spend $20,000 on the 5% tier and $30,000 on the 3% tier, you’ll have exhausted both tiers for the year. If you think you’ll be charging more than that on a business card each year, you may want a backup card, or another card entirely.

Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card

Moving into cards that cater to more specific business behavior, we have the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express. It provides a very generous reward system for travelers who frequently stay at Starwood or other Marriott brand hotels.

Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card
 
Annual Fee $95/yr ($0 the first year)
APR 16.49% – 20.24% variable
Signup Bonus 25,000 pts. if you spend $3K within first 3 months
Rewards 2 pts./$1 at participating Starwood and Marriott hotels (in addition to points earned as a Starwood Preferred Guest)
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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With a reasonable annual fee and a generous signup bonus, the Starwood Preferred card offers a lot of benefits to cardholders who travel. It’s not quite as flexible as the cards we’ve looked at so far, but if you use it strategically, it can rack up tons of points with no limit. Starpoints can be redeemed at participating hotels and resorts and on flights with participating airlines through the SPG Airline Transfer Program.

Additional perks that come with the card include:

  • Credit toward SPG Elite status (5 nights and 2 stays annually)
  • Unlimited Boingo wi-fi on up to four devices
  • Complimentary premium Internet service at participating SPG hotels
  • Access to the Sheraton Club Lounge
  • Free nights at participating SPG hotels with no blackout dates
  • No foreign transaction fees

If these perks complement your traveling habits, this card is a great choice. Otherwise, its specificity, annual fee, slightly higher rates, and lack of introductory APR may not make it as appetizing.

American Express Platinum Delta Skymiles Credit Card

Airline travel-based rewards are some of the most popular types of credit card rewards programs. American Express partners with Delta for their credit card rewards programs, offering three flavors of the card (Gold, Platinum, and Reserve).

American Express Platinum Delta Skymiles Credit Card
Annual Fee $195/yr
APR 16.49% – 20.49% variable
Signup Bonus 70,000 miles + 10,000 Medallion Qualification miles if you spend $3K within first 3 months, and $100 statement credit if you make a Delta purchase within the first 3 months
Rewards 2 pts./$1 directly spent with Delta
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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Amex’s Platinum Delta card offers a huge signup bonus to businesses that spend $3,000 within the first three months, and an additional $100 in statement credit if you make a purchase directly with Delta.

Additional perks of this card include:

  • Priority boarding
  • First checked bag is free
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 20% statement credit on qualifying in-flight purchases
  • Baggage insurance
  • 1 Companion Airfare certificate each year, rewarded upon card renewal

For the heavy traveler, I believe the Platinum Delta card offers the most value, though prospective cardholders who want to save a little money on their annual fee may want to consider the Gold version. The Reserve version’s premium fee will probably only be justifiable for elite first-class travelers.

Final Thoughts

While they may not be quite as well-known as the iconic Green, Gold, and Platinum charge cards, Amex’s credit cards offer their own suite of appealing rewards programs to customers who want the option of carrying a balance.

Didn’t find what you were looking for here? Check out our comparison guides to business credit cards, charge cards, and personal cards that are good for business expenses.

The post The Best American Express Business Credit Cards appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Business Credit Cards For Travel

It can be really hard to be a road warrior. Frequent business travelers have to constantly endure the hassles of modern travel, including security lines, flight delays, and cramped airline seats, but they do it because it’s necessary to build and maintain client relationships or to further other company goals.

If there’s one tool that can make business travel a lot easier for you and your employees, it’s a small business card. The right small business credit card can offer travelers incredibly valuable benefits. For example, some cards will offer credits towards the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck applications, allowing you to skip the lines at security and immigration. A small business credit card can also grant you priority boarding, a free checked bag, and other airline perks. Finally, small business credit cards can offer you valuable points or miles that can be redeemed for travel rewards by you, your family, or even your employees.

Choosing The Right Small Business Card For Travel

The credit card industry is competitive, and there are many cards targeted at business travelers. To select the right card for your needs, you have to decide which features and benefits will be most valuable to you.

Travelers who are loyal to a particular airline will certainly appreciate the brand specific perks offered by hotel and airline credit cards. However, the reward miles you earn can only be redeemed for flights on that airline and its partners. And unfortunately, airlines have a habit of regularly adjusting their award charts to make their miles less valuable. Likewise, a hotel rewards credit cards can offer benefits such as room upgrades, late checkouts, and even free breakfast. But once again, the rewards you earn can only be used within that hotel chain.

Those who consider themselves “free agents” will often prefer the non-affiliate credit cards. Many of these travel reward cards offer points that can be transferred to airline miles or hotel points with several different programs, or can be used to book travel reservations directly with the card issuer’s designated travel agency.

Co-Branded Business Cards

Credit cards that are co-branded with airlines and hotels can offer the best travel benefits. For example, airline credit cards offer benefits — like priority boarding, free checked bags and credit towards elite status — when you travel on a certain carrier.

 

JetBlue Business Card from Barclaycard
 
Annual Fee $99
APR Variable, 17.24% or 21.24%
Signup Bonus 30,000 points
Rewards 6 pts./$1 spent on JetBlue purchases
2 pts./$1 spent at restaurant and office supply stores
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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JetBlue has attracted a loyal following among business travelers who appreciate its low prices, great service, and strong rewards program. This card offers new applicants 30,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on new purchases within 90 days of account opening. You also earn 6x points on JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and office supply stores and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Rewards don’t expire, and there are no blackout dates with this program.

Benefits include 10% of your points back every time you redeem, and the first bag checked free for yourself and up to three companions. You’ll be given 5,000 bonus miles each year on your account anniversary. You also receive TrueBlue Mosaic elite status when you use your card to spend $50,000 or more in a calendar year and a 50% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases. There’s a $99 annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.

Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card from American Express
Annual Fee $450
APR Variable, 16.99% 25.99%
Signup Bonus 40,000 miles
10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles
Rewards 2 pts./$1 for Delta purchases
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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This card offers several exclusive benefits when flying on Delta. You start with the chance to earn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you make $3,000 in purchases on your new card within three months of account opening. This card also offers you 2x miles on all Delta purchases and one mile per dollar spent elsewhere. The Miles Boost gives you the chance to earn 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 bonus miles after you spend $30,000 within a calendar year, and another 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 bonus miles once you reach a total of $60,000 in spending during the same year.

Other benefits include complimentary Delta SkyClub access, priority boarding, and a 20% savings on in-flight saving purchases. You also receive a companion certificate each year (upon renewal) that’s good for a free companion ticket (not including taxes) on a round-trip flight in economy or business class within the contiguous 48 states. Finally, this card offers you upgrade priority over other travelers with the same Medallion status who aren’t cardholders. There’s a $450 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

United MileagePlus Club Business Card from Chase
Annual Fee $450
APR Variable, 17.24% – 24.24%
Signup Bonus 40,000 miles
Rewards 2 pts./$1 for United purchases
1.5 pts./$1 on all other purchases
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This premium travel rewards card offers both impressive rewards and benefits when traveling on United. New applicants receive a $100 statement credit after their first purchase and earn 2x miles on all United Airlines purchases. But one of the things that makes this card truly remarkable is the 1.5x miles earned on all other purchases — 50% more than you’ll get from any other airline credit card.

This card also comes with a variety of cardholder benefits that are equal to or better than most other airline cards. First, you receive a United Club airport lounge membership that’s valid for yourself and your immediate family, or up to two guests. When traveling, you also receive Premier Access travel services, which includes priority check-in, security screening, boarding and baggage handling. You’ll get two free checked bags for yourself and a traveling companion, as well as expanded award availability, a waiver of close-in award booking fees on United tickets, and the ability to receive Premier upgrades on award tickets.

Other travel benefits include Discoverist Status with Hyatt and President’s Circle Elite status with Hertz car rentals. There’s a $450 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®
Annual Fee $95 ($0 the first year)
APR Variable, 16.99% – 24.99%
Signup Bonus 60,000 miles
Rewards 2 pts./$1 for American Airlines purchases, gas stations, and some phone and car rental services
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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This small business card offers strong benefits when traveling on American Airlines. You start with the chance to earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within three months of account opening. You also earn 2x miles on all American Airlines purchases and one mile per dollar spent elsewhere.

Benefits include preferred boarding, a free checked bag, and a companion certificate each year when you use your card to spend $30,000 or more. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card (waived the first year) and no foreign transaction fees.

Starwood Preferred Guest Business Card from American Express
 
Annual Fee $95 ($0 the first year)
APR Variable, 16.49% 20.49%
Signup Bonus 25,000 points
Rewards 5 pts./$1 spent at eligible SPG hotels
2 pts./$1 spent at eligible Marriott hotels
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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This small business card has a loyal following among award travel enthusiasts, primarily due to the strength of the Starwood Preferred Guest program. New cardholders can earn 25,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening. This card offers up to five points per dollar spent at Starwood hotels, 2x points at participating Marriott Rewards hotels, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere.

Points can be redeemed for free nights at Starwood and Marriott Rewards properties or can be converted to miles with over 30 different frequent flyer programs. When you redeem four consecutive award nights, you get the fifth night free, and if you transfer 20,000 points to miles, you get a 5,000-mile bonus. Other benefits include free access to the Sheraton Club lounges and a chance to earn Gold Elite status by spending $30,000 on your card in a calendar year. There’s a $95 annual fee (waived the first year) and no foreign transaction fees.

Hilton Honors American Express Business card
 
Annual Fee $95
APR Variable, 16.99% – 25.99%
Signup Bonus 100,000 points
Rewards 12 pts./$1 spent at Hilton hotels and resorts
6 pts./$1 spent on gas stations, wireless phone services, shipping, restaurants, flights booked via AmexTravel.com, and car rentals
3 pts./$1 on all other purchases
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This card offers up to 100,000 Hilton Honors points as a sign-up bonus, and complimentary Gold status. New accounts can earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within three months of account opening, and another 25,000 points after spending an additional $1,000 within the first six months. You also earn 12x points for purchases from Hilton hotels and resorts, and 6x points for purchases at US gas stations, on wireless telephone services from US service providers, and on US purchases for shipping. You also earn 6x points at US restaurants, on flights booked through AmexTravel.com, and on rental cars booked directly from select rental car companies.

Benefits include complimentary Gold elite status (room upgrades, points bonuses, and even free breakfast at some properties). You can upgrade to Diamond status after using your card to spend $40,000 in a calendar year. You also get a free weekend night reward when you spend $15,000 on your card during a calendar year, and a second weekend night reward when you reach 60,000 in purchases within the same calendar year. You’ll receive 10 free Priority Pass airport lounge visits valid at over 1,000 locations around the world. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card (waived the first year) and no foreign transaction fees.

Unaffiliated Business Cards

Credit cards that aren’t affiliated with specific travel providers offer much more flexible travel rewards and benefits, while lacking perks with specific airlines and hotels.

Ink Preferred Card from Chase
Annual Fee $95
APR Variable, 17.24% – 22.24%
Signup Bonus 80,000 points
Rewards 3 pts./$1 for travel; shipping; internet, cable, and phone; and social media and search engine advertising (up to $150,000 per year)
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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This card offers you valuable Ultimate Rewards points and numerous cardholder benefits. New accounts can earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. You also earn 3x points on your first $150,000 spent each account anniversary year in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, and on advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines. You also earn one point per dollar spent elsewhere.

Points are earned in Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program and can be redeemed for 1.25 cents towards travel reservations booked through Chase. Or, you can convert your points to miles with nine different airline programs or points with four different hotel programs. Other benefits include trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, cell phone protection, purchase protection and extended warranty coverage. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.

American Express Business Platinum
 
Annual Fee $450
APR Charge card, no interest
Signup Bonus 75,000 points
Rewards 5 pts./$1 spent on flights and prepaid hotels booked via AmexTravel.com
1.5 pts./$1 spent on purchases of $5,000 or more
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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The business version of American Express’s premium rewards card offers many valuable cardholder benefits. New applicants receive up to 75,000 bonus points, including 50,000 points after spending $10,000 within three months of account opening and another $25,000 points after spending an additional $10,000 during the same three month period. You also earn one point per dollar spent on all purchases, with a 50% bonus on purchases greater than $5,000. Points can be redeemed for travel reservations with a 35% bonus on airline reservations. You can also convert your points to miles with 16 different frequent flyer programs.

Benefits include a $200 annual airline fee credit and a $100 credit towards the application fee for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck applications. You also receive access to the Delta SkyClubs lounges, Priority Pass Select lounges, and American Express Centurion lounges. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.

American Express Blue Business Plus
Annual Fee $0
APR Variable, 12.49% – 20.49% (0% APR for the first 15 months)
Signup Bonus None
Rewards 2 pts./$1 spent on all purchases (up to $50,000 per year)
1 pt./$1 on purchases after $50,000
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This is a simple card that substitutes superior rewards for other cardholder benefits. You earn 2x rewards on all purchases up to $50,000 per calendar year. Points are earned in the same Membership Rewards program that the Platinum card offers, but this card has no annual fee. It still comes with cardholder benefits such as extended warranty coverage and a purchase protection plan. However, it does have a 2.7% foreign transaction fee.

Spark Miles Card from Capital One
Annual Fee $95 ($0 the first year)
APR Variable, 18.24%
Signup Bonus 50,000 miles
Rewards 2 miles/$1 on all eligible purchases
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This is a straightforward travel rewards card, offering miles you can redeem for any travel reservation. New accounts receive 50,000 bonus miles, worth $500 in travel, once you spend $4,500 on new purchases within three months of account opening. You earn 2x miles on every purchase, with no limits. To redeem your miles, simply purchase travel the way you normally would, and then use your miles for one cent each as statement credits.

Benefits include purchase protection and extended warranty coverage as well as numerous travel and shopping discounts offered by the Visa Signature program. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card (waived the first year) and no foreign transaction fees.

The post The Best Business Credit Cards For Travel appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Should You Pay For Business Expenses With A Line Of Credit Or A Credit Card?

Two worried friends having problems buying on line with credit card and a laptop sitting on a couch in the living room at home
Credit cards and lines of credit share many characteristics. You may even be wondering how they differ at all, and whether it’s better to make your business purchases with one or the other.

In fact, there are a few key differences that can help you determine when to use one or the other.

Similarities Between Lines Of Credit & Credit Cards

Credit cards are technically revolving lines of credit, though they aren’t often called that. As you pay off your balance, that credit becomes available to use again.

Beyond that, both credit cards and lines of credit accrue interest on any outstanding debt.

Differences Between Lines Of Credit & Credit Cards

The most obvious difference is that not all lines of credit are “revolving.” When a bank extends you a line of credit, it may be a one time offer. Usually, when a financial institution extends a non-revolving line of credit it’s to cover a specific expense the borrower is seeking to fund. Unlike a loan, a line of credit gives the borrower some extra flexibility to negotiate with vendors.

The differences between revolving lines of credit and credit cards are a bit more subtle. For starters, a line of credit often comes with more fees than does a credit card. You may, for example, have to pay a monthly or annual fee to keep your line of credit open. While some credit cards (particularly business credit cards) do come with annual fees, it’s not hard to find ones that don’t. Some lines of credit will also charge a fee every time you make a withdrawal.

Though it will vary from case to case, you can also generally get a higher credit limit through a line of credit than with a credit card. Both credit cards and lines of credit come in secured and unsecured forms, though with credit cards you’ll only want to go the secured route if poor credit keeps you from qualifying for a traditional card.

Since lines of credit can be secured by assets, it’s not unusual to see better interest rates there than with credit cards.

Note that it’s a lot easier to get a credit card than a line of credit, although getting an elite credit card can be challenging in its own right.

When To Use A Credit Card

The biggest difference between a line of credit and a credit card is convenience. Credit cards are designed to make retail purchases easy. Most businesses these days are equipped to swipe your card (or read your chip) at the point of sale. With some rare exceptions, it’s not easy to apply for a loan at the time of purchase.

Credit cards are also more ubiquitous in this card-driven online market. Chances are you’ve regularly used your credit card on Amazon, to pay your cell phone bill, or make a security deposit. It’s just as easy to use your credit card for common expenses. In fact, credit card companies try to encourage you to do so through reward programs. The terms of these programs vary, but essentially they all return a small percentage of the money you spend in the form of statement credit, cash, gift certificates, or other products.

Another perk you’ll see with credit cards that you won’t often get with lines of credit are introductory offers like 0% APRs. If your card is still within that introductory window and you expect you’ll be paying your bill off over the course of several months, the credit card is a clear winner.

When To Use A Line Of Credit

At this point, it may look like credit cards have a clear advantage over lines of credit. Not so fast.

One thing credit cards are really inefficient at is cash transactions. Most credit cards will only let you cash advance a fraction of your total limits. Even then you’ll usually incur very high-interest fees on that cash.

Lines of credit, on the other hand, are convenient whenever you need to produce a good chunk of cash on short notice. You won’t incur premium fees for withdrawing that money and you won’t be limited to only a fraction of your credit limit.

A line of credit’s lower interest rates may also make it preferable when we’re talking about big ticket items you can’t pay off quickly. If you’re using your credit card optimally, you shouldn’t be paying any interest on it at all; you’ll be paying it off in full each month. If you can’t do that, a line of credit may often be cheaper over the long run and have a more structured repayment scheme than a credit card.

Final Thoughts

Credit cards and lines of credit can both provide additional financial heft for your business. Knowing when to use each one could make the difference between convenience and unnecessary debt for your business.

Check out our comparison features if you need help finding a credit card or a line of credit.

The post Should You Pay For Business Expenses With A Line Of Credit Or A Credit Card? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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A Guide To Using Personal Credit Cards For Business Expenses

personal credit cards

It may seem most natural to use a business credit card when you’re making purchases on behalf of a business — whether it’s your business or you’re an employee — but there’s a good case to be made for using personal credit cards to cover business expenses instead.

For one thing, the CARD Act of 2009 provides a number of legal protections to users of personal credit cards — legal protections that don’t apply to business card users. If you use a personal card, you can’t have your introductory APR revoked before six months have passed, nor can you be charged excessive fees for minor infractions. You also can’t have your APR raised without first having 45 days’ notice of the change. While business card issuers often extend these protections to consumers as a courtesy, this isn’t a universal practice.

You might also find that the rewards programs associated with personal credit cards fit your spending patterns more closely than the incentive programs of business card issuers. Whatever the reason, using a personal credit card to cover business purchases is a common practice, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. However, that’s not to say there aren’t any pitfalls to avoid.

Here are some tips for using personal credit cards to cover business expenses.

Use A Separate Card For Business

One thing you’ll want to avoid is comingling business and personal expenses. A good way to avoid this is to use a separate credit card for your business purchases, even if that card is a personal card. This way, you won’t have to go through all your purchases one-by-one on your existing personal card to determine which purchases were business-related and which weren’t.

Keeping your business purchases exclusively confined to one card is helpful in a number of ways. If you’re an employee, you’ll be able to report your business expenditures more easily. And regardless of whether you’re an employee or the owner of a business, confining your business purchases to one separate card will make dealing with the IRS less painful in the event of an audit. If you charge business and personal expenses on the same card, you may have a harder time proving to the IRS that your business charges really were business charges.

Don’t Use Your Debit Card

Even if you don’t get a separate card for business use, whatever you do, don’t make business purchases on your debit card. Doing so is a good way to get a hold placed on your own money.

Entities like hotels and rental car agencies will typically place a hold on your card — often for hundreds of dollars. In this way, work-related purchases can end up sapping your personal funds. Don’t do it!

Be Wary Of Affecting Your Personal Credit Score

Even if you use a separate personal credit card for all your business-related expenses, know that you can negatively impact your personal credit score with your business purchases. If you charge a large business purchase to your card, your credit utilization ratio will be affected until you get reimbursed (your credit utilization ratio is the amount of debt you have vs. the amount of your credit limit).

For this reason, if you’re applying for a loan of some kind, you might want to avoid doing so while you have a large as-yet-unreimbursed business expense on your card. If you do, you may well end up paying a higher interest rate on your loan.

Pay Off Your Card As Soon As You’re Reimbursed

A recent report from CareerBuilder found that 78% of full-time workers in the US live paycheck-to-paycheck. With this as our grim reality, it’s no wonder that many workers are tempted to use their reimbursement funds to pay other bills. However, you should really avoid doing this if at all possible.

If you don’t pay down your card with your full reimbursement amount, you’ll be paying interest on a purchase that wasn’t even for you. Unless doing so would make you homeless, pay off that card as soon as you get that reimbursement check. Otherwise, you’re just throwing money away in the form of interest payments.

Record Everything

A good way to both streamline the reimbursement process and satisfy the IRS in the event of an audit is to be fastidious about record-keeping. Use a smartphone app to save pictures of receipts from all your business purchases, along with pictures of the reimbursement checks you receive (or screenshots of the direct deposit).

You may even want to jot down additional information on your business receipts before archiving them, such as those who were with you and the date/time of the transaction. Generally, the more information you can provide about your business purchases, the better — whether it be to the IRS, or if you’re an employee, to your boss.

Pick The Personal Card That Fits Your Business Spending Profile

Naturally, when you’re considering which credit card to use for business expenses, you’ll be comparing interest rates and fees as you seek the best deal. However, don’t forget to compare the rewards programs of the personal cards you’re considering as well.

The nature of your business will determine the sort of items and services you’ll be charging to your new card, so be sure to choose a card with rewards that align with your anticipated business expenses.

Use It Or Lose It

If you get a personal credit card to use for business expenses, make sure to actually use it. If you go for a long period of time without charging anything to the card, your credit card issuer might shut down your account due to inactivity. This can negatively impact your credit score.

Try To Get Reimbursed As Soon As Possible

If you’ve ever been in a company where you’re expected to cover business expenses, you know how frustrating it can be when your reimbursement doesn’t come in a timely manner. It obviously impacts the amount of credit you have available, and — as I’ve discussed — can affect your credit utilization ratio as well.

Try to ensure that your company’s reimbursement policies are reasonable before agreeing to make business purchases on behalf of the company. And if your reimbursement is delayed and you have to pay finance charges as a result, insist on being reimbursed for that as well. No employee should be made to suffer negative consequences as a result of a company’s lackadaisical reimbursement practices.

Final Thoughts

For both business owners and employees, it’s perfectly reasonable to use a personal credit card to cover business expenses. By following these rules of thumb, you can avoid taking a personal financial hit when charging business expenses to your personal credit card.

The post A Guide To Using Personal Credit Cards For Business Expenses appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Cash Back Business Credit Cards

A business credit card is an incredibly valuable tool for small companies. It allows you to keep your business spending separate from your personal charges, and to extend purchasing power to your employees. Furthermore, the right small business credit card can offer you valuable rewards in the form of points, miles, or cash back.

The ability to earn points and miles has its benefits, but many business people still prefer to receive cash back rewards from their credit card. Cash back can be used for anything and is never subject to the whims of the airlines and hotels, which frequently change the terms and conditions of their loyalty programs to make points and miles less valuable. And with cash back cards becoming increasingly competitive, now is the time to look for a card that can offer you the most rewards for your business spending.

Which Kind Of Cash Back Card Should You Choose?

Cash back cards for small businesses can be divided into two different categories. First, there are the cards that offer a single rate of return on all purchases, typically between 1% and 2%. Then there are the small business cards that offer bonus cash back on specific qualifying purchases while earning just 1% on everything else. To make this more complicated, many cards restrict the total dollar amount of purchases each year that qualify for the bonus, and you’ll earn just 1% back on all subsequent purchases. These limits can be imposed based on the calendar year or the cardmember year.

Here’s a list of the best cash back business credit cards. First, we’ll look at the ones that offer strong rewards on everything you buy, followed by those that feature bonus rewards on some purchases.

Cards That Offer The Same Cash Back Rewards On All Purchases

Some small business owners are content to use the same cash back rewards credit card for all purchases and want to earn the highest rate of return they can without having to worry about bonuses. In the past, it was common for small business cards to offer a mere 1% cash back on all purchases, but that is no longer considered to be a competitive rate of return.

Today, the best small business cash back cards that offer the same rewards on all purchases will give you at least 1.5% cash back. Some of these cards will do so with no annual fee, but you should expect to pay more for cards that offer higher returns. It also makes sense to look at the benefits offered by these cards, as well as other possible fees, such as those for foreign transactions.

Capital One Spark Cash

Capital One Spark Cash
capital one spark cash select
Annual Fee $95 ($0 the first year)
APR Variable, 18.24%
Signup Bonus $500 cash back
Rewards 2% cash back on all eligible purchases
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Capital One offers a full line of small business credit cards under its Spark brand, which includes cards that offer points towards travel or cash back. The Capital One Spark Cash small business card offers you 2% cash back on all purchases, with no limits. New cardholders can also earn $500 in cash back after using their card to spend $450 within three months of account opening, one of the best cash back sign-up bonuses offered anywhere. Other benefits include free employee cards as well as quarterly and annual spending reports. Your purchases are also covered by damage and theft protection policies for their first 90 days, and an extended warranty that can add one year to your manufacturer’s warranty.

As part of the Visa Signature program, the Capital One Spark Cash also offers a range of travel and shopping benefits and discounts. For example, you can receive a third night free and premium benefits at luxury hotels around the world as part of the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel collection. The $95 annual fee for this card is waived the first year, and as with all Capital One cards, there are never any foreign transaction fees.

Capital One Spark Cash Select

Capital One Spark Cash Select
capital one spark cash select
Annual Fee $0
APR Variable, 14.24% – 22.24% (0% introductory APR for the first 9 months)
Signup Bonus $200 cash back
Rewards 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases
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This card is very similar to the standard Capital One Spark card, but it offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases with no annual fee. Therefore, this card makes the most sense for those who have more modest spending requirements that don’t justify the annual fee of the standard Spark Cash card.

With this version, new cardholders can earn a $200 cash bonus when they spend $3,000 on their card within three months of account opening. It includes many of the same benefits as the standard Spark Cash card, such as purchase protection and extended warranty coverage. It’s even part of the Visa Signature program, which is rare for a card with no annual fee.

The Plum Card From American Express

The Plum Card from American Express
Annual Fee $250 ($0 for the first year)
APR No APR — charge card
Signup Bonus None
Rewards 1.5% discount when you pay early
60 days to pay purchases that you put on your card
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This small business card offers you cash back in a unique way. First, the Plum Card from American Express is a charge card, not a credit card, so you are required to pay your entire statement balance in full, every month. But when you make your payment within 10 days of your statement closing, you’ll receive 1.5% cash back on all of your purchases. Alternatively, you can take up to 60 days to pay your balance, but without receiving any cash back. This card makes sense for small business owners who may prefer to earn rewards some months and help manage their cash flow and extend payment at other times.

New applicants can earn up to $600 in cash back, but with a large minimum spending requirement. You will earn a $200 statement credit after each $10,000 you spend on the card, up to $30,000, within the first three months of opening your account.

Other benefits include extended warranty coverage and a purchase protection program. The card also comes with an account manager feature that lets you delegate a trusted individual that can manage your business card.

American Express small business cards participate in the OPEN Savings program, which offers discounts on purchases from FedEx Express and FedEx Ground, Hertz®, HP.com, and others. The $250 annual fee is waived the first year, and there are no foreign transaction fees.

Wells Fargo Business Platinum Credit Card

Wells Fargo Business Platinum
Annual Fee $0
APR Variable, 12.49% – 22.49% (0% introductory APR for the first 9 months)
Signup Bonus $500 cash back
Rewards 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases
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This card features 1.5% cash back on all purchases and has no annual fee. New accounts can earn $500 in bonus cash back after spending $5,000 within three months. Cash back can be applied automatically as a credit to your account or deposited to your eligible checking or savings account each quarter. Or, you can receive your rewards in the form of points that can be redeemed for merchandise, gift cards, or airline tickets, with a 10% bonus when you redeem your points online.

This card also features cash management tools and spending reports that are available online. There’s no annual fee, and you can add up to 99 additional employee cards at no extra cost. There are also no foreign transaction fees.

Cards That Offer Bonus Cash Back Rewards On Some Purchases

When you have a small business rewards card that offers you the same amount of cash back for all purchases, the most you can possibly get is 2%. But when your small business card offers you bonus rewards for buying certain items, it’s possible to earn as much as 5% cash back on some of the purchases you make the most. As a trade-off, you’ll only earn 1% cash back on all purchases that don’t qualify for a bonus.

Other factors you should consider when choosing one of these reward cards are which purchases will qualify for the bonus and any annual maximums on eligible rewards. For example, some credit cards will offer bonuses that are limited to qualifying purchases in the United States only, while others don’t have any restrictions transactions made in other countries. Furthermore, many of the most generous bonuses come with annual limits, after which you’ll only receive 1% cash back. These limits can be relatively large, such as $250,000 in annual purchases, or they can be limited to as little as $25,000 in qualifying purchases each year. 

Costco Anywhere Visa® Business Card By Citi

Costco Anywhere Visa® Business Card By Citi
Annual Fee $0 (but must have a Costco membership)
APR Variable, 16.49% (0% introductory APR for the first 7 months)
Signup Bonus None
Rewards 4% cash back at gas stations (max $7,000 per year)
3% cash back on restaurants and travel
2% cash back on purchases from Costco in-store and online
1% cash back on all other purchases
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Costco stores are known for their low prices on bulk goods, and this model also appeals to small business owners. The Costco Anywhere Visa® Business Card from Citi is one of the strongest cash back small business cards that offers bonuses on many purchases. With this card, you can earn 4% cash back on your first $7,000 spent each year on gas purchases, including those from Costco, and 1% after that. You also earn 3% cash back on all restaurant and travel purchases worldwide, 2% cash back from all Costco purchases and 1% cash back everywhere else.

This card includes damage and theft protection that covers your eligible purchases for 120 days (90 days for New York residents) as well as an extended warranty policy that can add a year to your manufacturer’s warranty. You also receive worldwide auto rental insurance, travel accident insurance and access to a travel and emergency assistance hotline. There’s no annual fee for this card with your paid Costco membership and no foreign transaction fees.

Simplycash Plus from American Express

Simplycash Plus from American Express
Annual Fee $0
APR Variable, 13.49% – 20.49% (0% introductory APR for the first 9 months)
Signup Bonus None
Rewards 5% cash back on office supply stores and wireless telephone services (up to $50,000 per year)
3% cash back on a category of your choosing – see below (up to $50,000 per year)
1% cash back on all other purchases
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This small business card offers a high level of bonus rewards on some of your most frequent business purchases, and with no annual fee. You’ll get 5% cash back at US office supply stores and on wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service providers. You can also receive 3% cash back on the category of your choice from a list of select categories, including:

  • Airfare purchased directly from airlines
  • Hotel rooms purchased directly from hotels
  • Car rentals purchased from select car rental companies
  • US gas stations
  • US restaurants
  • US purchases for advertising in select media
  • US purchases for shipping
  • US computer hardware, software, and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers.

The 5% and 3% cash back offers only apply to your first $50,000 in purchases each calendar year, and you’ll earn 1% thereafter. Note that the cash back earned is automatically credited to your statement each month.

This card also includes 9 months of interest-free financing on new purchases before the standard interest rate applies. Other benefits include a roadside assistance plan, a baggage insurance policy, and car rental insurance. Your purchases will be covered by an extended warranty policy as well as a damage and theft protection plan. There’s no annual fee for this card, but there is a 2.7% foreign transaction fee imposed on all charges processed outside of the United States.

Ink Business Preferred Card From Chase

Ink Business Preferred from Chase
Annual Fee $95
APR Variable, 17.24% – 22.24%
Signup Bonus 80,000 points
Rewards 3 pts./$1 for travel; shipping; internet, cable, and phone; and social media and search engine advertising (up to $150,000 per year)
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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This premium small business card from Chase offers Ultimate Rewards points, and you have the option of redeeming them for cash back or other options. New accounts can earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 within three months of account opening. You’ll also earn three points per dollar on your first $150,000 spent in each account anniversary year in combined purchases on travel, purchases, internet service, cable and phone services, and on advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines. You can earn one point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Points can be redeemed for one cent each as cash back or statement credits. Other options include transferring your points to miles with nine different frequent flyer programs or using points with four different hotel programs. Notably, your points are worth 25% more when you make travel reservations through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center. Finally, points can be redeemed for approximately one cent each towards merchandise or gift cards.

Also included in this card’s benefits are trip Interruption and trip cancellation insurance, and a cell phone protection plan. You’ll receive accidental theft and damage insurance, as well as an extended warranty policy that can add up to a year of coverage to your manufacturer’s warranty. This card has a $95 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

The Ink Business Cash Card From Chase

The Ink Business Cash from Chase
 
Annual Fee $0
APR Variable, 14.49% – 20.49% (0% introductory APR for the first 12 months)
Signup Bonus $300 cash bonus
Rewards 5% cash back on office supply stores and internet/phone/cable purchases (up to $25,000 per year)
2% cash back on gas stations and restaurants (up to $25,000 per year)
1% cash back on all other purchases
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This entry-level small business card offers you 5% cash back on your first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year. You’ll earn 2% cash back on your first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year, and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Benefits include purchase protection and extended warranty coverage. When traveling, you also have access to travel and emergency assistance services, as well as a roadside dispatch hotline. There’s no annual fee for this card, but a 3% foreign transaction fee is imposed on charges processed outside of the United States.

The Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard From Bank Of America

The Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard from Bank of America
Annual Fee $0
APR Variable, 12.49% – 22.49% (0% introductory APR for the first 9 months)
Signup Bonus $200 cash back
Rewards 3 pts./$1 for gas stations and office supply stores (up to $250,000 per year)
2 pts./$1 on restaurants
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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This small business credit card can offer you up to 3% cash back on some of your business purchases. You’ll earn 3% cash back at gas stations and at office supply stores on up to $250,000 spent each year, and 1% cash back after that. You also earn 2% cash back on purchases at restaurants and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

New accounts can earn $200 in cash back after spending $500 within 60 days of account opening. New accounts will also receive nine months of 0% APR financing on new purchases before the standard interest rate begins to apply.

Points are available for cash back after earning $25, and you can choose to redeem your rewards as a statement credit or have cash deposited into a Bank of America small business checking or savings account. There’s no annual fee for this card, but it does have a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Final Thoughts

For a concept as simple as cash back, there are actually quite a lot of different small business credit card offers available. It’s important to do your research and select the one that will offer you the most benefits. While some small business owners will need to choose between cards with bonus offers and those without, others may be able to maximize cash back by carrying at least one of each. Closely examine the features and benefits of each of the cards above, and you’ll have all the information you need to find the card that best meets the needs of your business.

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5 Things You Didn’t Know About Credit Cards


Image of hands holding credit card and pressing a keys of keyboard

Credit cards are a common sight in wallets and purses, used for nearly a third of all in-person purchases. There’s nothing strange or novel about them.

And yet, despite their ubiquity, there are a lot of misconceptions about how credit cards work and the best way to use them. Should you use them regularly, or only for infrequent, major purchases? Do they help or harm your credit?

Here are five things you may not know about credit cards.

1. There’s No Reason To Carry A Balance If You Don’t Need To

One of the most common bits of conventional wisdom regarding credit cards is just wrong — a lesson I learned all too recently

You’ve probably heard at some point that it’s good to carry a small balance on your card every month, ostensibly to build your credit and keep your credit card company happy. Turns out that’s completely false. Personal credit cards are required to give you a 21-day or more grace period before they can start charging interest on a purchase. Business credit cards don’t have that hard and fast guideline (see below), but they usually do extend a grace period as a courtesy. If you pay your balance off within that time, you won’t owe any interest on your purchase and you’ll still earn whatever reward points your card offers.

But might your credit card company cancel your card if you don’t pay them interest? It’s unlikely. The company still makes money off transaction fees when you swipe your card.

Now, there are times you may find it convenient to put a big purchase on your card and pay it off slowly. There’s nothing wrong with that — just know that you’re not achieving any greater ends by delaying repayment.

2. Your Card May Be Canceled If You Don’t Use It

Since you now know you can safely use your credit card without paying interest, you don’t have to be scared of using it. Which is a good thing!  If you don’t use your card, your credit card company may simply cancel it.

There’s no telling when or if that will happen, but if you haven’t used your card in a couple months, the chances of your card being canceled increase.

If your card is canceled, don’t take it personally. You didn’t do anything “wrong,” you just weren’t making your credit card company any money. It’s often possible to get the decision reversed with a timely phone call.

3. Most Rewards Cards Are Cash Back (Even If They Aren’t Called Cash Back Cards)

Credit card rewards systems can be divided into a number of different categories, but one of the oldest and most popular is the cash back card. It’s a simple reward structure. For every dollar you spend, a small percentage of that payment is returned to you in the form of statement credit, a check, or a gift card.

Turns out most reward cards will let you cash in accumulated reward points for statement credit, even if they aren’t cash back cards. This can be handy when you simply need to shave a few dollars off of your statement for the month.

So why would you ever get a cash back card? Cash back cards tend to reward generic purchases at a higher rate than other reward schemes, which give you a higher return for buying specific types of goods and services (flights, hotel stays, office supplies, etc.). If your purchases are concentrated in a particular area, you may want a rewards card. If there’s not much of a pattern, consider a cash back card.

4. Business Credit Cards Play By A Different Set Of Rules

In 2009, Congress passed the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act. The legislation established standards for personal credit cards. These include things like:

  • Giving customers enough time to pay their bills.
  • No retroactive rate increases.
  • Payments are applied to the highest-interest debt first.

They’re great protections for credit card users. And they don’t apply to business credit cards.

Business credit cards are still something of a wild frontier, with terms and rates that can change with little notice. To entice customers into this riskier landscape, credit card companies will usually reserve their best reward programs for business credit cards. If you’re someone who reliably pays off your credit card every month, the risks are small. If you carry balances — and especially if you miss payments — you may find yourself facing very unfavorable terms.

5. You Don’t Have To Own A Business To Get A Business Credit Card

Just like there’s no duck in that packet of duck sauce, there’s no business in business credit cards. Okay, that analogy isn’t great, but the fact remains that (most) business credit cards can be acquired by individuals who don’t actually have businesses.

In fact, even if you do have a business, you have to sign a personal guarantee to get a business credit card. That means you are personally accepting liability for the debt, which essentially waives the financial partition you would otherwise enjoy between your business and yourself if you were incorporated.

On the other hand, if you’re purchasing a high volume of goods and services as an individual and want to cash in on business card rewards and perks, you’re able to do so.

If you want a credit card that respects corporate protections, what you need is a corporate credit card. Just be aware that you’ll have to be doing over $4 million/year in revenue to qualify for most of them.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you’ve found one or more of these credit card tidbits illuminating and have some new ideas about how to make the best use of your plastic.

If you’re looking for a card for your business, check out our business and personal credit card comparisons.

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