The Cheapest Credit Card Processing Companies

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

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

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

The Overall Cheapest Credit Card Processing Companies for 2018

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

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

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

Types Of Providers

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

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

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

How We Chose

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

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

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

Square Payments

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

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

 

Cheapest Mobile Credit Card Processing Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROS:

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

CONS:

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

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

Payline Data

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

 

Cheapest Merchant Account Provider

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

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

For more information, see our complete Payline Data review.

CDGcommerce

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

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

Good Option for Online Payment Processing

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

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

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

Simplified Pricing:

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

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

PROS:

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

CONS:

  • Only available to US-based merchants

For more information, see our complete review here.

Dharma Merchant Services

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

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

Dharma Merchant Services review

Good Option for Nonprofits and B2B Payments

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

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

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

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

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

PROS:

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

CONS:

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

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

Helcim

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

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

 

Good Option for Canadian Businesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROS:

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

CONS:

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

For more information, see our complete review here.

Popular (But Less Reliable) Inexpensive Options

PayPal

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROS:

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

CONS:

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

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

Stripe Payments

Stripe logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROS:

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

CONS:

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

For more information, see our complete review here.

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post The Cheapest Credit Card Processing Companies appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Complete Guide to B2B Payment Processing

B2B Payment Processing

Business-to-business (B2B) transactions have been around forever, but with the dramatic increase in credit card usage by corporations, they’ve also become a lot more complicated to deal with for merchants who process them. Traditionally, businesses made their purchases by placing an order in person, through the mail, or over the telephone. The merchant would then ship the products and send the business a paper invoice for payment. They would then wait – sometimes for weeks – for payment to arrive in the form of a paper check. Cashing the check and receiving funds added several more days to the process.

With the advent of the internet, B2B transactions can now be received and processed in very little time. Specialized credit cards designed for small businesses and larger corporations allow nearly instantaneous payments, but also cost more to process than the old paper invoice method. For most merchants, the ability to bring the delay in receiving funds down to just 1-2 business days more than makes up for the extra expense. Accepting credit cards for B2B transactions also leads to a significant increase in overall sales, as more and more companies use credit cards exclusively for their business purchases.

While B2B credit card processing has a reputation for being expensive, you can actually save a very significant amount of money on your processing costs – if you know how to take advantage of the lower interchange rates available to B2B merchants. In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics of B2B processing and show you how you can save hundreds – or possibly even thousands – of dollars in processing costs by properly establishing yourself as a B2B merchant and taking advantage of the discounted rates offered by the major credit card associations.

What Are B2B Transactions?

A B2B transaction is simply a transaction where the customer is another business rather than an individual consumer. The transaction may involve goods, services, or a combination of both. You’ll also hear the term B2G (business-to-government) transaction, which describes transactions between a business and a local, state, or Federal government agency.

The most obvious example of a B2B transaction is when a company purchases supplies for its operations. However, many other types of transactions can also be classified as B2B transactions. For example, when a company hosts a luncheon for employees at a restaurant and uses a business credit card to pay for it, this would be a B2B transaction. The business making a B2B purchase can be anything from a large corporation to a solo freelancer using a business credit card to keep business and personal expenses separate.

In establishing a strategy for dealing with B2B transactions, the most important thing to consider is the percentage of B2B purchases your business expects to experience. Some businesses sell almost exclusively to individual consumers, and see very few, if any, B2B transactions. At the opposite end of the spectrum are businesses that sell almost exclusively to other businesses and make few direct sales to consumers. Most businesses, however, will fall somewhere in the middle, with B2B transactions making up a small, but significant percentage of their overall transactions. As we’ll see below, B2B transactions can entitle you to lower interchange costs and lower overall processing costs. However, you’ll have to jump through several hoops to establish yourself as a B2B merchant, and the specialized software you’ll need to take advantage of those lower rates isn’t free. You’ll want to evaluate very carefully whether it’s cost-effective to add specialized B2B processing services to your merchant account.

Merchant Category Codes (MCC Codes)

Merchant Category Codes (or MCC codes) are assigned by the credit card associations to classify businesses according to the products and services they provide. Before you can take advantage of the lower interchange rates available for B2B transactions, you’ll need to be assigned an MCC code that identifies you as a B2B merchant.

Unfortunately, all the major credit card associations have their own set of MCC codes, and they all treat them differently when it comes to B2B transactions. Visa, for example, will offer you a discounted interchange rate on B2B transactions if you’re assigned a qualifying MCC code and meet certain other criteria. MasterCard also uses MCC codes, but doesn’t offer a discount for B2B transactions.

Because each card association uses its own set of MCC codes, your business will end up with a separate code for each type of credit card you accept. Establishing the proper MCC code for your business is ultimately up to the credit card associations, although your merchant services provider can assist with this task to make sure you’re assigned an appropriate code.

Here’s a list of MCC Codes recognized by Visa as qualifying for B2B merchant status:

  • Accounting, Auditing, and Bookkeeping Services (MCC 8931)
  • Advertising Services (MCC 7311)
  • Books, Periodicals, and Newspapers (MCC 5192)
  • Business Services (MCC 7399)
  • Chemicals and Allied Products (MCC 5169)
  • Cleaning, Maintenance, and Janitorial Services (MCC 7349)
  • Commercial Equipment (MCC 5046)
  • Commercial Footwear (MCC 5139)
  • Commercial Photography, Art, and Graphics (MCC 7333)
  • Computer Maintenance, Repair, and Services (MCC 7379)
  • Computer Programming, Data Processing, and Integrated Systems Design Services (MCC 7372)
  • Construction Materials (MCC 5039)
  • Durable Goods (MCC 5099)
  • Electrical Parts and Equipment (MCC 5065)
  • Employment Agencies and Temporary Help Services (MCC 7361)
  • Florist Supplies, Nursery Stock and Flowers (MCC 5193)
  • Industrial Supplies (MCC 5085)
  • Information Retrieval Services (MCC 7375)
  • Insurance Sales, Underwriting, and Premiums (MCC 6300)
  • Landscaping and Horticultural Services (MCC 0780)
  • Management, Consulting, and Public Relations Services (MCC 7392)
  • Medical, Dental, Ophthalmic and Hospital Equipment and Supplies (MCC 5047)
  • Men’s, Women’s, and Children’s Uniforms and Commercial Clothing (MCC 5137)
  • Metal Service Centers and Offices (MCC 5051)
  • Miscellaneous Publishing and Printing (MCC 2741)
  • Motion Picture and Video Tape Production and Distribution(MCC 7829)
  • Motor Freight Carriers and Trucking (MCC 4214)
  • Nondurable Goods (MCC 5199)
  • Office and Commercial Furniture (MCC 5021)
  • Paints, Varnishes, and Supplies (MCC 5198)
  • Photographic, Photocopy, Microfilm Equipment and Software (MCC 5044)
  • Piece Goods, Notions, and Other Dry Goods (MCC 5131)
  • Plumbing and Heating Equipment and Supplies (MCC 5074)
  • Professional Services (MCC 8999)
  • Special Trade Contractors (MCC 1799)
  • Specialty Cleaning, Polishing and Sanitation Preparations (MCC 2842)
  • Testing Laboratories (Non-Medical Testing) (MCC 8734)
  • Typesetting, Plate Making and Related Services (MCC 2791)

Note that these codes only apply to Visa. MasterCard, American Express, and Discovery use their own separate sets of codes. Also, having an appropriate MCC code to qualify as a B2B merchant doesn’t automatically qualify you for discounted interchange rates on B2B transactions. You’ll also have to submit Level II (and possibly Level III) credit card data, as explained below.

Data Levels

In addition to being a properly-coded B2B merchant, you’ll need to submit additional payment data with each B2B transaction to be eligible for discounted processing rates. Credit card associations recognize three levels of payment data: Level I, Level II, and Level III data. Once again, the major credit card associations have their own separate ways of classifying and treating this data. Visa, for example, refers to these three data categories as “data levels,” while MasterCard calls them “data rates.”

For standard transactions between your business and individual consumers, only Level I data is required to process a transaction. Level II and III data is not submitted, and won’t get you a discount on interchange rates anyway. Because most businesses primarily sell to individuals rather than other businesses, your merchant account will only be set up to handle Level I data unless you add a service to record and transmit Level II and Level III data. Since most businesses won’t need this service, it’s often only available as an optional upgrade, and you’ll usually be charged an additional monthly fee for it. If your business only processes a small number of B2B transactions, you’ll want to weigh carefully whether the discounted interchange rates are worth this added expense. Remember, you’ll be paying the additional fee for Level II/III processing every month regardless of whether you use it regularly or not.

Processing of Level II and III data is further complicated by the fact that once again, the credit card associations have separate policies for handling this additional data. Discover, for example, only handles Level I data and won’t give you any discount on interchange rates for submitting Level II or III data. American Express, on the other hand, accepts both Level I and II data, but not Level III data. Acceptance of Level II data also requires prior approval for your business directly from American Express. Visa and MasterCard have the most liberal policies, accepting all three levels of credit card data without the need for prior approval. Note that you will still need to be properly coded with a Merchant Category Code identifying you as a B2B merchant.

So, just what “data” is included in these various data levels, anyway? Think of transaction processing data as a very large database, with each transaction being a record, and each record consisting of several fields that have to be filled in. All transactions will have to include all required fields for Level I data before they can be approved and processed. Level II and III data require additional fields that have to be filled in for the transaction to be processed as a Level II or III transaction and qualify for a lower interchange rate. Again, there are some slight variations in the data requirements among the various credit card associations. Here’s an overview of the common data requirements for each data level:

Level I data is required for all transactions, B2B or otherwise, and generally includes the following fields:

  • Merchant DBA name
  • Transaction amount
  • Billing zip code

Level II data includes all Level I data, and the following additional fields:

  • Sales tax amount
  • Customer code
  • Merchant postal code
  • Merchant tax identification number
  • Invoice number
  • Order number

Level III data includes all Level I and Level II data, plus the following additional fields:

  • Product commodity code
  • Item ID or SKU
  • Item description
  • Unit price
  • Quantity
  • Unit of measure (each)
  • Extended price
  • Line discount

As you can see, entering Level III data requires a lot of additional data for each transaction. Unfortunately, manually entering this data on a standard countertop credit card terminal is not an easy process. If you’re using a virtual terminal or a payment gateway, it’s a little easier since you’ll have access to a full alphanumeric keyboard. Some merchant services providers can also set you up with a specialized software load for your terminal that automatically captures the required data, but you’ll have to pay extra for it. The bottom line is that manually entering Level II and III data is only a practical option for merchants who only handle the occasional B2B transaction and for whom specialized B2B processing software would not be cost-effective.

B2B Processing Rate Discounts

As we’ve noted above, including Level II and III data when processing a B2B transaction can save you money on processing costs by lowering the interchange rate that you have to pay to the credit card associations for each transaction. How significant are these savings? Perhaps more importantly, are they significant enough to offset the cost of paying for an additional B2B processing service for your merchant account?

To answer these questions, you’ll have to understand interchange fees and how they impact your overall costs for credit card processing. Interchange fees are the fees you’ll have to pay to the credit card association for each transaction. You’ll also have to pay an additional markup to your processor, but in most cases, the interchange fee will constitute a majority of your overall transaction processing cost. For a more in-depth explanation of interchange fees, check out our article Interchange Reimbursement: What You Need to Know About Your Most Costly Merchant Account Fee.

Each credit card association has its own set of interchange fees that apply to a variety of transactions. For our example, we’ll be using the 2018 Visa USA Interchange Reimbursement Fees schedule. You can find similar fee schedules online for the other major credit card associations. Be aware that these fee schedules are frequently updated – usually because the credit card associations have raised their rates. Here’s an extract from Visa’s current interchange fee schedule that applies to B2B transactions:

Visa Level II & III Interchange Rates - 2018

As you can see, a standard Commercial Card-Present transaction made on a business credit card will incur an interchange fee of 2.50% + $0.10 per transaction. However, if you include Level III data when submitting the transaction, the interchange fee drops to 1.90% + $0.10 per transaction. That’s a savings of 0.60%, and even larger savings are possible for other types of B2B transactions. While this may not sound like a significant amount of money, it can really add up quickly, particularly if your business processes a lot of B2B transactions.

Here’s an example of how these savings work. Let’s say you have a single B2B transaction for $1,000. If you only include the Level I data, you’ll pay $25.10 in interchange fees alone. Your actual processing costs will be even higher once you pay whatever markup your processor charges you. For the same transaction, including Level III processing data reduces your interchange fees to $19.10. While that $6.00 savings might not seem like much, it can really add up in a hurry if a significant number of your transactions are B2B.

Large-ticket transactions are common in the B2B world, and the inclusion of Level III data will result in a very significant savings on interchange fees if your transaction amount is large enough to qualify. In the extract above, you’ll see that a Commercial Product Large Ticket transaction incurs an interchange fee of 1.45% + $35.00 per transaction. This special large-ticket rate only applies to single transactions over $6,500.

Given the hefty $35.00 per transaction charge, you might understandably be skeptical that this “special” rate will save you any money. So, let’s do the math. A transaction for $6,500.01 – barely large enough to qualify – would incur an interchange fee of $162.60 if processed at the standard Commercial Card-Present rate of 2.50% + $0.10. However, under the Commercial Product Large Ticket rate of 1.45% + $35.00 your interchange fee would only be $129.75. That’s a savings of $32.85. At the same time, the same transaction would only cost $123.60 under the Commercial Level III rate of 1.90% + $0.10. The break-even point between the Commercial Product Large Ticket rate and the Commercial Level III rate occurs at $7,758.50. Thus, for any transaction over this amount, the Commercial Product Large Ticket rate will actually save you money in interchange costs. Remember in comparing these rates that the markup you pay to your processor under an interchange-plus pricing plan will add to your overall processing costs, but it will be the same regardless of whether the transaction is B2B or not, and regardless of the ticket size.

How Processing Rate Plans Affect B2B Processing

If your head is spinning a little by now, we understand. There are a lot of variables involved in comparing B2B processing rates against standard business-to-consumer rates. There is, however, one simple and very important point that you need to understand: B2B processing rates will only save you money if you have an interchange-plus or subscription-based pricing plan. With an interchange-plus pricing plan, you pay the applicable interchange rate plus a fixed markup (usually a percentage of the transaction plus a small per-transaction fee) that goes to your merchant services provider. Subscription-based (or membership) pricing plans modify this arrangement by offering much lower per-transaction costs in exchange for a higher monthly subscription fee. One of our favorite providers, Fattmerchant (see our review) only charges a low per-transaction fee with a 0% markup (although their $99 per month subscription fee might not be cost-effective for low-volume businesses). Interchange-plus and subscription-based pricing plans pass the interchange costs directly onto you with a fixed markup. If the interchange costs go down due to using Level III data for B2B transactions, this lower rate is also passed on, meaning you save money.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for flat-rate or tiered pricing plans. Providers such as Square (see our review) will charge you a flat rate for each transaction regardless of the underlying interchange fee. As a result, you won’t see any savings on B2B transactions with Level III data. In fact, if such a transaction does result in a lower interchange fee, your provider gets to keep the savings. Tiered pricing works the same way, with transactions being processed according to fixed rates based on whether a transaction falls under a qualified, mid-qualified, or non-qualified tier. Since these tiers are designed to ensure that the processor makes a profit from each transaction regardless of the underlying interchange rate, you won’t see any decrease in processing costs by using Level III data for B2B transactions. In fact, your processor will get to keep whatever savings result from using Level III data. While we strongly recommend against tiered plans for all merchants, it’s doubly important to avoid them if your business processes a lot of B2B transactions.

B2B Software Applications

As we’ve discussed above, you can save a significant amount of money on processing B2B transactions by including Level III data and ensuring that you have the proper MCC code identifying you as a B2B merchant. However, a standard merchant account designed for business-to-consumer transactions won’t include these features. You’ll have to pay extra for them, and every merchant services provider approaches the problem of serving B2B merchants differently.

While including Level III data can be as simple as installing a special software load on your credit card terminal, merchant services providers are increasingly turning to computer- and web-based software to help B2B merchants get the lower rates to which they’re entitled. A notable trend we’re seeing in the merchant services industry is the switch to integrated processing software that allows merchants to process both retail and online transactions using the same platform. With an integrated payments platform, it’s easy to include B2B processing capability as an option for merchants who need it.

One of the better-integrated services we’ve seen is the MX Merchant platform offered by Dharma Merchant Services (see our review), one of our favorite providers. By adding the optional MX B2B app, B2B merchants can have Level III data automatically populated whenever they submit a B2B transaction. While the app costs an additional $20.00 per month, it can more than pay for itself if you process even a single large-ticket B2B transaction at the lower interchange rates.

Most other merchant services providers will also charge you an additional monthly fee for submitting Level II or III data. While these fees vary, $20.00 per month seems to be the industry average. If you only rarely process B2B transactions and they aren’t for large amounts, this extra service might not be cost-effective. On the other hand, any merchant who processes a significant amount of B2B transactions – particularly large-ticket ones – should realize a net savings by including this feature in their merchant account.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve ever tried to input Level III data on a countertop terminal manually, you’ve probably gotten frustrated and given up on inputting all the required data needed to qualify for a lower interchange rate. You’ve probably also overpaid for processing that transaction. Yes, the world of B2B processing can seem very confusing at first. However, it’s really not all that complicated. Your merchant services provider can help ensure you’re properly coded as a B2B merchant and that your payment processing systems (i.e., terminals, POS systems, virtual terminals, and payment gateways) are set up to include Level III processing data. Whether you want to invest the money into additional B2B services will depend on your overall B2B transaction volume.

For merchants who only see a B2B transaction on rare occasions, it might not be worth the extra monthly fee for a service you’re rarely going to use. In such cases, using a payment gateway or virtual terminal will make it much easier to enter the required Level III data manually. Merchants who process a significant amount of B2B transactions, on the other hand, will save far more money in lower interchange rates than the cost of the additional B2B software. If you can save more than the usual $20 monthly fee for B2B services, we highly recommend that you include this feature when setting up your merchant account. Your merchant services provider should be able to help you get this option set up and running smoothly.

The post The Complete Guide to B2B Payment Processing appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Is Shopify Easy To Use?

is shopify easy to use

If you’ve ever visited Shopify’s website, you know that ease of use is their number one marketing claim. But does that claim have any merit? Is this app as intuitive as they say?

As software reviewers who have tested over 40 eCommerce solutions over the years (many of them repeatedly!), we can confidently say that Shopify is indeed one of the most user-friendly shopping cart solutions on the market. In particular, Shopify is well designed for merchants with very little technical know-how.

Shopify makes it easy to set up an online store, add products, and tweak your site’s look and feel so that you can focus your energy on building your business instead of building your website.

In this post, we’ll give you a breakdown of a few frequently used features and design tools, complete with screenshots of Shopify’s admin panel. Keep reading to see if Shopify’s usability fits your experience level and business needs.

Signing Up For Shopify

The best way to experience Shopify’s usability is to actually take the software for a test drive. Shopify offers a totally free, no commitment required 14-day trial, which you can sign up for at any time. To create your account, all you have to do is provide your email address and answer a few questions about your business’s size and industry.

You’ll then be sent an email with login information, and you’ll be able to access your Shopify dashboard:

While Shopify does not provide a formal tutorial, they do list a few setup steps on your initial dashboard page. You can either choose to complete those actions now or find them on your own later.

We recommend you play around a bit with the “Add Product” and “Customize Theme” pages to get a general feel for Shopify’s functions. To start setting up your online store, head over to the “Settings” tab on the bottom left.

Adjusting Settings

From the Settings tab of the app, you can add payment processors, tax information, and shipping preferences. You’ll also be able to make changes to checkout, sales channels, account permissions, and more.

Calculating Taxes

Correctly collecting sales tax for online orders can be tricky business. Every state, county, and municipality has its own rules and regulations regarding sales tax, and trying to comply by all those rules can be maddening. Shopify makes this process a bit easier by keeping all those important calculations in one place.

In the setup process, you can decide how you collect taxes for shipments, including international shipments.

When it comes to domestic shipping rates, you can ask Shopify to handle all the tax calculations based on your business’s location(s). Input your State and zip code, and Shopify will present a range of tax rates based on all the locations in which you have tax liability (called “nexus”).

If you’d like to see those taxes more specifically, click on that range (highlighted in blue) and see details for each city.

Select Shipping Options

There are a variety of ways Shopify merchants can go about calculating shipping rates. You can, for example, integrate with your favorite shipping software app (like ShippingEasy or ShipStation) or you can subscribe to Shopify’s highest pricing plan to use your own negotiated rates with popular shipping carriers like USPS, UPS, and FedEx. One of the most popular options, however, is to simply use Shopify Shipping to calculate rates and purchase and print shipping labels.

Shopify Shipping provides connections with DHL, USPS, and UPS. You can purchase shipping labels online and have those labels print in bulk from thermal or desktop printers. And now, you can even purchase those labels from your mobile device. What’s more, Shopify Shipping has partnered with shipping carriers to provide you with discounted shipping rates, depending on your Shopify plan.

To start using Shopify Shipping, click “Edit” under the “Shipping Zones” option on your Shipping page in settings.

You’ll then be redirected to this page where you can select carriers (such as USPS) and services (such as Priority Mail). These options will then be automatically available to your customers, and you will be able to purchase and print shipping labels for these services. Pretty easy, huh?

So far, I can only see one potential issue with Shopify Shipping and, depending on your business, it could be a big one. Shopify Shipping will only display calculated rates according to the dimensions you list for your “Default Package.” That means that all shipments, no matter their actual size, will be treated as the same size.

If you sell products that are a wide range of sizes, calculated rates with Shopify Shipping might not be the best option. You may instead consider integrating with a third-party shipping solution to handle that aspect of your fulfillment.

Connect With Payment Solutions

To process payments, just select your preferred payment processor or payment gateway from the drop-down menu on the correct page in Settings.

Shopify also offers their own payment gateway, called Shopify Payments. If you choose to use Shopify Payments to accept credit card payments, Shopify will waive their transaction fees (which range from 0.5%-2.0%, depending on your pricing plan).

Note: I have seen many complaints online targeting Shopify Payments. Merchants say that while it’s easy to be initially accepted to the processor, your account may be canceled further down the road when Shopify gets around to reviewing your site. I’ve also seen complaints that say Shopify Payments withholds money from merchants. Keep these complaints in mind as you look into your options.

Adding Products

Creating new products is a simple process. Head over to the “Products” tab and click “Add a Product.” You’ll then be taken to a page like this:

Here you can input basic information like price, inventory totals, and images. You can also write product descriptions on this page and use tags and categories to organize items. Toward the bottom of the page, you can add shipping information, like weight, and list tariff code. You are also presented with the option to add variants.

If you choose to add product variants (size and color, etc.), you’ll be redirected to a new page where you can enter variant-specific information such as weight, inventory, and price. Notice, however, that there is no field available to enter product dimensions, which may result in less accurate shipping calculations.

Once you’ve added this information, the basic “Add a Product” page will change to reflect new variants. You will now be required to edit all weights, prices, and shipping information on variant pages instead of the main product page.

Managing Inventory

You can either manage inventory on individual product pages or in the “Inventory” tab in the admin.

Set quantities for each variant, and set low stock notifications to make sure you always have items on hand when customers want them.

Creating Promotions

Use Shopify’s “Discounts” tab to create coupons and discounts for your site. You can make these discounts specific to select categories or products, and you can set minimum purchase requirements. You can also make discounts only available to certain customer groups and set active dates for the promotion. Discounts can be fixed amounts, percentages, free shipping, and Buy X Get Y.

You can also promote your store through order confirmation emails, abandoned cart notifications, and other email marketing strategies. Use HTML design tools to modify the email templates that Shopify provides.

Editing Site Design

This app is designed for sellers who have little to no technical experience. Shopify works to make all of their customization tools accessible to beginners, including website design. You don’t have to know a lick of code to edit the look and feel of your site (although it certainly wouldn’t hurt!).

Most merchants begin the site design process by selecting a theme from Shopify’s vast marketplace. There, you can find a range of mobile responsive themes that are priced between $0-$180. It’s a good idea to start out with a free theme and move on to a more sophisticated theme once you get the hang of the editing tools.

Shopify provides a few options for editing your theme. The easiest option is Shopify’s drag and drop feature: Sections.

Using Sections, you can add and rearrange blocks of content. For example, you can add a featured products display, a map, and an image gallery on your homepage. Then, just drag those elements around until the site looks how you envisioned.

Sections is currently only available on select pages and with select themes.

Although Sections is great for those with little know-how, merchants who are looking to customize many elements of their design may find it too limiting. For those merchants, there is also a code editor available. Edit using Shopify’s Liquid templating language, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Final Thoughts

If there ever was a long answer to a short question, this article is one of them!

In short: Yes, Shopify is very easy to use!

Get Started With Shopify

The post Is Shopify Easy To Use? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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A Guide To QuickBooks Online Pricing

Purchasing accounting software would be a whole lot easier if you just had a magic lamp. One rub, and voila! You’ve got the perfect software for you at the best price.

We don’t have a magic lamp for you, but if you’re wondering “how much does Quickbooks Online cost?” this post is the next best thing.

Read on for a breakdown of the three different QuickBooks Online (QBO) plans. We’ll discuss how to know which plan is right for you and what additional costs to expect so you can know exactly what you’re getting into before deciding to purchase QuickBooks Online.

Read on for more details about QB Online pricing!

QuickBooks Online Pricing

How much is QuickBooks Online? It’s a more complicated question than you might think. QBO offers three subscription plans, so there is no one QuickBooks Online price. Each tier gives you access to more features and users. Payments are made monthly, and no annual contracts are required.

QuickBooks is almost always offering a discount on their website, so be sure to check for any promotions before buying.

Note: Discounts are invalid if a customer uses the free 30-day trial before purchasing. Also, if you are switching over from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online, you may be eligible for even better discounts. Contact the QuickBooks Online sales team for more details.

Simple Start Plan

Simple Start is the smallest QuickBooks Plan. The QuickBooks Online Simple Plan costs $15/mo and supports one user plus two accountants.

Here are the features that come with QuickBooks Simple Start:

  • Unlimited invoices and estimates
  • Contact management
  • Expense tracking
  • Live bank feeds
  • 27 reports
  • 200+ integrations

Essentials Plan

The QuickBooks Essentials Plan costs $35/mo and is a step up from the Simple Start plan. QuickBooks Online Essentials comes with three users plus two accountants and more features.

Here are the features you get with QuickBooks Online Essentials:

  • Unlimited invoices and estimates
  • Contact management
  • Expense tracking
  • Live bank feeds
  • 53 reports
  • 200+ integrations
  • Accounts payable
  • Time tracking

Plus Plan

QuickBooks Online’s largest plan, QuickBooks Plus, costs $50/mo. QuickBooks Online Plus (not to be confused with QuickBooks Desktop Pro Plus) offers five users plus two accountants and the most advanced features.

Here are the features that come with QuickBooks Plus:

  • Unlimited invoices
  • Unlimited estimates
  • Expense tracking
  • Live bank feeds
  • 75 reports
  • 200+ integrations
  • Accounts payable
  • Time tracking
  • Project management
  • Inventory
  • Class tracking
  • Tax support

Which QBO Version Is Right For Me?

When deciding which version of QuickBooks Online is best for your small business, it should come down to your business’s need and budget. Here’s a breakdown of how the Simple Start, Essentials, and Plus plans compare:

Simple Start Essentials Plus
Pricing $15/mo $35/mo $50/mo
Tech Support Included Included Included
Invoicing ✓ ✓ ✓
Contact Management ✓ ✓ ✓
Expense Tracking ✓ ✓ ✓
Number Of Reports 27 53 75
Time Tracking ✘ ✓ ✓
Accounts Payable ✘ ✓ ✓
Project Management ✘ ✘ ✓
Inventory ✘ ✘ ✓
Tax Support ✘ ✘ ✓

Now that you can clearly see the difference between each QuickBooks Online plan, ask yourself these questions:

  • Which features do I need to run my business?
  • How many users do I need?
  • How much can I afford to spend each month?

These questions should help you narrow down which QuickBooks Online plan is right for you.

Additional Fees

In addition to the monthly subscription price, there are a few other QuickBooks Online charges to be aware of. Intuit is not always the most forthcoming about these extra fees, which is why we want to highlight them now. You should know exactly how much QuickBooks Online is going to cost before you commit to a plan.

Additional Users

As we mentioned earlier, QuickBooks Simple Start supports one user, QuickBooks Essentials supports three users, and QuickBooks Plus supports five users.

However, if you have the QuickBooks Plus plan, you can add up to 25 users for an additional cost. Here’s how additional users will affect your overall monthly price.

  • 0-5 Users: $50/mo
  • 6-10 Users: $65/mo
  • 11-25 Users: $95/mo

There is a slight discount on additional users if you pay annually instead of monthly. Contact QuickBooks for more details.

Payroll

QuickBooks Online offers two types of payroll: do it yourself payroll and full-service payroll. The self-service payroll option requires you to run payroll and file your payroll taxes on your own. With the full-service payroll option, QuickBooks does everything for you.

QuickBooks Online payroll costs between $39 – $99/mo plus $3/per employee. Intuit often runs payroll promotions for both existing QuickBooks Online users and brand new QuickBooks users. Be sure to visit their website to find a QuickBooks payroll discount.

Tax Forms

QuickBooks Online supports W-2s and 1099-MISCs. You can order tax forms directly from Intuit. The cost begins at $17.95 and varies depending on which form you need and how many. If you purchase QuickBooks Online payroll these forms may be included, depending on the payroll plan you choose.

Checks

You can purchase checks, voucher checks, business wallet checks, and more from QuickBooks. Standard checks begin at $56.99/per 50 checks. Prices vary by check type and amount.

QBO Add-Ons & Payment Gateways

In addition to the fees above, there are a few other extra costs you should consider before purchasing QuickBooks Online:

Add-Ons

Integrations are third-party add-ons that give you additional features and capabilities. For example, common software programs like Shopify, TSheets, and MailChimp are all integrations. QuickBooks Online offers 200+ integrations to choose from.

Most integrations come with their own monthly subscription fees, so be sure to account for these extra costs when calculating how big of a dent QuickBooks Online is going to leave in your wallet.

Payment Gateways

Payment gateways allow you to accept payments from your customers. Common payment processing options include PayPal, Stripe, Square, and Authorize.Net. QuickBooks Online offers around 10 payment processors or you can use QuickBooks Payments.

You can read our review of Intuit Merchant Services (QuickBooks Payments) for more information, but the basic charges are as follows:

  • $1.00 for ACH fees
  • 2.4% + $0.30 for swiped cards
  • 3.5% + $0.3o for invoices
  • 3.5% + $0.30 for keyed in cards

Whether you use QuickBooks Payments or another payment gateway, be sure to take potential credit card fees into account when calculating how much you’ll be spending on software each month.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know exactly how much each QuickBooks Online plan costs you can make an informed business decision about which version is right for you. Make sure to factor in the hidden costs!

If you want to learn more, read our complete QuickBooks Online review or get started with a free trial. If you still aren’t convinced that QuickBooks Online is the best choice for your business, check out our Complete QuickBooks Products Comparison Guide or take a look at the Best QuickBooks Online Alternatives.

Get Started With QuickBooks Online

The post A Guide To QuickBooks Online Pricing appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Complete Guide To QuickBooks Desktop Pricing

A Quick Guide To QuickBooks Pro Pricing

The Price Is Right is more than just a funny game show; it’s a real principle that we judge nearly all of our purchases by. If the price is right, then it’s a good investment — if you don’t get enough bang for your buck, you’re likely to walk away and find something else.

If you’re considering purchasing QuickBooks, you’re probably wondering this same thing: how much is this going to cost me? And is that cost worth it?

With three distinct QuickBooks Desktop options, the pricing structure of QuickBooks Desktop can be confusing, to say the least. What’s more, Intuit makes it incredibly difficult to track down prices for all of the additional charges you may face. That’s why we’ve created this post. By the end, you’ll know how much QuickBooks Pro, Premier, and Enterprise cost and be aware of any additional fees you might encounter.

Read on to learn more.

QuickBooks Desktop Products

There are three different QuickBooks Desktop products: QuickBooks Pro, QuickBooks Premier, and QuickBooks Enterprise. These locally-installed desktop accounting programs are similar, with the same UI organization and design. What sets these three programs apart is their features, pricing, and target business type and size.

  • QuickBooks Pro: Ideal for small businesses with 1-3 users.
  • QuickBooks Premier: Ideal for small to medium businesses with 1-5 users.
  • QuickBooks Enterprise: Ideal for large businesses with 1-30 users.

In the next few sections, we’ll cover the pricing structures of QuickBooks Pro, Premier, and Enterprise in more detail. We’ll also discuss the features included with each product and give you some guidance on how to choose the right QuickBooks Desktop edition for your business.

QuickBooks Pro Pricing

You have two options when it comes to buying QuickBooks Desktop Pro (sometimes referred to as QuickBooks Desktop or QuickBooks Desktop Pro). You can either purchase a single QuickBooks Pro license or you can purchase an annual QuickBooks Pro subscription (called QuickBooks Pro Plus or QuickBooks Desktop Pro Plus). There are a few differences between the license and the subscription, which we will cover in more detail, but the main difference is the price.

QuickBooks Pro

A QuickBooks Pro license costs $299.95 on Intuit’s website. While you can purchase a QuickBooks Pro license elsewhere, Intuit often runs promotions where this cost is discounted.

A QuickBooks Pro license is good for three years, after which Intuit drops support for the product. You can still use the software after the three years are up, but the Intuit team won’t be able to help you if you have any questions or run into any issues. This license supports a single user and is locally-installed. You can install the product on up to three computers; however, this creates three separate company files, so your company file data will not be synced from computer to computer.

Here are some features that come with QuickBooks Pro:

  • Invoices and estimates
  • Contact management
  • Expense tracking
  • Journal entries
  • Chart of accounts
  • Accounts payable
  • Inventory
  • Project management
  • Time tracking
  • Reports
  • Budgeting
  • Tax support

For more features, read our complete QuickBooks Desktop Pro review.

QuickBooks Pro Plus

QuickBooks Pro Plus costs $299.95 each year. Instead of paying a one-time flat fee of $299.95, you’ll be paying for an annual subscription. The annual subscription comes with all of the same features as QuickBooks Pro, but you also receive:

  • Annual upgrades
  • Free phone support
  • Free automatic data backups

QuickBooks Pro Plus is also often discounted on the Intuit website.

QuickBooks Pro vs QuickBooks Pro Plus

When choosing between QuickBooks Pro and QuickBooks Pro Plus, it really comes down to your business’s needs and budget. As we mentioned earlier, each version comes with the same exact features, so the main difference is the price:

QuickBooks Pro QuickBooks Pro Plus
Pricing $299.95 $299.95/yr
Annual Upgrades $299.95 Included
Phone Support $89.95/3 mo Included
Data Backups $9.95/mo Included

If you plan to use a QuickBooks Pro license for three years before switching and don’t mind paying extra for phone support, QuickBooks Pro price is a more economical choice. However, if you want annual upgrades and anticipate needing a lot of customer support, QuickBooks Pro Plus might pay off in the end.

To determine which version is right for you, consider these questions:

  • Do I want annual upgrades or can I use the same edition for three years?
  • Do I have the budget to support an annual subscription?
  • Do I need phone support?
  • Do I want automatic data backups?

Additional QuickBooks Pro Fees

When considering purchasing QuickBooks, there are several additional fees to be aware of. Intuit isn’t always very forthcoming with these fees and their prices, which is why we wanted to share them.

QuickBooks Payroll

QuickBooks offers three payroll plans: Basic, Enhance, and Full-Service. QuickBooks payroll pricing ranges from $29/mo – $109/mo depending on your businesses needs. Each plan also charges $2/ per employee. Learn more about what each QuickBooks payroll plan offers.

Note: QuickBooks is often running payroll promos, so be sure to take advantage of any discounts offered.

Upgrades

QuickBooks Pro users can purchase an upgrade for $299.95. Annual upgrades are included with the QuickBooks Pro Plus plan.

Additional Users

Additional users cost $250/per user. There is a maximum of three users total for QuickBooks Pro and QuickBooks Pro Plus.

Tech Support

When it comes to customer service, most representatives all give you a different quote on how much support costs. There is only one fee that is consistent across the board: tech support is $89.95/3 mo.

QuickBooks Pro Plus comes with built-in tech support. Some QuickBooks Pro issues are also covered for free, like error codes and installation support.

Live Bank Feeds

Some banks charge a fee for connecting directly with QuickBooks via live bank feeds. This fee can run anywhere from $10-$15/mo depending on your banking institution.

Automatic Data Backups

Backing up a single PC costs $99.95/yr or $9.95/mo; backing up a company file costs $49.95/yr or $4.95/mo. Automatic data backups are included with the QuickBooks Pro Plus plan.

Hosting

If your company is in need of mobility and cloud capabilities, you can purchase online hosting at an additional cost. QuickBooks partners with Right Networks to provide hosting. Hosting costs an additional $450/yr per user.

Tax Forms

QuickBooks Pro supports W-2s, 1099s, W-3s, and 1096s. You can order tax forms directly from Intuit. The cost begins at $17.95 and varies depending on which form you need and how many. Tax forms are included with the Enhanced and Full-Service payroll plans.

Checks

You can purchase checks, voucher checks, business wallet checks, and more from QuickBooks. Standard checks begin at $56.99/per 50 checks. Prices vary by check type and amount.

Now you have a clear idea of exactly how much QuickBooks Pro costs. If you’re already sold on QuickBooks Pro, read our complete QuickBooks Pro review or go ahead and get started with the software. If you’d like to learn about the other QuickBooks Desktop pricing options, read on.

Read Our QuickBooks Pro Review

Get Started With QuickBooks Pro

QuickBooks Premier Pricing

QuickBooks Premier’s pricing structure is the exact same as QuickBooks Pro’s. There are two options when it comes to purchasing QuickBooks Desktop Premier. You can either purchase a QuickBooks Premier license (sometimes referred QuickBooks Desktop Premier), or you can purchase an annual QuickBooks Premier subscription (called QuickBooks Premier Plus or QuickBooks Desktop Premier Plus). There are a few differences between the license and the subscription, which we will cover in more detail, but the main difference is the price.

QuickBooks Premier

A QuickBooks Pro license costs $499.95 on Intuit’s website. While you can purchase a QuickBooks Premier license elsewhere, Intuit is often running promotions where this cost is discounted.

If you purchase a QuickBooks Premier license, the license will last you three years, after which Intuit drops support for the product. (You can still use the software for more than three years, but the Intuit team won’t be able to help you if you have any questions or run into any issues). This license supports a single user and, like QuickBooks Pro, is locally-installed onto a computer. Again, like you can with QuickBooks Pro, you can install the product on up to three computers, though you’ll run into the same problem with information syncing from one computer to another.

Here are some features that come with QuickBooks Premier:

  • Invoices and estimates
  • Contact management
  • Expense tracking
  • Journal entries
  • Chart of accounts
  • Accounts payable
  • Inventory
  • Project management
  • Time tracking
  • Reports
  • Budgeting
  • Tax support
  • Sales orders

For a full list of features, read our complete QuickBooks Premier review.

QuickBooks Premier Plus

QuickBooks Premier Plus costs $499.95 each year. Instead of paying a flat fee of $499.95, you’d be paying for an annual subscription. The annual subscription comes with all of the same features as QuickBooks Premier, but you also receive:

  • Annual upgrades
  • Free phone support
  • Free automatic data backups

QuickBooks Premier Plus is often discounted on the Intuit website.

QuickBooks Premier vs QuickBooks Premier Plus

Since both QuickBooks Premier and QuickBooks Premier Plus offer the same software features, which version is right for you will depend entirely on your business’s budget and needs. These are the main pricing differences between the two options:

QuickBooks Premier QuickBooks Premier Plus
Pricing $499.95 $499.95/yr
Annual Upgrades $499.95 Included
Phone Support $89.95/3 mo Included
Data Backups $9.95/mo Included

If you will use a QuickBooks Premier license for three years before switching and don’t mind paying extra for phone support, QuickBooks Premier could save you a big chunk of money. However, if you want annual upgrades and anticipate needing a lot of customer support, QuickBooks Premier Plus might be worth it in the long run.

To determine which version is right for you, consider these questions:

  • Do I want annual upgrades or will I use the same software for three years?
  • Do I have the budget to support an annual subscription?
  • Do I need phone support?
  • Do I want automatic data backups?

QuickBooks Premier Industry Editions

One of the biggest difference between QuickBooks Pro and QuickBooks Premier is that Quickbooks Premier offers six industry-specific version of the software in addition to the standard version. These industry editions add customized features and reports to better fit your businesses needs.

You can choose the Standard Edition of QuickBooks Premier or one of these six editions at no additional cost:

  • Contractor
  • Manufacturing & Wholesale
  • Nonprofit
  • Retail
  • Professional Services
  • Accountant

Visit QuickBooks Premier’s webpage to learn everything these versions are capable of.

Additional QuickBooks Premier Fees

QuickBooks Premier has almost all of the same potential additional fees as QuickBooks Pro, with a few minor variations in cost. Be sure to take these into consideration when determining how big of a dent QuickBooks Premier is going to leave in your wallet.

QuickBooks Payroll

QuickBooks offers three payroll plans: Basic, Enhance, and Full-Service. These plans range from $29/mo – $109/mo plus $2/ per employee. Learn more about what each QuickBooks payroll plan offers.

Note: QuickBooks is often running payroll promos, so be sure to take advantage of these discounts.

Upgrades

For Premier, the QuickBooks upgrade price is $499.95. Annual upgrades are included with the QuickBooks Premier Plus plan.

Additional  Users

Additional users cost $450/per user. There is a maximum of five total users for QuickBooks Premier and QuickBooks Premier Plus.

Tech Support

Like QuickBooks Pro, QuickBooks Premier tech support costs $89.95/3 mo. QuickBooks Pro Plus comes with built-in tech support. Some QuickBooks Premier issues are also covered for free, like error codes and installation support.

Live Bank Feeds

Some banks charge a fee for connecting directly with QuickBooks via live bank feeds. This fee can cost anywhere from $10-$15/mo depending on your banking institution.

Automatic Data Backups

Backing up a single PC costs $99.95/yr or $9.95/mo; backing up a company file costs $49.95/yr or $4.95/mo. Automatic data backups are included with the QuickBooks Premier Plus plan.

Hosting

If your company is in need of mobility and cloud capabilities, you can purchase online hosting at an additional cost. QuickBooks partners with Right Networks to provide hosting. Hosting costs an additional $450/yr per user.

Tax Forms

QuickBooks Premier supports W-2s, 1099s, W-3s, and 1096s. You can order tax forms directly from Intuit. The cost begins at $17.95 and varies depending on which form you need and how many. Tax forms are included with the Enhanced and Full-Service payroll plans.

Checks

You can purchase checks, voucher checks, business wallet checks, and more from QuickBooks. Standard checks begin at $56.99/per 50 checks. Prices vary by check type and amount.

Now that you know exactly how much QuickBooks Premier costs, you can make an informed decision about whether or not it’s right for you. If so, get started using the software right away, or read our complete QuickBooks Premier review for more details.

Read Our QuickBooks Premier Review

Get Started With QuickBooks Premier

QuickBooks Enterprise Pricing

Unlike QuickBooks Pro and Premier, QuickBooks Enterprise is only available through a subscription. For Enterprise, there are three QuickBooks price levels: Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

Each plan varies significantly in terms of feature availability and pricing.

Silver

QuickBooks Enterprise Silver starts at $1,100/yr. This number can vary significantly business by business.

The price ranges depending on how many users your business needs. You can calculate how much your QuickBooks Enterprise software will cost on the Intuit website by inputting in the number of users you need. (To give you an idea of how much this price fluctuates, one user on the Silver plan would cost $1,100/yr, while 30 users would cost upwards of $7,000/yr). Luckily, Intuit is often running promotions and discounts on the Intuit website.

Here are some of the features QuickBooks Enterprise Silver includes:

  • Invoices and estimates
  • Contact management
  • Expense tracking
  • Journal entries
  • Chart of accounts
  • Accounts payable
  • Inventory
  • Project management
  • Time tracking
  • Reports
  • Budgeting
  • Tax support
  • Sales orders
  • Advanced reporting
  • Lead management
  • Loan manager
  • Business plan tool

These features are available in every QuickBooks Enterprise subscription. Read our complete QuickBooks Enterprise review for more details.

Gold

QuickBooks Enterprise Gold starts at $1,100/yr. The price ranges significantly depending on how many users you need.

In addition to the basic QuickBooks Enterprise features, QuickBooks Enterprise Gold also includes payroll services.

Platinum

QuickBooks Enterprise Platinum starts at $1,760/yr.  Again, the price varies depending on how many users your business needs.

In addition to the features offered by the Silver and Gold plans, QuickBooks Enterprise Platinum adds advanced inventory and advanced pricing capabilities.

Note: With the purchase of any QuickBooks Enterprise plan, you receive Intuit Field Management access for a single user.

Silver vs Gold vs Platinum

If we’re talking about jewelry the answer is obviously platinum, but when it comes to accounting software the best QuickBooks Enterprise version is going to depend entirely on your business’s needs and budget. Here’s a breakdown of how each QuickBooks Enterprise plan compares:

Silver Gold Platinum
Pricing $1,100+/yr $1,430+/yr $1,760+/yr
Annual Upgrades Included Included Included
Phone Support Included Included Included
Data Backups Included Included Included
Basic Features ✓ ✓ ✓
Payroll $29-$109/mo Included Included
Advanced Inventory ✘ ✘ ✓
Advanced Pricing ✘ ✘ ✓

If you need payroll, advanced inventory, and advanced pricing, then Platinum is the clear winner. If you need more users than you can get with QuickBooks Premier, but don’t need payroll or the advanced features, then maybe Silver is a better option.

To determine which version of QuickBooks Enterprise is best for your business, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have the budget for QuickBooks Enterprise?
  • Do I need payroll included or will I save money by paying for a payroll add-on each month?
  • Do I need advanced inventory or advanced pricing?

Most importantly, ask yourself if the benefits of Enterprise outweigh the steep costs. If Quickbooks Premier can do almost everything you need it to, it might be worth the slight downgrade in terms of features.

QuickBooks Enterprise Industry Editions

Once you’ve decided if Silver, Gold, or Platinum is right for your business, there’s one more question to ask yourself: should I use the standard version of QuickBooks Enterprise or one of the six industry-specific versions?

Like QuickBooks Premier, QuickBooks Enterprise offers six industry-specific editions of the software:

  • Contractor
  • Manufacturing & Wholesale
  • Nonprofit
  • Retail
  • Professional Services
  • Accountant

Each of these versions gives you access to specialized features and reports at no additional cost. Read our Quick Guide To The 6 Industry-Specific Editions of QuickBooks Enterprise for more details.

Additional QuickBooks Enterprise Fees

QuickBooks Enterprise has significantly fewer additional fees than QuickBooks Pro and Premier as many features are included with your annual subscription. For example, all QuickBooks Enterprise plans include annual upgrades and automatic data backups, and the two larger plans have built-in payroll. However, there are a few other fees to be aware of.

Payroll

QuickBooks Enterprise Gold and Platinum include payroll at no additional cost. If you want Quickbooks Enterprise Silver, you will have to pay an additional fee each month. QuickBooks offers three payroll plans: Basic, Enhance, and Full-Service. These plans range from $29/mo – $109/mo plus $2/ per employee. Learn more about what each QuickBooks payroll plan offers.

Note: QuickBooks is often running payroll promos, so be sure to take advantage of these discounts.

Hosting

If your company is in need of mobility and cloud capabilities, you can purchase online hosting at an additional cost. QuickBooks partners with Right Networks to provide hosting. For Enterprise, the QuickBooks hosting price is around $50/mo per user. For an exact quote, contact QuickBooks Enterprise’s support team directly.

Intuit Field Service Management

With a QuickBooks Enterprise subscription, you automatically get Intuit Field Service management access for one user. Intuit does not disclose the cost of additional users so contact Intuit’s Field Service Management team directly for a quote.

Tax Forms

QuickBooks Enterprise supports W-2s, 1099s, W-3s, and 1096s. You can order tax forms directly from Intuit. The cost begins at $17.95 and varies depending on which form you need and how many. Tax forms are included with the Enhanced and Full-Service payroll plans.

Checks

You can purchase checks, voucher checks, business wallet checks, and more from QuickBooks. Standard checks begin at $56.99/per 50 checks. Prices vary by check type and amount.

If QuickBooks Enterprise’s pricing didn’t scare you off, take the software for a spin with a free trial or read our complete QuickBooks Enterprise review for more information.

Read Our QuickBooks Enterprise Review

Get Started With QuickBooks Enterprise

Other QuickBooks Desktop Costs To Consider

So we’ve already covered how much QuickBooks Pro, Premier, and Enterprise cost and all of the additional fees to expect with each. But there are a few other costs you’ll want to consider.

Add-Ons

Integrations are third-party add-ons that give you additional features and capabilities. For example, software like Shopify, TSheets, and MailChimp are all integrations. QuickBooks Pro offers 170+ integrations to choose from; QuickBooks Premier has 160+ integrations and QuickBooks Enterprise offers 160+ integrations.

Most integrations come with their own monthly subscription fees, so be sure to account for these extra costs when calculating how much QuickBooks is going to set you back.

Payment Gateways

Payment gateways allow you to accept payments from your customers. Common payment processing options include PayPal, Stripe, Square, and Authorize.Net. QuickBooks Pro offers 14 payment processing integrations or you can use QuickBooks Payments. QuickBooks Premier and Enterprise offer significantly fewer payment gateways, so you’re basically looking at QuickBooks Payments.

QuickBooks Payments charges:

  • $1.00 for ACH fees
  • 2.4% + $0.30 for swiped cards
  • 3.5% + $0.3o for invoices
  • 3.5% + $0.30 for keyed in cards

Whether you use QuickBooks Payments or another payment gateway, be sure to take the credit card fees into account.

Where Can You Buy A QuickBooks Desktop License?

There are several places you can go to buy a QuickBooks Desktop license. You can purchase a license through Intuit using the QuickBooks Pro, QuickBooks Premier, or QuickBooks Enterprise websites. You will almost always find that QuickBooks is running a discount or promotion online.

Another option is to buy a QuickBooks Desktop license from a QuickBooks reseller, like Staples or OfficeMax. Retailers like Best Buy, Costco, and even Walmart often sell QuickBooks, and Amazon sells the software as well.

The QuickBooks software prices vary from reseller to reseller. Sometimes these places offer a more significant discount than Intuit (especially around Black Friday). Other times, they may be offering a far more expensive deal.

Be sure to explore all of your options before buying to make sure you are getting the best QuickBooks price.

Should You Buy An Older Version Of QuickBooks?

One question people often ask is should I buy an older version of QuickBooks?

The answer (like with so many things) is that it depends.

Generally, QuickBooks Pro, Premier, and Enterprise don’t change significantly year by year. The software usually has a few minor updates, maybe some streamlined features, or new additions each annual upgrade. This is why so many QuickBooks users utilize the same version of QuickBooks Desktop for multiple years, and why it may also be okay to buy an older version.

For example, say you want to buy QuickBooks Pro but don’t need any of the new 2018 updates. You may be able to save some money by buying QuickBooks 2017 from a reseller like Amazon or Best Buy. You can search all of the resellers previously mentioned for the best price on QuickBooks Pro 2017. However, note that the support for this version of QuickBooks will expire faster than if you were to purchase QuickBooks 2018.

There are some instances where I don’t recommend buying an older version of QuickBooks, however. For example, the price for QuickBooks Pro 2014 may be enticing, but you’d essentially be signing up for outdated features and no support. Sure, you could theoretically use the software just fine, but your software would not be supported by the QuickBooks team at all.

That means that whenever you have a question or an issue, you’re completely on your own. QuickBooks customer care won’t help. If you want to purchase a significantly older version of QuickBooks, I recommend seriously weighing the pros and cons first and deciding whether lack of support is really worth the few bucks you’d save with a smaller QuickBooks purchase price.

How To Upgrade Your Current Version of QuickBooks

You can upgrade (or downgrade) your software at any time. You can switch from QuickBooks Pro Plus to QuickBooks Premier Plus, or go from QuickBooks Premier to QuickBooks Pro — whatever your heart desires (and your business requires).

I do have a couple of tips for upgrading so you can get the best QuickBooks price.

  1. If you are planning on upgrading an annual subscription, wait until the end of your annual subscription or switch within 60-days of your annual renewal (QuickBooks has a 60-day satisfaction guarantee where you can receive a refund for your software). This way you aren’t paying twice.
  2. If you are planning on upgrading a QuickBooks license, see if you can wait it out until the latest version of QuickBooks is released. Annual QuickBooks Desktop upgrades are generally released each September. This way, you get the most up-to-date features and can use your software for longer.

Final Thoughts

I know that was a lot of information, but hopefully, this helps clear things up! Now you know everything you could possibly need to know about QuickBooks pricing.

You learned how much QuickBooks Pro, QuickBooks Premier, and QuickBooks Enterprise cost; the differences between QuickBooks Pro and Pro Plus, QuickBooks Premier and Premier Plus, and QuickBooks Silver, Gold and Platinum;  all of the additional costs to expect; and even where to find the best QuickBooks price.

If you’re still not sure which version of QuickBooks Desktop is right for you, take a look at our Complete QuickBooks Product Comparison Guide where we cover the differences between each software and how to pick which one is best for your business. There’s also a side-by-side QuickBooks features and QuickBooks price software comparison chart.

If you want to learn more, check out our complete QuickBooks Pro review, QuickBooks Premier review, or QuickBooks Enterprise review. In each of these reviews, we rate features, customer support, customer reviews, security, and more. We also give links to free trials of each software. Take a look or get started right away with your favorite version of QuickBooks Desktop.

Get Started With QuickBooks Pro

Get Started With QuickBooks Premier

Get Started With QuickBooks Enterprise

The post The Complete Guide To QuickBooks Desktop Pricing appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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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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Payment Processing Companies And Services For Small Businesses

Payment Processing Services And Companies For Small Businesses

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

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

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

Payment Processing Services

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

Credit Card Payment Processing

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

Debit Card Payment Processing

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

ACH Payment Processing

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

NFC Mobile Wallet Payment Acceptance

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

Mobile Payment Processing

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

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

eCommerce Payment Processing

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

Online Reporting

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

Canadian Payment Processing

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

Nonprofit Payment Processing

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

High-Risk Payment Processing

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

Low-Volume Payment Processing

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

Payment Processing Companies

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

Square

Square Logo

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

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

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

CDGcommerce

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

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

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

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

Helcim

Helcim logo

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

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

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

Dharma Merchant Services

Dharma Merchant Services review

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

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

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

Payline Data

Payline Data high risk merchant accounts

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

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

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

Fattmerchant

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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What Is 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.

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What Is A Merchant Services Provider?

What is a merchant services provider?

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

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

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

Types of Merchant Services Providers

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

Merchant Account Providers

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

Payment Services Providers (PSPs)

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

Payment Gateway Providers

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

Types of Merchant Services

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

Merchant Accounts

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

Credit Card Terminals

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

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

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

Point of Sale (POS) Systems

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

Mobile Payment (mPOS) Systems

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

Payment Gateway

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

Virtual Terminal

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

Online Shopping Carts

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

eCheck (ACH) Processing

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

Merchant Cash Advances and Small Business Loans

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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The Best First Data Credit Card Processing Alternatives

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

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

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

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

Overview of First Data

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

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

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

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

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

Dharma Merchant Services

Dharma Merchant Services review

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

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

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

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

Helcim

Helcim logo

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

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

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

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

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

Fattmerchant

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

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

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

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

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

Chase Merchant Services

Chase merchant services review logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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