No Credit? Here Are The Best Credit Cards To Improve Your Score

credit cards no credit

One of the primary ways for people to build up their credit scores and establish a healthy credit history is to make monthly credit card payments on time. Of course, this begs the question: How do you build up your credit when you don’t have a credit card in the first place?

Thankfully, there are a number of credit cards that can help those with bad credit — or even no credit — cover daily expenses while boosting their credit scores. Most of them require a security deposit, after which you’ll be extended a credit line equal to that of your deposit. Unfortunately, for those with no credit, unsecured credit cards are hard to come by, though they do exist, as you’ll see.

Let’s delve deeper into the world of credit cards for those without credit.

Petal Visa Credit Card

Petal Visa Credit Card


Petal Visa Credit Card
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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.24% – 26.24%, Variable

The Petal Visa credit card, issued by Utah-based WebBank, is a rarity in the credit card industry in that a) it is marketed specifically as a credit card for people with no credit history at all, and b) it is an unsecured card. You won’t have to make a security deposit in order to use the card! What’s more, your payments will be reported to the three major credit bureaus, thus building your credit (assuming you make your payments on time).

When you apply for the Petal Visa card, your income and spending will be analyzed to determine your creditworthiness, and while you can get approved without having a credit score, having a somewhat decent credit score may help you secure a higher credit limit.

The card offers credit limits between $500 and $10,000, which is quite generous for a card of this sort. The card also offers a variable APR of 15.24% – 26.24%, which is lower than that of many credit-building cards. Remarkably, the card charges no fees whatsoever — no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, no late fees, and no penalty APR. Simply put, the Petal Visa card is a consumer-friendly product in a field where such products are few and far between.

The card has no rewards, cash back, bonus offer, or introductory 0% APR.

OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card

OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card



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Annual Fee:


$35

 

Purchase APR:


19.64%, Variable

The OpenSky Secured Visa card is a rarity in that the company does not check your credit when you apply, making this card ideal for somebody with no credit history.

As this is a secured card, you’ll have to make a security deposit of at least $200 which will establish your credit line. And though there are no rewards to earn and no bonus offers, the card does report your spending to the big three credit bureaus, making the OpenSky Secured Visa a solid choice if you need to establish a credit history.

Unfortunately, the card sports a $35 annual fee and a 3% foreign transaction fee. However, the card’s APR comes in at just under 20%, which beats the APRs of many credit cards pitched to people with no credit or poor credit.

Discover it Secured

Discover it Secured


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Annual Fee:


$0

Purchase APR:


25.24%, Variable

The Discover it Secured card is a traditional credit-building card in that it requires a security deposit. Your deposit, which must be between $200 and $2500, will become your credit limit. And like the other cards featured in this article, the card reports to the three major credit bureaus.

The Discover it Secured card offers an impressive level of rewards for a card of this type. You’ll earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter and 1% cash back on all other purchases. What’s more, at the end of your first year, Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned by that point. The card also carries no annual fee.

Secured Mastercard from Capital One

Secured Mastercard From Capital One



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


26.99%, Variable

The Secured Mastercard from Capital One offers an unusual benefit for a secured credit card: You may be able to get a credit limit higher than the amount of your security deposit. If you’re approved, you’ll get an initial $200 credit limit, but your required security deposit will be either $49, $99 or $200, depending on Capital One’s assessment of your creditworthiness. You can also get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time.

While the card has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee, you won’t earn any rewards for your spending. The card’s APR (currently at 26.99% variable) is also rather high, so you won’t want to carry a monthly balance if you can avoid it.

Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One

Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One


Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One
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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


26.99%, Variable

The Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One doesn’t require a security deposit and doesn’t require you to be a college student. Nonetheless, it offers some nice perks for students looking to build up their credit score. Sadly, you must have at least average credit to qualify.

The Journey Student Credit Card offers 1% cash back for all your purchases, but if you make your monthly payments on time, you’ll get 1.25% cash back for all your purchases each month you pay on time. It’s a nice inducement to pay on time if the prospect of boosting your credit score (the card reports to the credit bureaus, naturally) isn’t inducement enough!

The card carries no annual fee or foreign transaction fee, but like Capital One’s Secured Mastercard, the card features a high variable APR of 26.99%.

Spark Classic from Capital One

Spark Classic From Capital One


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


25.24%, Variable

The Spark Classic from Capital One is a business credit card for rebuilding credit. As such, the card comes with business perks such as free cards for your employees, all while helping you build your business credit score (the card reports to the business credit bureaus, not the personal ones).

One of the few cards available for business owners that requires only average personal credit, the card offers a modest cash back rate of 1% for all your purchases. It also features no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee.

The card’s high APR (25.24% variable) means that you should try to avoid carrying a significant balance from month to month.

Credit One Bank Platinum Visa for Rebuilding Credit

Credit One Bank Unsecured Platinum Visa


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Annual Fee:


$0 – $99 ($0 – $75 the first year)

 

Purchase APR:


20.24% – 26.24%, Variable

The Credit One Bank Platinum Visa for Rebuilding Credit (note that the issuer is Credit One, not Capital One) is a credit option for borrowers with bad/limited credit who can’t or won’t pay a security deposit. However, due to the fees involved, you might not want to make this card your first choice.

If you are approved to get this card, you’ll have to pay a $75 annual fee immediately, thus bringing your credit line down from $300 to $225. Unfortunately, after the first year, your annual fee may rise to $99/year. I say “might” because Credit One lists the post-1st-year annual fee as “$0 to $99”. The company also reserves the right to divide your annual fee by 12 and charge you on a monthly basis.

While the card offers 1% cash back on eligible gas and groceries plus mobile phone, internet, cable, and satellite TV services, only “qualified” Platinum Visa card members can receive 1% cash back rewards on all purchases. Credit One doesn’t explain how you can qualify for this.

Wells Fargo Business Secured Credit Card

Wells Fargo Business Secured Credit Card


business credit cards fair credit
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Annual Fee:


$25

 

Purchase APR:


Prime + 11.90%

The Wells Fargo Business Secured Credit Card is one of the few secured business credit cards out there. Let’s take a closer look.

With this card, you’ll get a $500 to $25,000 credit line based on the amount you deposit. As for spending rewards, you’re given the choice between getting cash back and getting reward points. Choose cash back and you’ll also get 1.5% cash back on all your purchases and your cash back will be credited quarterly to your account.

If you choose reward points, you’ll get 1 point for every $1 spent on net purchases and 1,000 bonus points when your company spends $1,000 or more in any monthly billing period. You can redeem points for gift cards, merchandise, airline tickets, and more.

The Wells Fargo Business Secured card comes with an annual fee of $25 per card, no foreign transaction fee, and a relatively competitive APR. And while Wells Fargo states that your card activity “is shared with major credit bureaus to help build credit history,” the company does not specify whether these bureaus are business credit bureaus or consumer credit bureaus.

Citi Secured Mastercard

Secured Mastercard From Citi


best secured credit cards
Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

Purchase APR:


26.99%, Variable

The Citi Secured Mastercard is another secured credit card — one meant for people with no credit or a limited credit history.

The card requires a security deposit of between $200-$2,500 which will be the basis for your credit limit. Citi will report your credit activity to the major consumer credit bureaus.

There’s no annual fee, but the APR is relatively high and there are no rewards to accumulate or bonus offers to earn.

What You Need To Apply For A Credit Card

As you may not have applied for a credit card before, here’s what you’ll need to provide when you apply:

  • Your legal name
  • Your birth date
  • Your address
  • Your Social Security number (your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) may suffice if you don’t have a Social Security number
  • Your annual income

How To Use A Credit Card To Build Credit

free credit score monitoring service

The primary way that using a credit card helps you build credit is that when you make your monthly payments on time, most credit card issuers will report your activity to the major consumer credit bureaus, who will then take your payment activity into account when setting your FICO score.

However, there’s more to it than just that. Check out this article on using credit cards to build your credit for a more detailed look at the subject.

Final Thoughts

It’s a cruel catch-22: Having credit makes it easier to build credit. When it comes to the credit cards you can obtain with no credit history, the options are limited and imperfect.

Thankfully, as this article has demonstrated, you do have some viable credit card options when seeking to establish a healthy credit history. Of course, no matter what credit card you’re able to obtain, it won’t help your credit score if you can’t make your monthly payments on time. Use your new card wisely!

Here’s some additional information to help you on your credit journey!

  • How to improve your credit score
  • Using personal credit cards for business
  • How to build credit with a credit card

The post No Credit? Here Are The Best Credit Cards To Improve Your Score appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Best Fuel Cards For Truckers And Trucking Companies

best fuel cards for truckers

Fuel cards (also known as fleet cards) are unique payment instruments designed to help trucking companies save money on the cost of fuel and maintenance as well as monitor their workforce’s spending. These cards are accepted by fuel vendors that comprise the network of locations that accept the card in question. Generally, these networks will cover over 10,000 gas stations nationwide, though a few such networks feature hundreds of thousands of individual gas stations.

Let’s take a closer look at the fuel cards that best fit your trucking business.

Best for Fuel card
No monthly charges ExxonMobil Business Fleet Card
Small & mid-size companies WEX FlexCard
National coverage Shell Fleet Navigator Card
Rewards Fuelman Advantage Platinum Mastercard

Best For No Monthly Charges

ExxonMobil Business Fleet Card


ExxonMobil Business Fleet Card
Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


N/A (charge card)

The ExxonMobil Business Fleet card offers a rebate of up to 6 cents per gallon on your fleet’s fuel purchases depending on the total gallons purchased per billing period. Additionally, there are no monthly charges associated with the card and no setup fees.

The ExxonMobil Business Fleet card’s rebate structure is as follows:

  • Less than 500 gallons purchased during billing period =  1¢ per gallon
  • 500 to 3,999 gallons purchased = 3¢ per gallon
  • 4,000 to 6,999 gallons purchased = 4¢ per gallon
  • 7,000 to 9,999 gallons purchased = 5¢ per gallon
  • 10,000+ gallons purchased = 6¢ per gallon

The ExxonMobil Business Fleet Card is a charge card. As such, the card doesn’t carry an APR since you can’t carry a balance from month-to-month.

With the ExxonMobil Business Fleet card, you’ll be able to view all of the following from your online account:

  • Card and driver detail
  • Payment history
  • Available credit
  • Manage invoices and payments
  • Set restrictions on purchase types
  • Set limits for transactions, gallons, and dollar amounts
  • Set specific limits for time-of-day and day-of-week
  • Receive notifications when expenses fall outside your company policies

One word of caution: This card is only good at the 10,000 Exxon and Mobil stations in the US. These stations are most prevalent in the eastern US.

Best For Small & Mid-Size Companies

WEX FlexCard


WEX FlexCard
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Annual Fee:


$24 per card

 

Purchase APR:


N/A

For a fuel card that will both help you save on fuel and cover fuel purchases nearly everywhere your fleet goes, check out the WEX FlexCard.

Like the ExxonMobil Business Fleet Card, the WEX FlexCard is a charge card — but unlike the ExxonMobil card, the WEX FlexCard allows you to carry a balance for up to 26 days. And while the FlexCard’s 3¢ rebate on every gallon of fuel purchased falls short of the maximum rate of the ExxonMobil card, it equals or exceeds said rate if you purchase less than 4,000 gallons of fuel per billing period. As such, it’s a great fuel card for small and mid-sized fleets.

The WEX FlexCard is accepted at over 90% of fuel stations nationwide. This comes out to over 160,000 US refueling locations and 45,000 US service locations.

The Wex FlexCard does carry a monthly fee of $2 per card, though this shouldn’t put that big of a dent in your profits.

In addition to the above features, WEX’s fleet management and fuel management services can, when used in tandem, help you save even more on fuel — up to 15% by the company’s estimation.

Best For National Coverage

Shell Fleet Navigator Card


Shell Fleet Navigator Card
Compare

Annual Fee:


Unspecified “limited fees”

 

Purchase APR:


23.00%, Variable

If you’re looking for the fuel card with the maximum possible coverage, you’d do well to investigate the Shell Fleet Navigator Card.

This fuel card is accepted at fully 95% of gas stations across the US, including all 14,000+ Shell and Jiffy Lube locations. You’re exceedingly unlikely to be left high and dry by the Shell Fleet Navigator Card.

The card comes with spending controls and expense management systems on par with every other fuel card out there. What’s more, the Shell Fleet Navigator card is not a charge card. Instead, the card is akin to a traditional credit card in that you can carry a balance from month-to-month.

The Shell Fleet Navigator Card also offers a rebate of up to 5 cents per gallon of fuel purchased each billing cycle depending on the amount spent. Unfortunately, Shell doesn’t disclose the amount of fuel per month you need to purchase before the 5 cent rate takes effect. Likewise, while the card doesn’t officially carry an annual fee, Shell states that the card may carry “limited fees” — though these fees are not detailed by the company.

Best For Rewards

Fuelman Advantage Platinum Mastercard


Fuelman Advantage Platinum Mastercard
Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


N/A

The Fuelman Advantage Platinum Mastercard is another card with near total US coverage — you can use this card at any location that accepts Mastercard. But that’s just the beginning of the benefits you’ll get from using this card. (I like to think these cards are named for someone who just happens to be named Fuelman)

With this Fuelman card, you’ll get up to 3¢ per gallon in rebates on your fuel purchases depending on the volume of fuel you purchase each month (sadly the exact volume/rate data is not provided by the company) and an additional 2-3¢ per gallon when you use gas stations that are a part of the Fuelman Discount Network.

This discount network will also get you a 3 5% rebate on purchases at Firestone and Tires Plus Retail Locations.

This card is a charge card and it carries no annual fee.

Best Prepaid Fuel Cards

Let’s change gears here (get it?) and discuss prepaid fuel cards. Now, a prepaid fuel card is not the same thing as an actual fuel card. Essentially, a prepaid fuel card is just a gift card that can be used at a gas station, and as such shares little in common with either fuel cards or credit cards. Nonetheless, prepaid fuel cards can be quite useful for the company whose operations involve a degree of road travel, and, as such, I thought I should mention them here. These cards aren’t for mid-size to large trucking companies.

Shell Refillable Card

The Shell Refillable Card can be used at all Shell locations. Up to $300 can be loaded onto the card at one time. You can track the balance and your spending online.

If your company’s driving needs are limited and you want to make sure only fuel is purchased on the company dime, consider using the Shell Refillable Card.

ARCO Prepaid Fuel Card

The ARCO Prepaid Fuel Card is nearly identical to the Shell Refillable Card, except you use it at ARCO stations. It is a good prepaid gas card to use on the west coast where most ARCO stations are located.

If you’re a west coast company with limited driving needs, you might want to give ARCO Prepaid Fuel cards a look.

Are Fuel Cards Worth It?

Let’s move on to the larger question of whether or not fuel cards are worth getting in the first place.

If your business uses two or more company vehicles for travel and your company purchases over 1,000 gallons of fuel each month, it may be worth it to get a fuel card. This is true for the following reasons:

  • Fuel cards come with in-depth purchasing controls to ensure your employees are using the company card for driving-related expenses only
  • Advanced analytics can improve your drivers’ efficiency
  • Monthly/annual fees tend to be small or nonexistent
  • Save money, both on gas purchases and on repair/maintenance costs
  • Advanced GPS apps that point the way toward in-network gas stations and service centers

Of course, the fact that fuel cards can only be used to purchase fuel and repair/maintenance services means that fuel cards are much less flexible than credit cards. Additionally, rewards programs associated with fuel cards tend to be more limited than those of credit cards, as only certain gas stations participate in said rewards programs.

Also, consider the fact that most fuel cards are charge cards. This means you won’t be able to carry a balance from month-to-month, giving you less leeway when paying your bills. Also, the fuel cards that do allow you to carry a balance never come with an introductory 0% APR offer. In fact, fuel cards just about never offer any signup bonuses.

What To Look For In A Fuel Card

Here’s what you need to keep in mind when looking for a fuel card:

  • Get a card that fits your location — Many fuel cards can only be used at certain gas station chains or within networks that cover certain regions of the country and not others. Look into exactly where a fuel card can be used before deciding on one.
  • Get a card that fits the amount of fuel you purchase each month — Many fuel cards offer rebates on fuel purchases, but these rebates are often tied to how much fuel your company buys each month. Try to determine how much fuel per month your company will be using before getting a fuel card. This way, you can find the card with a rebate program that best caters to your fuel “sweet spot.”
  • Understand how the fuel pricing works when considering a fuel card — Some fuel cards allow you to batch your fuel purchases after a certain length of time. This means you may be able to pay less than the price listed at the pump, but this pricing scheme can also come with its own fees and requirements. Be sure to understand how pricing works before obtaining your fuel card.

Final Thoughts

Trucking companies have their own particular financing needs, just like any specialty industry. The fuel card is one of the tools by which your business can save on the cost of fuel and keep employee spending under control.

To learn more about how to set up your trucking business for growth, let Merchant Maverick lend you a hand.

  • Best business loans for trucking companies
  • Best free credit score sites
  • How to improve your score

The post Best Fuel Cards For Truckers And Trucking Companies appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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What Is Credit Card Tokenization?

Tokenizing Payments

While tokenization in the payment security space may be relatively new, evolving, and even somewhat complicated, the concept of substituting one bit of information for another to protect something is anything but new. Tokenizing protects sensitive or personal data by replacing it with a “token” — a code word, essentially, though that might be oversimplifying the matter. Because the token is a substitute for the actual data, it holds no value if intercepted by fraudsters. You would need a way to decode the token in order for it to have any value. 

In this post, we are going to focus on credit card tokenization, but you should also know that tokenizing other types of highly sensitive data like social security numbers and personal records may become commonplace across markets — and very soon.

But back to the payment industry. As of late, the idea of tokenization is typically linked to digital wallets like Apple Pay and Android Pay, and for good reason. But there are many implementations of tokenization technology including:

  • Card-on-file subscription billing
  • One-click checkouts on eCommerce sites
  • In-app payments
  • All NFC mobile wallets (contactless payments)

Whether you are a brick-and-mortar shop wanting to implement contactless payment options for your customers, you have an online shop, you use an app to support your business, or you have regulars you know and love, you could start taking advantage of credit card tokenization.

And if you’ve bought anything via those methods listed above (who hasn’t?) in the last couple of years, the chances pretty good that your data was tokenized. So what is tokenization?

Tokenization Defined

When we define tokenization, it’s worth mentioning that while the main crux of the matter is consistent, no one-size-fits-all definition is universally accepted among the big payment security organizations like PCI and EMV. However, here is a simplified version, as given by the PCI Council, that gets to the heart of the matter:

Tokenization is a process by which the Primary Account Number (PAN) is replaced with a surrogate value called a token.

When we look at the PAN, which is the actual account number on your credit card, remember that other sensitive pieces of data connect to it — including your personal information and expiration date of the card. When we tokenize, we place all of that information farther from merchants, cashiers, and other players in the payment process. And because the data is no longer recognizable in its token form, we protect it across the payment process. A token’s life can be for just one interaction to get coffee, or a store could tokenize payment data for a specific customer for a limited amount of time.

Also, notice in the definition I shared in bold above, that there is no defined “how,” because it depends on how you implement the tokenization process and what application your business needs. Here are a few examples to help shed some light on how sensitive data gets tokenized.

How The Account Number Gets Tokenized

There are two ways to tokenize data: partial or total. They each have their advantages but may not be right for all situations.

First up, let’s talk about partial tokenization. In some cases, the middle six digits of a customer’s credit card get replaced with a token. The first group of numbers doesn’t get tokenized so that the processor knows what type of card they are dealing with (Visa and MasterCard have unique identifying numbers). Additionally, the last four digits of the PAN also remain intact for customer reference. This type of partialized tokenization is also backward compatible, meaning the token has the same amount of numbers as the real PAN. It “looks like a real card and acts like a real card” when a merchant enters it into their own POS system. If a merchant wants to tokenize data and keep their legacy system, this is one way to do it.

The other way to tokenize the PAN is to completely randomize all of the numbers. All of this is done by a third-party, and may include vault storage to keep the payment card data. In either case, the same general thing happens in a sale; the tokenized number is de-tokenized and matched with the real card data. More on that below.

What Happens During A Tokenized Sale?

When it comes time to process a payment, whether that is through an eCommerce site, an app, or a mobile wallet, the payment processing steps are generally similar. Here is a simplified process for your perusal below.

  1. The customer initiates payment for a product or service.
  2. Next, the merchant sends the token to the acquirer.
  3. Acquirer routes the token to Visa’s network.
  4. Visa sends a token to the card issuer.
  5. Issuer returns token and authorization.
  6. Viola! A sale is complete.

Check out the screenshot below for a visual example of tokenization, courtesy of Visa’s Infographic, How Tokens Are Used.

Tokenization

As we’ve discussed, tokenization relies on a completely random, traceless value as the surrogate. This process is unlike encryption which relies on a mathematical algorithm. Let’s take a look at how tokenization and encryption compare.

Tokenization vs. Encryption

Tokenization and encryption are similar in that the data is “hidden” from would-be interceptors, but the process of each is totally different. In tokenization, the customer data gets replaced with a token — a completely random number. In tokenization, typically a vault stores all of the actual data on a “table.” After de-tokenization, this random string of digits (sometimes alphanumeric) are matched up with the real account. The main takeaway here is that the token gets passed to the merchant and eventually back to the table, without exposing the real payment card information to the merchant.

With encryption, the payment card information runs through an algorithm, a mathematical process, to transform the original data into something indecipherable until unlocked with the “key” during processing. Since the process isn’t randomized, the algorithm is somewhat vulnerable to hackers trying to crack the code.

In short, encryption is mathematically reversible, and tokenization is not. Additionally, encryption is not a complete, end-to-end security method, like tokenization. Payment processing costs can be a bit higher with encryption as it requires more computational power (e.g., rotation of “keys”) than tokenization throughout the payment processing cycle.

Considering The Pros & Cons

While tokenization can be cheaper to implement per transaction than encryption, and it isn’t mathematically reversible, there are some issues to consider. Because vaulted tokenization requires central management, there is a lot of pressure to maintain a wholly secured vault (however, sometimes the issuer (e.g., Visa) hosts the vault, too).

Additionally, tokenization does significantly reduce PCI scope for merchants, meaning there is less pressure on the merchant for payment security overall. That means less work for you to do in order to remain PCI compliant. While encryption is a generally accepted security measure, it does not do anything to reduce your PCI scope or lessen the work you must do to stay PCI compliant. 

However, tokenization is still a relatively young whippersnapper in the world of payment security. Encryption has been around for a while, and consumers regard it well. But tokenization has become more attractive to those who understand that the payment security industry must stay a step ahead.

Tokenization’s Protective Role In Payment Processing

Tokenization Vault Security

There are a few ways that tokenization protects information during payment processing. As mentioned before, customer data is made useless to a would-be interceptor because it’s no longer the actual information; it is a token that substitutes the actual data. The other way that tokenization protects data is that in the case of digital wallets, the credit card number isn’t stored on the customer’s device, either. That means thieves can’t retrieve credit card numbers from a phone, tablet, watch, or connected device when a customer and a merchant utilizes a digital wallet.

As the payment security industry evolves, we’ll continue to move further away from sharing a physical card and any identifying information that comes with it. Tokenization successfully separates our sensitive data from the transaction by taking the physical card out of the equation entirely, and it does this by tokenizing parts or all of the credit card number.

Because tokenization also removes the merchant from the equation when it comes to transmitting highly sensitive data, it also significantly reduces a merchant’s risk to fraud — from both internal and external threats. That being said, there are some things to consider depending on how you implement tokenization.

How Can Merchants Adopt Tokenization?

There are several ways that you can adopt tokenization into payment processing for your physical, eCommerce shop, or your mobile app! The simplest way for the brick-and-mortar shop to tokenize payments is to get a contactless, NFC-capable reader. Mobile wallets already tokenize the data so as long as you can accept payments from these mobile wallets without having to do anything yourself. As far as tokenizing other transactions, you can ask your existing payment processor about tokenization options for your POS. If you are an eCommerce shop or you have an app, MasterCard and Visa both offer solutions, too.

Mastercard offers a free, optional service called Digital Secure Remote Payment (DSRP), and all you need to do is contact your acquirer to see if they support DSRP, and then integrate the mobile app with the digital wallet partner. You can also look into the Visa Developer Platform — a program offered by Visa where their team works with you to create your mobile payment application with Visa Token Service SDK.  

Sometimes, there is more to the whole tokenization shift than patch-on solutions, however. If your business has a tremendous legacy system with other data to consider, a more complex, third-party solution may be necessary. While we won’t get into all the nitty gritty in this post, here are a few things to consider below.

Companies Specializing In Tokenization

If you inherently deal with sensitive information as a part of your business model and you need to create a custom solution, you will need to find a PCI compliant company with a trustworthy, highly secure tokenization method and vault. Here are some things to ask:

  • How are tokens randomized? How protected is the “key” that de-tokenizes?
  • Is a reversible algorithm used? If so, how protected is that software?
  • And ultimately, how protected is the table holding the data and the vault protecting it?

While it becomes a bit more tricky to ensure that all of the right security measures are in place, tokenization can still reduce your risk as a merchant and help protect data from a breach. However, you’ll need to ensure due diligence when it comes to new or legacy systems. The PCI Council says it best in the PCI DSS Tokenization Guidelines Document:

Tokenization solutions can vary greatly across different implementations, including differences in deployment models, tokenization and de-tokenization methods, technologies, and processes. Merchants considering the use of tokenization should perform a thorough evaluation and risk analysis to identify and document the unique characteristics of their particular implementation, including all interactions with payment card data and the particular tokenization systems and processes.

Do You Need Tokenization To Process Credit Cards?

Keep in mind that at this point, there are no hard and fast rules as to exactly how to implement tokenization, so if you are a merchant, the ball is in your court to make the best decision for your business needs. That being said, tokenization can significantly reduce the merchant’s liability when it comes to payment security. And keep in mind: You don’t have to carry the burden of tokenization yourself. There are ways to utilize the expertise of other companies and hardware to get the job done. If your business is just looking to improve payment processing and you don’t need or want to store sensitive payment card or personal data, using the solutions discussed in this post provide a much simpler way to navigate tokenization.

While it’s not mandatory — and is undoubtedly flexible in implementation –, tokenization remains one of the fastest growing ways to keep data more secure and shift the risk of fraud away from the merchant while protecting the transaction from end to end.

The post What Is Credit Card Tokenization? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Lowe’s Credit Cards VS Home Depot Credit Cards – Which Is Right For Your Business?

Lowe’s and Home Depot are two of the biggest home improvement juggernauts. Like many big box stores, they both offer an array of co-branded credit cards.

These cards give you rewards or pay lower interest rates when you buy at either store. This makes them appealing options if you frequent either Lowe’s or Home Depot. Should you have both stores nearby, selecting the right card could ultimately save your business a decent amount of money.

Ready to find out the best Lowe’s or Home Depot options for your business? Read through to find out!

Best Standard Credit Card: Lowe’s Business Rewards Card From American Express

Lowe’s Business Rewards Card from American Express



Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


17.99% – 26.99%, Variable

For businesses that shop frequently at either Lowe’s or Home Depot, but need a card that can be used elsewhere as well, there’s only one choice: Lowe’s Business Rewards Card From American Express. That’s because all of Home Depot’s cards can only be used in-store, and the rest of Lowe’s offerings can only be used in-store, too.

This Amex card features three points per dollar spent at restaurants and U.S.-based office supply stores, and on wireless telephone services purchased straight from U.S. service providers. You’ll then collect two points per dollar spent on Lowe’s purchases and one point per dollar on everything else. On top of those rewards, you’ll also get 5% off when buying at Lowe’s—effectively giving you 7% back when buying from the home improvement store.

Once you get your rewards, you’ll be able to redeem them for Lowe’s or American Express gift cards. Besides the base rewards scheme, this card lets you snag 5,000 bonus points after you spend $100 in your first 30 days.

You’ll also get access to standard credit card features. These include employee cards, an extended warranty of up to two years, purchase protection against theft and damage, and travel insurance. Additional bonuses include no annual fee, although there is a foreign transaction fee of 2.7%.

Best Store Card: Lowe’s Advantage Card

Lowe’s Advantage Card


Lowe’s Advantage Card
Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


26.99%, Variable

When it comes to a basic in-store card, Lowe’s takes the cake again. The Advantage Card nets you 5% off eligible Lowe’s purchases as its base rewards feature. This discount cannot be used in combination with coupons, price-matching, or various other discounts, including military and employee ones.

You can also opt out of the 5% discount and into two different special financing options. The first financing method scores you six months 0% APR on purchases above $299.

Lowe’s second option (called “project financing”) enables special financing on purchases above $2,000. Here’s its payment table:

  • 36 fixed monthly payments at 3.99% APR
  • 60 fixed monthly payments at 5.99% APR
  • 84 fixed monthly payments at 7.99% APR

If either financing option is selected, the 5% discount will be voided. With this in mind, the financing routes should only be used when necessary. Note that despite these special financing rates, the Advantage Card’s standard APR sits rather high.

Also, this is not marketed as a business-specific card; however, using a personal card for business can still be an excellent option.

Best Rewards Program: Lowe’s

Keeping with the theme, Lowe’s has the best overall rewards program. The reason for this is simple: every Lowe’s card features—at the bare minimum—5% off every purchase made with Lowe’s. Home Depot, meanwhile, either offers a convoluted gas discount with their Commercial Account Credit Card and Commercial Revolving Charge Card or no rewards at all.

Besides that 5% off, Lowe’s includes additional rewards with their American Express co-branded business card. This means that the Business Rewards Card can ultimately collect up to 7% cash back if you’re using it at Lowe’s. This rate is very impressive and is ultimately one of the best cash back rates across all credit cards.

Home Depot’s lone rewards program (bundled with the Commercial Account and Commercial Revolving cards) features a $0.10 per gallon savings when you fuel up at Shell and other select gas stations for every $100 purchased at Home Depot. Because you’re able to buy up to 20 gallons of gas with the savings in effect, you essentially get 2% cash back earmarked for gas.

Best For A Large Purchase: Home Depot Project Loan Card

Home Depot Project Loan Card


Home Depot Project Loan Card
Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


7.99%, Fixed

While Lowe’s leads the way in most categories, Home Depot still has one trick up its sleeve. That trick comes in the form of their Project Loan Card.

Aimed at those working on large projects, this card is technically a loan. You’ll be able to receive a loan between $2,500 and $55,000. It offers a fixed APR of 7.99%. You’ll have 84 months to pay off the loan and can pay in-full early without penalty.

Once approved for the Project Loan Card, you’ll have a six-month window to buy products or installation services. There are no annual fees included with this card. However, because it is ultimately a loan, you won’t score any rewards like you might with a regular credit card.

Best APR: Lowe’s Advantage Card

Lowe’s Advantage Card


Lowe’s Advantage Card
Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


26.99%, Variable

For the best APR, we come back to the Lowe’s Advantage Card. While its standard APR is higher than most cards, the special financing attached with this card sets it apart.

As mentioned earlier, you’re able to forgo the card’s 5% discount on Lowe’s purchases and instead choose one of two financing options. The initial option grants you six months 0% APR on purchases above $299.

For the second option, you can nab special financing on purchases at Lowe’s that are above $2,000. Its rates and time frames are as follows:

  • 36 fixed monthly payments at 3.99% APR
  • 60 fixed monthly payments at 5.99% APR
  • 84 fixed monthly payments at 7.99% APR

Other cards may offer better standard interest rates. However—because of its pair of options—the Lowe’s Advantage Card makes a great tool for those making a large hardware purchase and needing to carry a balance.

Final Thoughts

All told, Lowe’s generally offers the better cards. Between higher reward rates and more appealing APRs, Lowe’s cards are simply more appetizing. However, Home Depot still has an excellent option if you need a larger loan for a project.

Didn’t find a card you’re looking for? Get a bigger picture on all of Lowe’s credit cards. Or take a peek at Home Depot’s offerings.

The post Lowe’s Credit Cards VS Home Depot Credit Cards – Which Is Right For Your Business? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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What Is An SMS Payment And How Does It Work?

We all know and love our Short Messaging Service (SMS) — better known simply as the text message. But did you know that you can start taking SMS payments for your business? And that it is relatively easy to get started?

In the United States, we are just now warming up to the idea of sending and receiving payments by text, but businesses throughout the world have already adopted SMS payments for everything from mass transit tickets to lattes.

While Americans are less likely to pay by text for everyday purchases, text payments are still an undeniably growing trend. You may already be familiar with payments by text when it comes to charitable donations, but home service providers (e.g., AT&T) are starting to offer SMS payments for their customers as well.

Text payments offer potential growth for many other types of businesses, too. Pizza shops, salons, or any business that has ‘regulars’ could benefit from text payments. SMS payment services are probably not for everyone, however, so let’s take a look at how text-to-pay works and if it’s right for your business.

How Do SMS Payments Work?

SMS Ordering

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of how SMS payments work, it’s pretty simple, really. While there may be some variations with each company that offers text messaging payment services, generally you can expect the following elements when it comes time to pay:

  1. A business sends a text to their customer’s phone number or the customer texts a shortcode number to the business to initiate the sale.
  2. After communicating what product or service the customer wishes to purchase, the business sends the customer a link to a secure, mobile-friendly payment form.
  3. The customer enters their payment information and can typically approve saving the card on file for recurring payments or a future purchase.
  4. The customer may get a unique code to complete the purchase.

The customer may also get another verification text from the payment processing company to confirm their intent to buy. As stated above, the exact process may vary by company, but you can expect a similar procedure to complete the sale.

Mobile Carriers Vs. Payment Processors for Text Payments

Many people associate text message payments with charity donations (often the amount is added to their phone bill). What is lesser known is that phone carriers generally only allow organizations to accept donated amounts in $5 or $10 increments. By setting up these limits, phone carriers reduce their own risk from non-paying customers. While the phone carrier setup can work great for flash-giving campaigns and allow an organization to avoid paying some payment processing fees, it isn’t a viable solution for businesses.

Enter companies like Relay, Pagato, and Sonar. These companies, and those like them, support SMS payments by integrating their messaging services with secure, PCI-compliant payment processing.

What Do You Need to Accept SMS Payments?

To get started accepting SMS payments, you’ll need to choose the company with the services that fit your needs best. There are some differences between the ways companies like Relay, Pagato, and Sonar price their services. Let’s briefly take a look at each of these three examples.

Relay (formerly Rhombus):

Relay charges $50/month for 250 “tickets” which refers to completed conversations. With that, you also get 1000 free SMS texts. All plans include automated responses, unlimited contacts, customer segmentation, and other engagement tools. Don’t forget about the actual credit card processing fees, however! Relay integrates with Stripe, and you pay 2.9% + $0.30 per successful transaction. You can accept every major card at the same rate with Stripe processing. (If you aren’t familiar with Stripe, check out our Stripe Payments Review.)

SMS Payments Relay

Pagato:

Pagato integrates with Stripe, Braintree (read our review), and Quickbooks Payments (read our review). In addition to the payment processing fees of your merchant account, you’ll pay 1% per transaction with a minimum of $0.20 per transaction. With Pagato, you can accept payments through SMS and social media channels like Instagram and Facebook, too. You won’t have additional setup, monthly, or hidden fees.

SMS Payments Pagato

Sonar:

Sonar offers packages starting at $24.67/month and $0.025 per SMS message. You can send automated messages, track customer data, set up campaigns and even A/B test them as well. Sonar integrates with Stripe, and your payment processing fees are 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.

SMS Sonar

These are examples of some lesser-known companies, but the more prominent players like Square and PayPal allow you to send a text with a link to pay individual customers, too. The Square Cash App and PayPal don’t have the muscle to do much beyond sending a link to pay, however. You can’t A/B test marketing campaigns for an offer that you send out with Square or PayPal, for instance.

Keep in mind that most of the SMS messaging platforms mentioned above offer a free trial period and a demo to learn more about the exact features. So don’t hesitate to ask a lot of questions to get the information you need. It’s also a good idea to meet with your team and discuss the benefits of each platform, and of course, determine if your sales team has the bandwidth to have multiple open text conversations with customers. Text can be a powerful way to connect to your customers, but it is definitely not suited for every business model.

Which Types of Businesses Benefit Most From SMS Payments?

mobile-card-payment-app-service

Without a doubt, there is value in using SMS messaging to build a marketing campaign and nurture those ongoing relationships with your customers. When you consider that the global average open rate on a text is more than 90%, it makes sense to start building your phone list and reaching out that way.

As far as what businesses benefit from adding SMS payments to the mix, consider this:

If your business model provides delivery, your revenue depends on recurring payments, or you target a “repeat” customer base, SMS payments can make a lot of business sense. However, you need to have the staff and time to support the nurturing of customers via text. Text conversations can be a bit longer than a phone call if there is a specific issue, so training your team on escalation procedures can help you both save time and money with SMS texts.

All this connection can be great, but not all customers are going to love texting or getting “salesy” texts from you. While SMS texting and payments can help your sales team if you use it the right way, some may find automated sales messages impersonal. Keep in mind who your customers are and what supports their journey with you when you set up your SMS services.

Another significant benefit to SMS payments is the secure and compliant payment processing services that you can integrate with, such as Stripe. Because you don’t transmit the credit card data or store it on your servers, you can significantly reduce your liability when it comes to fraud risks. Not to mention that your customer has a fast and easy way to pay you, and all of it happens from their phone!

Are SMS Payments Right For You?

Being able to take payments by text offers potential — as long as the benefits outweigh the costs. Features vary by company, so do compare service packages before making a decision. One company may find a lot of value in the extra capabilities to target and segment lists, while another may be more focused on cutting down telephone orders. What services you choose mainly depends on your business model. Because text messaging offers a clear path to your customers’ hands, it may be worth finding the right balance to connect, engage, and encourage your customers to pay by text, too.

If you are discovering what else is out there in payment processing, be sure to check out our resources here at Merchant Maverick. Our Merchant Account Comparison Chart is a great starting point for payment providers! 

Paymentcloud Durango Soar Payments Host Merchant Services

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The post What Is An SMS Payment And How Does It Work? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Start And Fund A Consulting Business: The Step-By-Step Guide

Do you have a tendency to share your knowledge and experience with others? Do you enjoy giving advice that helps others better their businesses … or their lives? Did you know that you could get paid just for sharing your expertise?

While it may sound too good to be true, that’s exactly what a consultant does. A consultant is an expert that provides knowledge, expertise, and training to others for a fee. Consultants advise their clients on a variety of topics, from how to implement the latest technology to how to create a successful marketing campaign.

Becoming a consultant does not require special training, credentials, or education. You simply need to be an expert in your field. You also need to have passion — not just for your industry but for helping others truly find the right solutions for their problems.

Consultants are organized, know how to network, and are always willing to learn more about their field to provide the best services to their clients.

If this sounds like you, becoming a consultant may be your new career path. The great thing about consulting is that anyone with knowledge and expertise can do it. Starting your own consulting business has low overhead costs and doesn’t require a lot of capital from the get-go. In fact, you can even start your own business from your home office.

But maybe your goals are much bigger. Maybe you want to have the top consulting firm in your area. It doesn’t matter if you want to simply be your own boss and make a decent income or if you want to grow your business to epic proportions — this guide is for you.

We’ll explore the steps you need to take to get your business off the ground. From finding your niche to funding expenses and spreading the word about your business, this guide explores what it takes to open and operate a successful consulting business. Let’s jump in and get started!

Pick Your Niche

business loan reasons

We’ve all heard the saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” When clients are seeking a consultant, they don’t want someone that knows a little bit about everything. Instead, they want to work with a consultant that knows everything about one thing. This is why it’s so important to pick your niche.

To get started, consider your skills and knowledge. What industry are you familiar with? Clients are looking for an expert in their field, so identifying the industries you already know is important when selecting your niche.

Next, you need to consider what problems and pain points your chosen industry is facing. You can do online research to find out what challenges are common in this industry. Check out blogs and industry forums to get an idea of common complaints and problems. You can even talk directly with people in the industry to find out what obstacles and setbacks they face.

Once armed with this information, you need to identify your own skills and knowledge that could be applied to this field. For example, let’s say you’re knowledgeable about the construction industry. One of the common pain points in this industry is a lack of communications. Are you familiar with mobile and cloud-based software? Great! You could use this knowledge to help businesses streamline communications and improve efficiency.

When you start your consulting business, your goal shouldn’t just be something generic like, “I want to help other business owners.” Instead, you should have a more specific purpose in mind. “I help businesses in this industry find and implement the newest and best software solutions to grow their business in just 3 months.” This also serves as your value proposition. In other words, this is the value you offer; something that sets you apart from other consultants. Remember to effectively communicate to your clients what you can do for them.

Still unsure of where to get started? Consider one of these niches for your consulting businesses:

  • Biotech
  • Cannabis Business
  • College
  • Construction
  • Customer Service
  • Dental
  • Financial
  • Food Safety
  • Grant Writing
  • Human Resources (HR)
  • Information Technology
  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • Medical
  • Nutrition
  • Project Management
  • Real Estate
  • Safety
  • Sales
  • Security
  • SEO
  • Social Media
  • Supply Chain
  • Technology

After you’ve selected your niche, do your research to find out what certifications and licenses you need to legally operate your business. In most instances, you’ll find that a business license in your state of operations is all that you need to open your consulting business.

One last thing to remember is that even if you’re knowledgeable about your niche right now, industry trends and changes can occur in an instant. Make sure you stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the industry to ensure you’re always qualified to assist your clients.

Make Your Business Plan

Even if your consulting business seems pretty straightforward, it’s still necessary to have a business plan. There are a few reasons you need a business plan. The first is that your plan maps out your goals and how you plan to reach those goals. A business plan is also necessary when you seek funding through banks or other lenders.

Because every business has a different vision, no two business plans are exactly alike. However, there are a few common components that should be included in all business plans. Those components are:

  • Executive Summary: Highlights what will be discussed in your plan and summarizes what your business hopes to accomplish
  • Company Description: Includes key information about your business and the customers that you will serve
  • Competitive Analysis: Who are your competitors, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Organization & Management: An outline of the setup of your organization and names and summaries of the job responsibilities of your management team
  • Market Analysis: An analysis of your industry now and in the future
  • Marketing Plan: An outline of the marketing strategies you will use to draw clients to your business
  • Financial Projections: Your expectations for future revenue based on market research

Register Your Business

Before you launch your business, you have to register with federal, state, and local agencies. You will need to register your business name with the state in which you operate. In addition, you must register with the Internal Revenue Service to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) if you ever plan to hire employees. It’s imperative to obtain licenses and permits to operate your business based on state and local regulations. You must register your business if you plan to seek business funding now or in the future — or if want to open a business bank account. Establishing a business is legally required, but it also makes you look more professional and legitimate to your clients.

One important step to take when registering your business is choosing your business structure. Your business structure will be important in determining what you’ll pay in taxes. Your business structure may also offer protection from personal liability for the debts and obligations of your business. The different types of business entities include:

Sole Proprietorships

This structure is the easiest to form and does not require filing with the state. With a sole proprietorship, profits and losses from the business are reported on the business owner’s personal tax return. The major drawback of this business structure is that the business owner – you – are held personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business.

Partnerships

A partnership is established by businesses with two or more owners. There are three common types of partnerships: general partnerships, limited partnerships, and limited liability partnerships.

  • General Partnership (GP): This type of partnership has the fewest ongoing requirements. These are also the easiest to form and don’t require state filing. The drawback is that partners in a GP are personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business.
  • Limited Partnership (LP): In a limited partnership, only the general partner(s) has unlimited liability. The other partners — known as limited partners – have limited liability. This simply means that personal assets can’t be used to cover the debts and liabilities of the business.
  • Limited Liability Partnership (LLP): In a limited liability partnership, all partners have limited liability. However, partners may be held liable for their personal actions. This structure is reserved for professional service businesses.

Limited Liability Companies

A limited liability company, or LLC, is independent of its owners. The personal assets of the owners are kept separate from business debts. An LLC is taxed similarly to sole proprietorships and partnerships.

Corporations

If a corporation is the right structure for your business, there are two options to consider: C corporations and S corporations.

  • C-Corporations: C-corporations are independent of their owners. There is no limit on the number of shareholders in a C-corporation. C-corporations are taxed on shareholder dividends and corporate profits.
  • S-Corporations: An S-corporation is also independent of its owners. Owners report their share of the profits and losses on their own personal income tax returns. There are limitations to the number of shareholders with this structure.

When choosing your business structure, you need to keep a few considerations in mind. If you have multiple owners, a partnership is a good route to take. If you want to protect your personal assets but don’t want a higher tax rate, consider establishing an LLC. If you plan to raise large amounts of capital in the future, a corporation might work best for you. You can learn more about what business structure best fits your needs by consulting with an attorney or accountant.

Get Business Insurance

Do I need business interruption insurance

Business insurance is critical for the protection of your business. From property insurance that protects your office building to liability insurance that safeguards you from lawsuits, there are a few different types of business insurance to consider for your consulting business.

General Liability Insurance

If you operate a brick-and-mortar business, you need general liability insurance. This protects your business in the event that something happens to a client on your property. For example, if a client slips and falls in your office, they could file a lawsuit against you. With general liability insurance, you won’t have to pay all associated costs out-of-pocket.

Professional Liability Insurance

Professional liability insurance is also known as errors and omissions (E&O) insurance. This type of insurance protects you from lawsuits that may be filed by clients. Let’s say that you consult with a client on a project, and the project ultimately ends up failing. The client believes that the failure of the project was your fault and files a lawsuit. If you have E&O insurance, attorney’s fees, settlement expenses, and court costs will be covered up to the full amount of your policy.

Worker’s Compensation

If you have employees, worker’s compensation is another type of insurance your business needs. Worker’s compensation covers the medical expenses, wages, and legal fees of an employee that is injured on the job or suffers a work-related ailment. Most states require all W2 employees to be covered under worker’s compensation insurance, but laws vary by state.

Commercial Property Insurance

If you have a commercial property for your consulting business, consider getting commercial property insurance to protect your assets. This type of insurance protects you from losses that may occur from burglary, fire, or natural disasters.

Separate Personal & Business Expenses

It may be tempting to simply use your own personal bank account and credit cards for your business. Since the business is yours, there’s no harm in mixing your business and personal finances, right?

Actually, the wisest move is to keep your business and personal finances separate. One of the most important reasons for doing this is because it will make filing your taxes much easier. Imagine that the deadline is ticking to file your return with the IRS, and you (or your accountant) are stuck spending hours separating business and personal records. If you’re audited after filing, having separate records for business and personal income/expenses will make the process go much more smoothly.

Keeping your business and personal finances separate is also helpful in limiting your liabilities from creditors. If there is no clear separation between you and the business, creditors could potentially use your personal assets for unpaid debts and obligations, even if your business is structured as a corporation or LLC.

Separation of personal and business expenses is also important for building your business credit. If you’re using your own personal credit cards, you may increase your personal credit score. However, this won’t affect your business credit history. If you plan on applying for business loans in the future, boosting your business credit profile is critical to qualifying for higher loan amounts and the best rates and terms.

The first step to separating your business and personal finances is to open a business checking account. This bank account can be used for depositing money, writing checks to vendors, making online payments, and keeping an eye on the expenses and income of your business. To open an account, you will need your EIN, Social Security Number, business address, and business license. You may also need other documentation, such as a copy of the articles of incorporation on file with your state.

Even though you can keep an eye on your finances through your business bank account, it’s also important to set up a dedicated accounting system for your business. This will allow you to closely keep track of the money coming in and going out of your business. You may opt to hire a bookkeeper for this task, or you can use accounting software to track everything yourself. We’ll go into more details on this type of software a little later.

Finally, you can apply for a business credit card to cover recurring expenses for your business, such as your lease or utility payments. Using and paying off your business credit card responsibly will help strengthen your business credit profile.

Unsure of which card is right for you? Start with these recommendations.

Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

The Chase Ink Business Cash card rewards you just for using your card on business expenses. You can receive 5% cash back on internet, cable, phone services, and purchases from office supply stores. However, this is capped at the first $25,000 spent each anniversary year.

You can also earn 2% back on purchases at gas stations and restaurants. This is also capped at the first $25,000 spent per anniversary year.

For the rest of your purchases, you can take advantage of unlimited 1% cash back rewards. As a new cardholder, you can receive a bonus of $500 cash back if you spend $3,000 within 3 months of opening your account.

This credit card has a 0% introductory APR for the first 12 months. After the introductory period, interest rates are 15.49% to 21.49% based on creditworthiness. There is no annual fee associated with this card.

Additional benefits for Chase Ink Business Cash cardholders include free employee cards, purchase protection, and extended warranty protection. You must have excellent credit to qualify for this credit card.

Spark Cash Select For Business

Spark Cash Select From Capital One


capital one spark cash select
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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.24% – 23.24%, Variable

Capital One’s Spark Cash Select for Business is designed for borrowers with excellent credit scores. One of the standout features of this card is the unlimited 1.5% cash back you receive just by using your card. You can cash out your rewards at any time.

If you become a new cardmember and spend $3,0000 within the first 3 months of opening your account, you’ll receive a $200 cash bonus.

You’ll also be able to enjoy a 0% introductory APR for the first 9 months. After the introductory period, your APR will be from 15.24% to 23.24% based on creditworthiness. This card does not have an annual fee, and you can receive employee cards at no cost.

Seek Business Funding

One of the best things about setting up your consulting business is that you may be able to get started with very little capital. Ultimately, though, this depends on the goals of your business. For example, if you plan to only consult with clients online, you can work right out of your home office. This eliminates the need for a dedicated commercial office, which comes with expenses such as monthly rent and utility payments.

On the other hand, you might want to open a brick-and-mortar business immediately. This would require more capital from the start. Even if you start small, you may later expand your business by purchasing or leasing a larger building and hiring employees.

Whether you start off big or you plan to grow in the future, you’ll need capital. In some cases, you may be able to use your revenue to fund your expenses and growth. In other instances, you’ll need a financial boost from a business lender.

Fortunately, there are many financing options out there if you know where to look. Let’s explore the types of funding available to you, along with our lender recommendations.

Personal Savings

If you would prefer to not work with a lender, using personal savings is an option available to you. If you use your own money, you don’t have to worry about making payments to a lender. You’ll also save money because you won’t pay interest or fees that are charged by a lender. On the downside, if your business isn’t successful, you risk losing your savings.

Friends & Family

Have a friend or family member with cash to invest? Pitch them your business idea and let them know why investing in you is a great idea. Have your business plan in hand and present your ideas to them just as you would any other lender. If they decide you’re worth the investment, make sure to get everything in writing to protect all parties.

There are two ways to get loans from someone you know. You can choose debt financing, which means that you’ll make payments toward your principal balance plus interest on a regularly scheduled basis, just like a traditional loan. Or you can receive money in exchange for ownership in your business – also known as equity financing. While you won’t have to repay immediately, your friend or family member will collect a share of the profits over time. Depending on your agreement, they may also have some level of control in the decision-making process of your business.

Unsure of which route to take? Learn more about debt vs. equity financing to determine which option is best for your business.

Rollovers As Business Startups (ROBS)

What if there was a way to get the capital you need to start or grow your business without taking on debt? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But with a rollovers as business startups (ROBS) plan, you can do just that. The only catch? You have to have a qualifying retirement plan.

Early withdrawal of your retirement funds results in penalties. However, a ROBS plan allows you to leverage your funds without having to pay these penalties.

With a ROBS plan, you set up a new C-corporation. Then, you create a retirement plan for your newly created corporation. Next, you roll over funds from your existing retirement plan. These funds can be used to purchase stock in your new business, providing you with the capital you need to start or expand your business.

The best part of a ROBS plan is that you’re using your own funds. This means no debt, no interest or fees, and no repayments to a lender. However, you are putting your retirement funds at risk if your business fails.

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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Pre-qualify

Many small business owners that get capital through a ROBS plan hire a ROBS provider to do the heavy lifting. Guidant Financial is a ROBS provider that can help you get started.

To set up a ROBS plan with Guidant Financial, you need to have a retirement plan or pension account with at least $50,000. Most plans qualify, including:

  • 401(k)
  • 403(b)
  • Traditional IRA
  • Keogh
  • TSP
  • SEP

Guidant Financial can help you roll over up to 100% of your account balance. In addition to having a qualifying plan, you must also meet these requirements:

  • Must be an employee of the business
  • Must have a business to fund

You can use your funds for any business purpose, whether you’re buying an existing business, funding startup costs, or paying expenses related to expansion.

To get started, you must pay a $4,995 startup fee. Since this isn’t a loan, you won’t have to make debt repayments. However, you will have to pay a monthly administration fee.

If you don’t qualify for a ROBS plan or you’re seeking other types of funding, Guidant Financial offers other options including Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, unsecured business loans, and equipment leases.

Lines Of Credit

A line of credit is one of the most flexible forms of financing. This is a type of revolving credit (similar to a credit card) that allows you to make multiple draws. As you repay your principal balance (plus fees and interest), funds will become available to use again. Fees and interest are only charged on the borrowed portion of funds.

With your line of credit, you can initiate draws as needed. Once you draw funds, they’ll be transferred to your bank account and are available to use in 1 to 3 business days in most cases.

You can spend up to and including the credit limit set by your lender. Most lines of credit can be used for any business purpose but are particularly useful for unexpected expenses, filling revenue gaps, or covering extra expenses due to a seasonal increase in business.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Fundbox is a lender that has lines of credit up to $100,000 for qualified small business owners. The lender charges set draw fees starting at 4.66% of the borrowing amount. You can choose to repay Fundbox over terms of 12 or 24 weeks, and payments are automatically deducted from your linked business checking account.

You can be approved instantly and put your line of credit to work for you immediately. Once you initiate a draw from your account, funds will hit your bank account within 1 to 3 business days.

Qualifying for a Fundbox line of credit is easy. The minimum requirements are:

  • Must have a business checking account
  • Must have a U.S.-based business
  • At least 2 months of activity in accounting software or at least 3 months of transactions in your business bank account
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue

Your credit limit will be based on the performance of your business.

Equipment Loans

Whether your consulting business is home-based or you operate out of a commercial property, you will need some equipment to get started. Some equipment you may need for your business includes a computer, printer, office furniture, and computer software. If you don’t have the funds available in your bank account, consider applying for equipment financing.

Equipment financing is a type of funding used to purchase equipment, furniture, and fixtures for your business. Equipment loans can also be used to purchase a commercial vehicle if one is needed to drive to meet your clients if you don’t want to take out an auto loan. There are two types of equipment financing available: equipment loans and equipment leases.

With an equipment loan, you’ll make regularly scheduled payments to a lender over a set period of time, such as five years. Each payment will be applied to the principal – the amount you borrowed – as well as fees and interest charged by the lender. Once you’ve made all payments as scheduled, the equipment belongs to you. You can continue to put the equipment into use or sell it.

With equipment leases, you also make scheduled payments to a lender. However, your lease terms are typically a few years shorter. Once you’ve made all scheduled payments, you return the equipment and sign a new lease for new equipment. You never truly own the equipment, but this is a good option for anyone that wants to update their equipment every few years.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio isn’t a direct lender. Instead, it’s a loan aggregator that can connect you with its financing partners to help you get the best financing offer for your situation.

One of the financial products offered through Lendio is equipment financing. You may qualify for funding of $5,000 to $5 million for the purchase of your equipment. Loan terms are 1 to 5 years with interest rates starting at 7.5%.

Your funds can be used for almost any equipment purchase, including software, furniture and fixtures, and even appliances and HVAC units for your office.

To qualify, you must meet these minimum requirements:

  • Time in business of at least 12 months
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • Personal credit score of 650 or above

If you don’t meet these requirements, Lendio may still have an option for you. Just fill out a quick application to find out what you can qualify to receive. Lendio also offers additional financial solutions, including SBA loans, lines of credit, term loans, and startup loans.

Personal Loans For Business

If you’re a brand-new business, you may not qualify for other financing options. This is because lenders look at annual revenue, business credit profile, and your time in business to determine if you’re a risky borrower. If you don’t meet these qualifications, you won’t be able to get affordable small business funding.

However, there is an alternative solution. You can apply for a personal loan to use for business purposes. With this type of financing, a lender considers your personal credit history and income to determine if you qualify.

In most cases, you can use a personal loan for business for any purpose, from purchasing needed equipment to hiring new employees, using as working capital, or paying startup costs.

Recommended Option: Upstart

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Upstart personal loans are available in amounts from $1,000 to $50,000. APRs range from 7.54% to 35.99%. Repayment terms are 3 or 5 years.

Upstart’s lending partners consider more than just your credit score when determining whether to approve your loan. Your years of credit, education, area of study, and job history are also considered during the application process.

To qualify for an Upstart personal loan, you must have:

  • Personal credit score of 620 or above
  • Solid debt-to-income ratio
  • No bankruptcies or public records
  • No delinquent accounts or accounts in collections
  • Less than 6 inquiries in the last 6 months

Business Credit Cards

We’ve already discussed business credit cards earlier as part of keeping your business and personal accounts separate. Business credit cards are great to have on-hand for unexpected expenses or recurring expenses for your business.

You can even score rewards just for using your credit card. Look for a rewards card that offers cash back or points to use toward perks like travel to get the most out of your card.

Recommended Option: Spark Classic

Spark Classic From Capital One


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


25.24%, Variable

Capital One’s Spark Classic for Business card is available to business owners with average credit. This card offers a 25.24% variable APR and no annual fee. Using your card responsibly helps build your business credit profile so you can qualify for other cards and financing offers in the future.

You can earn unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases with no minimum required to redeem. Other benefits include fraud coverage and alerts and employee cards at no additional cost.

Choose Business Software

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Choosing the right business software can help you run your consulting business more efficiently. The first type of software you should invest in is accounting software or an online bookkeeping system. This allows you to keep track of your income and expenses, run financial reports, send invoices, and access your financials for tax purposes. As your business grows, you may opt to hire a bookkeeper or accountant, but in the beginning, you may be able to tackle this task yourself using the right accounting software.

New to accounting? Download our free ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting, to get a handle on the basics.

You’ll also need software that’s used for managing clients — from keeping updated contact information all in one place to setting and tracking appointments. There are programs designed specifically for consultants that offer client management, project management, tasks, and other features.

To accept payments other than cash, you’ll also need payment processing software. This software communicates between your bank and the bank of your client, allowing you to accept debit cards, credit cards, and other forms of payment. If your business is going to be based solely online, you can sign up for an online payment solution.

Finally, if you plan to do online consulting, you must invest in video conferencing software. There are multiple options available — some at no cost and others that charge a monthly fee.

Set Your Rates

In order for your business to be successful, you have to have revenue. Without revenue, you won’t be able to pay your expenses or the salaries of yourself or your employees. Without revenue, you also won’t be able to grow your business.

To make sure your business is successful and profitable, you need to set your rates. This can be a balancing act for most consultants. If you set your rates too high, it may scare away potential clients. If you shortchange yourself and set your rates too low, clients may not take you seriously or you might not bring in enough revenue to cover your expenses.

To set your rates, first decide how your pay structure will look. You have three options: per project, hourly rates, and retainers.

If you charge per project, you will need to figure out how long the project will be, what expenses may be incurred, and other factors. You may choose to bill for the entire project or break it down into monthly payments.

You can also charge an hourly rate. Take a look at your expenses and determine how much you would need to charge to be profitable. Also, be aware that the higher your rate is, the more your clients will expect from you. If you have the credentials, training, and education to justify charging $500 per hour, your clients will have high expectations of what you’ll provide.

Finally, you can also work on a retainer basis. With a retainer, you will work a specific number of hours for one set monthly fee.

When calculating your rates, make sure to list all of the expenses of your business. You will need to make at least enough revenue to cover these costs.

You also need to find out what your competitors are charging for their services. You can do this by going online to their websites, checking out their brochures, or making a quick phone call. Unless you have an obvious advantage over other consultants in your area, you want to make sure that your fees are competitive.

Bolster Your Web Presence

webbased

Prospective clients are going to have a difficult time finding you if you don’t have a web presence. This doesn’t mean that you have to invest thousands of dollars in setting up a fancy new website. However, you do need to have at least a basic website and social media profiles to provide clients with critical information about your business.

You can get started by setting up free social media pages on sites including Facebook and Twitter. Your pages should include your contact information, the services you offer, and office hours. As your business grows, you can post news and updates, videos, photos, and other media to draw in clients.

You also need to set up a company website. You could pay a web designer, but at this stage, you can certainly tackle the task yourself. Easy website builders make it simple to set up your website in just minutes, even if you’ve never created a website before. Make sure that you include your contact information, areas served, and the services you offer. If you have any credentials or training, add that information to your website, as well.

Later, you can add additional features to your website, such as videos, online appointment scheduling, and client testimonials.

If you want to learn more tips and tricks, check out our article on creating and maintaining your online presence.

Market Your Business

business loans for HVAC

Building your web presence is one way to get your name out to the public, but you should also implement a marketing and advertising campaign to further boost your business. The strategy you choose is based on a number of factors, including your marketing budget and your goals for the campaign.

One great way to market your business is through Facebook ads. You can easily set your budget and select your target audience. It only takes a few minutes to get your Facebook ads up and running. Learn more about social media marketing for your business.

Another advertising method you can use is a newsletter. Your newsletter doesn’t need an over-the-top design. Instead, a simple newsletter with important information is most effective. Use your newsletter to discuss current industry trends, current news about your business, and other relevant information. You can send a physical newsletter by mail, but this comes with costs including paper and envelopes, printing, and postage. A more affordable option is to offer an email newsletter. Make sure to include a sign-up option on your website and social media pages.

Another idea is to print up brochures for your business. Your brochure should include your services, your value proposition, the industries you serve, and biographical information, such as your credentials or training.

You can also take your knowledge and leverage it as a guest speaker at an event. You can speak at dinners, luncheons, and other functions for industry events or service organizations. If you don’t want to be a public speaker, you can attend industry events and network with potential clients. Networking is key to running a successful consulting business.

Cold-calling is also a way to attract new clients. Prepare your script before calling local businesses that could use your services. The goal of cold-calling is to get a meeting with the decisionmaker to sell yourself and your services to gain a new client.

Finally, word-of-mouth advertising is one of the easiest ways to bring in business. Satisfied clients that tell their friends, family, and colleagues about you or who take the time to write a referral or testimonial that you can use on your website can help drive more clients to your business.

Final Thoughts

Sharing your knowledge and expertise with others can be extremely lucrative if you know how to set up your consulting business. With careful planning — selecting your niche, setting your fees, and effectively marketing your business — you’ll have a better chance of reaching new clients and meeting your financial goals. Good luck!

The post How To Start And Fund A Consulting Business: The Step-By-Step Guide appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Start And Fund An Amazon Business

Have you been thinking about starting an Amazon business? If you said “yes,” and you’re not thinking about a rainforest logging company, you’re probably interested in plugging into the world’s largest e-commerce platform.

As of 2018, Amazon accounted for nearly 50 percent of eCommerce transactions (eCommerce accounts for somewhere north of 10 percent of overall retail sales). If you’re not sure how to tap into that action, you’re not alone. Below, we’ll look at both the necessary and optional steps it takes to get an Amazon business up and running.

Learn How To Sell On Amazon

When people talk about “Amazon businesses,” they’re usually talking about the Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) business model. Under an FBA arrangement, Amazon will warehouse and ship your business’s products from their own fulfillment centers. This allows you to take advantage of Amazon’s well-developed storage and shipping infrastructure and processes. It also grants you access to Amazon’s Prime customer-base, most of whom will be looking to buy products that qualify for 2-day shipping. Be aware, however, that FBA comes with both storage and fulfillment fees (which, notoriously, can change at any time), so you’ll need to do some math to figure out if you’re saving money with the service.

Already have a lot of space and want to handle the shipping costs yourself? Or are you trying a dropshipping model? You can still sell on Amazon without taking the FBA route. You can even still tap into the Prime market via Amazon’s Seller Fulfilled Prime (SFP) program. In order to qualify, your business has to:

  • Offer premium shipping options
  • Ship 99% of your orders on time
  • Have an order cancellation rate of less than 0.5%
  • Use Amazon Buy Shipping Services for at least 98.5% of orders
  • Deliver orders with Amazon-supported SFP carriers
  • Agree to Amazon’s Returns Policy
  • Allow Amazon to deal with all customer service inquiries
  • Pass a trial period to demonstrate compliance with the above, during which the Prime badge will not be displayed on your items

At the time of writing, there was a waitlist for the SFP program, so bear in mind that you may not be able to jump into it immediately.

Finally, you can simply ignore all this Prime business (and customers, potentially) and just sell products on Amazon.

Decide What You’re Going To Sell & Where You’ll Get It

This is arguably the hardest part of starting an Amazon business. There are countless products you could deal in, but far fewer you should deal in.

Your starting budget can help narrow things down a bit. You want to be able to stock enough inventory to build a brand, not just sell a couple of items and then disappear. Once you have some items in mind, you’ll need to do some research to get a sense of costs and selling prices and see if there’s a niche for that product that you could occupy.

There are numerous ways to go about this, from brute-forcing your way through Amazon’s categories and making a spreadsheet to using popular tools like JungleScout to help find and rate opportunities. Be sure to check out other sales platforms to see the price point at which they’re selling the product. If you’re in the FBA program, you can also use Amazon’s FBA calculator to help sift through data.

Figuring out where to source a product is another part of the puzzle. Do you have a hot connection that can get you products at cost? (Alibaba is a popular tool for finding suppliers, for example.) Are you going to buy popular brands when they’re on sale at retail and then sell them at a higher price point? Are making a product yourself that will compete with similar products on Amazon? Do you need to make dropshipping arrangements with a third party? Remember to think about how sustainable your sourcing method is when creating your strategy.

Finally, also consider the nature of the item you’re sending. Will it sell year-round? Can it be shipped safely without breaking? Is it efficient to ship? Are there state-specific restrictions to consider? The fewer variables you have to worry about, the better.

Determine How Much Money You’ll Need

Once you know how much money you’ll need to launch your business, you can figure out the rest of your costs.

Selling on Amazon, as you can imagine, isn’t free — but it doesn’t have to be expensive. If you’re commitment-shy and don’t have a ton of product to move, you can get by on as little as $0.99 per sale. If you’re moving more product, you’ll want to budget $39.99/mo for a Professional account (more on that later).

If you’re going the FBA route, you’ll need to account for Amazon’s fulfillment and monthly inventory fees. The former vary by the weight of the item and, at time of writing, start at $2.41. The latter vary by time of year and the size of the items, ranging from $0.48 to $2.40 per cubic foot.

You’ll probably want to also invest some money in presentation and branding to help your business stand out among competitors. How much this costs can vary depending on who you hire (unless you’re a competent graphic designer yourself), but budget between $200-$300 to get something you’ll be proud of.

Finally, if you’re doing your own fulfillment, make sure you can cover shipping costs.

Determine How You’ll Get Funding

It’s not necessarily that expensive to start an Amazon business, but what do you do if you don’t have the funds to cover your starting expenses? Here are some options:

Personal Savings

The first place you should probably look for spare cash is your own savings. You saved up for a reason, right? Investing in your new business is as good a reason as any.

The nice thing about using your savings is that you don’t have to worry about debt or accumulated interest.

The downside? If your business is a bust, you’ve lost your savings.

Tap Your Support Network

Another option, especially if you don’t have much in personal savings, is to ask friends and family for a loan. Unlike a private lender, your support system probably isn’t trying to make a profit off of you.

Keep in mind that this comes with its own risks. You may stress your relationships, especially if you aren’t able to pay back these so-called friendly loans quickly. One way to avoid this is to formalize any agreements you make with friends and family so that everyone fully understands what they’re getting into and what the expectations are. You may even want to draw up a formal contract that outlines any expected payments and return on investment.

Credit Cards

You’ve probably been warned about leaning too heavily on credit cards, and it’s generally not bad advice. The interest rates can be murder if you carry a balance on your card. However, for purchases that you can pay off quickly, credit cards are actually one of the best ways to buy, especially if you have a card with a reward program that matches your purchasing needs.

Just remember to pay off your credit cards every month, within the interest-free grace period. If your purchase is too large for you to be able to comfortably do that, you’ll probably want to consider another option.

Note: Avoid taking out cash advances on your cards unless absolutely necessary. They come at a very high cost.

Recommended Option: Amazon Business Prime American Express Card

Amazon Business Prime American Express Card


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


16.24% – 24.24%, Variable

You’re going to be spending a lot of time on Amazon, and possibly buying through it, so the Amazon Business Prime American Express Card may give you the most bang for your buck.

If you have a Prime membership, you’ll earn a whopping 5 percent back on purchases made at Amazon.com, Amazon Business, AWS, and Whole Foods Market — or an extra 90 days interest-free grace period for purchases made at those places. Even if you’re not a Prime member, you’ll get 3 percent or 60 days, respectively. You’ll need to spend around $6,000 to recoup the cost of a Prime membership with points alone, but that’s without factoring in money saved through Prime’s programs (shipping, deals, etc).

Personal Loans

Business loans can be hard to come by for new businesses, but you — the human being who owns the business — have presumably been around long enough to acquire a credit history. You can use that to your advantage by getting a personal loan for business purposes.

There are some disadvantages to taking this route, namely that you’re on the hook rather than your business, but if your credit is good, it’s not the worst option out there.

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

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Lending Club is a good option for individuals who may not have the strongest credit, but have a good debt-to-income ratio. The borrowing range is fairly narrow at $1k to $40k, but when you’re just starting out, you don’t want to go too deeply into debt anyway. You’ll have three-to-five years to pay it off, which makes it fairly manageable.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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If you’re just entering the alternative loan market for the first time, it can be pretty overwhelming. Lendio takes some of that burden off of you by allowing you to effectively apply to their whole network of lenders with one application.

Need more options? Check out our feature on startup loans.

Lines Of Credit

If you anticipate needing to make a lot of smaller purchases over a long period of time, or even just want some “insurance” to fall back, you may want to consider a line of credit.

A line of credit works a bit like a credit card in that you can tap it whenever you want, in whatever amount you want, so long as your purchase doesn’t exceed your credit limit. Most lines of credit are revolving, which means that, as you pay them off, that credit becomes available for you to use again.

In contrast to credit cards, lines of credit usually have lower interest rates, making them better for the times you have to carry a balance. However, many do have annual fees and some charge a fee whenever you tap them, and they can take up to 24 hours to process your request. You also generally (there are exceptions) won’t find the generous rewards programs you’ll find with credit cards.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Fundbox provides lines of credit up to $100,000 to U.S. businesses. There’s no minimum credit score, you just have to have annual revenue of at least $50,000.

Fundbox charges based on the amount you draw, but fees start at 4.66%. Repayments are made weekly over 12 or 24 weeks.

Vendor Financing

Vendor financing is a very specialized form of business loan where a company will lend a buyer a sum of money, which the buyer then uses to buy inventory from the vendor.

Recommended Option: Amazon Lending

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Did you know Amazon offers loans to sellers on its platform? If you didn’t, you’re not alone. Amazon doesn’t really advertise the service much, and you can only access it by invitation. Knowing that it is an option, however, may be useful should it arise.

Amazon loans range between $1,000 and $750,000, and must be used to purchase inventory to sell on Amazon. Rather than being based on your credit score, Amazon loans are based on your performance on the site.

Purchase Order Financing

Another highly specialized type of financing that sellers can tap into is purchase order financing (sometimes just “purchase financing”). Basically, purchase financing is used to fill large orders that may exceed your current inventory or your ability to restock with cash on hand. A purchase financer will generally require confirmation of the order and proof that your company has experience handling orders of this size.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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Behalf can offer businesses between $300 – $50,000 in purchase financing for most types of inventory. Term lengths are pretty short (1 – 6 months), and you’ll be charged 1 – 3 percent interest every month. Payments are made weekly or monthly, with weekly payers receiving a 10 percent reduction in their borrowing fees.

ROBS

If you haven’t heard of Rollovers as Business Startups (ROBS), don’t feel bad. They’re extremely niche products for entrepreneurs with retirement accounts like 401(k)s.

For a fee, a ROBS provider allows you to use money from your retirement account to pay for startup costs without incurring the tax penalty you normally would by tapping those funds early.

As is the case with personal savings, you are risking your own money.

ROBS will be overkill for most new businesses, but if your startup costs look like they’re going to pile up, keep them in mind.

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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If you’re in the market for a ROBS, it’s worth checking out Guidant Financial. If your retirement account has at least $40k in it, you can roll over up to 100 percent of your funds.

Need more options? Check out our feature on startup loans.

Register Your Business

If you don’t want to be selling products under your birth name, you’ll probably want to register your business.

This part is technically optional, but if you’re planning to build your business into more than an occasional source of freelance income, you should probably register your business.

If you do nothing at all, your business will default to a sole proprietorship (or a partnership, if you’re starting it with someone else). This essentially means that you’ve started a business with your own name. If you want to change it to something else, you can file a DBA (Doing Business As), which will protect your new business name and allow you to–you guessed it–do business under that name.

Sole proprietorships have the advantage of being cheap and easy to start. Your taxes will also be easier to file (and lower) than they would generally be with other forms of incorporation. Keep in mind, however, that for liability purposes, sole proprietorships and the individuals behind them are essentially one and the same.

Other forms of incorporation will require a bit more work and come with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Here are the most popular ways to incorporate:

  • Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs): If you’ve seen LLC after a corporation’s name, you’re dealing with this type of company. LLCs offer limited liability protection for their owners without the full complexity of a corporation. Each state has its own rules for how to start and maintain an LLC, and you don’t necessarily have to register your LLC in the state where you’re doing business (although you’ll generally want to). LLC owners report their business earnings and losses on their personal taxes.
  • C-Corp: This is the “basic,” default form of incorporation. Shareholders are considered the owner(s) of the company and receive limited liability protection; however, the business decisions are made by corporate officers who may or may not be shareholders. The corporation is taxed separately and shareholders pay income tax on dividends. To form a C-corp, you’ll file articles of incorporation with your state.
  • S-Corp: S-corps are similar to C-corps in most ways, but come with a few additional restrictions: you have to have fewer than 100 shareholders and they have to all be U.S. citizens or residents. Unlike C-corps, profits and losses are reported on personal taxes, not unlike an LLC. In addition to filing articles of incorporation, you’ll also need to file IRS Form 2553.

Get Business Insurance

Depending on where you incorporate, business insurance may be optional or mandatory, but since you’re going to be dealing with a lot of tangible goods shipped through the postal service to remote customers, you’ll probably want to consider it.

General liability insurance can protect you in the case of lawsuits or accidents, including property damage and personal injury claims against your business. It can also make your business seem more professional to prospective clients.

There are other, more specialized types of insurance you may want to consider depending on what you’re selling and to whom. These include:

  • Property Insurance: Protects the property needed to run your business.
  • Business Interruption: Covers costs related to unforeseen events that make your business unable to function.
  • Professional Liability (Error and Omissions): Covers the costs of defending your company in lawsuits in cases where your business caused a financial loss.

Create An Amazon Seller Account

Access to the platform is pretty straightforward and involves creating an Amazon account if you don’t already have one. You’ll be asked for information about your business, tax information, product information, billing and deposit accounts, and compliance with the Amazon Services Business Solutions Agreement.

Amazon offers two plans:

  • Professional: $39.99/month, grants access to order reports and order-related fees, selling in multiple categories, and the ability to customize shipping rates
  • Individual: $0.99 per sale closing fee on each item you sell on Amazon.

If you plan on doing more than just the occasional sale, you’ll probably want to choose Professional.

List Your Inventory

Now that you’re ready to go, you just need your potential customers to be able to see your product.

From your Amazons Seller account, under the inventory tab, you can add a product. You can then either search Amazon’s catalog to see if that product is already listed or create a new listing. If your product category is restricted, it will need to be approved before you can get beyond this stage, so if possible, try to find a rationale to categorize it into an unrestricted one.

At this point, you can either make your product go live (if you have the inventory ready to be shipped) or simply list it if you need to send your inventory to Amazon (in the case of FBAs). You can then fill in the information about your product. If you need a UPC code, you can buy one online.

There are a number of different strategies for getting your products to stand out on Amazon. Search engine optimization (SEO) strategies will serve you well here, so be sure to identify useful keywords that will help customers find your products. Another critical element is taking good pictures of your products so they’ll look appealing on the site. If you aren’t confident that you can take quality pictures yourself, you may want to spring for some professional ones.

A lot of other things can also affect your ranking, from conversion rates to customer reviews, pricing, time spent by customers on your page, bounce rate, and more, but the guiding rule is this: Amazon likes sellers who make them money, and will promote the ones they feel most reliably turn queries into sales and create satisfied and returning customers.

Final Thoughts

Amazon has changed the way many people shop, but it has also has provided sellers with a potentially low-cost way to get tangible products to customers. Competition is intense on the platform, but shrewd salespersons can still take advantage of its unparalleled convenience.

The post How To Start And Fund An Amazon Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Zenfolio Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Zenfolio Website Builder Review_ Pros, Cons, and Alternatives(1)

Zenfolio is a photography portfolio website builder that includes ecommerce functionality, so photographers can “showcase and sell your photography”.

Check out Zenfolio’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Zenfolio a try for a small project after receiving a few reader questions. But before I get into the pros and cons of my Zenfolio review, let’s consider a bit of background on building a website in general.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple photography portfolio or running a full-fledged photography business, the way you build your photography website has a lot of consequences.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

What Is Zenfolio?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Zenfolio lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your photography website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately. I wrote a post on Website Builders, Explained for more background.

Using Zenfolio is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control with all software, but especially with website builders.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Zenfolio, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Zenfolio competes with all-inclusive hosted website builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, Gator, and WordPress.com, and photography website builders like Smugmug, Format, and Carbonmade.

Compared to their competition, they focus on providing an all-in-one solution that includes everything photographers need to grow their business, from modern templates that are easy to customize to ecommerce features that allow you to sell photos directly from your site.

Instead of operating like a traditional drag-and-drop website builder, Zenfolio has you select from a menu of options around what type of photography you do, then gives you a selection of recommend themes that you can switch out later.

This structure which appeals to beginners who have no design or development experience and who want an easy way to get their photos on a good-looking website ASAP.

One other quick aside – a disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Using Zenfolio Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Zenfolio — not just in comparison to other website builders, but as an overall website solution for creating a photography website.

Straightforward Setup Process

One of Zenfolio’s best features is how easy it is to get your photography website up and running, even if you have zero website experience. Zenfolio offers a 14-day free trial for those who want to give the platform a test run, or you can select the features you need, and Zenfolio will recommend a plan for you.

Zenfolio plan selection based on features

Once you create an account (either free or paid), Zenfolio prompts you to select what type of photography you shoot most and the features you’re going to be using on your website so they can recommend a template that fits your needs.

Zenfolio Photography Templates

From there, it’s just a matter of selecting the template you like best, then adding your photos. Voila! You have a website.

Zenfolio Website Completed

Functionality + Integrations

Perhaps the biggest benefit of Zenfolio is that it truly is an all-inclusive website builder *for photographers*. They offer a ton of built-in functionality and features that covers everything from selling your photos to seeing website statistics to sharing private galleries with clients to marketing your website through emails, coupons, etc.

Zenfolio Features

One thing to note here, however  — a lot of this advanced functionality comes with Zenfolio’s higher-priced plans (Pro and Advanced).

Pricing

Speaking of pricing, Zenfolio’s pricing is fairly competitive when compared to other website builders, especially when you take into account all of the features you get with their plans. Their mid-tier plan, Pro, has a ton of advanced functionality like payment processing, watermarking, and marketing features, and is just $10/month, while their Advanced plan offers even MORE and is just $15/month.

When you compare that to general website builders like GoDaddy GoCentral, Website Creator, Wix, or Squarespace, you’re getting a lot more bang for your buck with Zenfolio.

But something to keep in mind when thinking about pricing — it’s not just about the price, it’s about how you want to use your site.

If you’re looking for more customization, or a simple portfolio website with no advanced features, you may want to consider another option. It makes no sense to overpay when you don’t need the features that bring Zenfolio a lot of their value.

Cons of Zenfolio

But of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Here are the cons I found with using Zenfolio.

Limited Feature Set – Design

With any technology product, there is almost always a trade-off between convenience and control.

And you can really see this trade-off with the Zenfolio website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward, fast, and not confusing. It puts your focus solely on getting your photos into a premade template.

But here’s the thing — if you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of the template, you’re pretty limited.

You can choose different layouts and themes (which are essentially fonts/color schemes), and edit elements like logo and menu position, but when it comes to editing the actual template, you’re locked in.

Zenfolio Layout Editing

With pages, you can add custom-built pages, but it’s in a separate text editor and is pretty basic in terms of what you can actually do with the page.

Zenfolio Pages

The best way to describe it is a ‘paint-by-numbers’ set up. It’s great to have the basics, but if you want to do anything extra or outside of bounds, then you’re out of luck.

If you wanted to create something more custom to showcase your photography, the design limitations can be pretty crippling.

In an ironic way, you could end up showcasing your truly unique art on a website that looks decidedly like other photographer’s Zenfolio websites.

Onboarding / Ease-of-Use

I mentioned earlier that getting set up with Zenfolio is incredibly simple — and it is. But Zenfolio leaves much to be desired when it comes to learning how to use the platform to its fullest.

One of Zenfolio’s best features is how extensive the website builder is. There is so much you can do with it. The only problem? It’s not really clear how to use all of the great features.

As soon as I signed up, I received an email with three steps to get started, but the instructions were pretty basic.

Zenfolio Onboarding

If I wanted to learn more about how to use Zenfolio, they do offer a one-on-one session with a “Zenmaster”… but for a platform that offers so much convenience in terms of their built-in features and all-inclusive templates, this extra steps feels inconvenient.

If you’re looking for a platform that’s intuitive and easy to get the most out of, the onboarding process for Zenfolio really leaves a good bit to be desired.

Limited Feature Set – Future Growth

This disadvantage has been hinted at throughout this review, but I’d like to call it specifically here. And that is – there is a huge upside to purchasing software *for photographers* but it can also a serious handicap for businesses that grow in different ways (ie, with courses, content, sponsorships, other business models, etc.

Zenfolio’s engineering team focuses exclusively on photographer features – not business features. While they will always be better at gallery uploads, client viewings, and print purchases, they might not grow with *your* photography business.

If you find general use products that have good enough photographer features but focus on general use cases, then I would look closely at that solution (ie, with other builders).

However, if you are decidedly a pure-play photographer, then this con is really a pro since Zenfolio will only make the features that you like, even better.

Zenfolio Review Conclusion

Zenfolio certainly makes getting your photography website up and running easy, despite the learning curve that comes with their advanced features. Their extensive functionality makes the platform a true all-inclusive solution for photographers who want an advanced portfolio website.

Check out Zenfolio’s plans here.

However, there are trade-offs to consider with an all-inclusive website builder — specifically customization and control. And this is where Zenfolio falls shorts compared to other website builders, especially those that aren’t specific to photographers. If you’re looking to create a portfolio website where you have more control over the design of the site, you’re better off elsewhere.

Not sure Zenfolio fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post Zenfolio Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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How to Accept Online Payments With Square

When you are ready to start selling online, Square (read our review) offers a wide variety of options depending on your skill level and needs. For example, if time is of the essence or you don’t want to fuss with code, build a free online store from Square’s templates and get up and running by the end of the day.

Already have a site? Choose a plugin integration from the Square Dashboard that solves your problem — without the need for code.

But those aren’t all of your options. If you do have developer expertise, you can build your checkout flow with Square Transactions API and start accepting all major credit cards with digital wallet support, too.  Square Checkout is yet another developer option that requires less coding with a pre-built payment form and digital wallet support.

In this post, we’ll explore each path so that you can get the facts and navigate to the choices right for you. Before you know it, you’ll have launched your own online store and can move on to more exciting business matters.

Note: If you’re also curious about in-store payments, check out our related post, How To Use Square To Accept Credit Cards In Person.

Webstore Integrations Developers

Build Your Webstore Quickly & Easily

Integrate With Popular eCommerce Software

Developer-Friendly Tools For Customization

Get Started

Get Started

Get Started

Highlights:

  • No coding required
  • Free personalized URL
  • Premade customizable themes
  • No hosting fees
  • Manage from your Dashboard
  • Mobile-ready storefront
  • Integrate with your in-person store

Integrate with:

  • WooCommerce
  • BigCommerce
  • Ecwid
  • 3dcart
  • OpenCart
  • Zen Cart
  • Weebly
  • WordPress.com
  • Wix
  • +More

Highlights:

  • API for custom solutions
  • In-person solutions
  • Online solutions
  • Card reader SDK
  • Customer management solutions
  • PCI and EMV compliance
  • End-to-end encryption
  • Dispute management
  • Fraud detection

Instant Account Setup

Fast Funding

No Monthly Fees

2.90% + $0.30 for online sales

Instant Account Setup

Fast Funding

No Monthly Fees

2.90% + $0.30 for online sales

Instant Account Setup

Fast Funding

No Monthly Fees

2.90% + $0.30 for online sales

How Much Does Square Charge For Online Payments?

The cost question can be a very loaded one when it comes to payment processing. The great news is that Square offers a transparent pricing model.

To process credit cards online with Square, you’ll pay 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. The significant thing to note is that this flat fee encompasses much more than is typical with traditional merchant accounts. For instance, you don’t need to worry about a payment gateway (and the expenses that go with it) when you process through Square. Read on below to learn the differences between Square and a traditional merchant account — and why they matter.

Traditional Merchant Account Vs. Square

Square’s hardware and services encompass an end-to-end processing system that captures payment information and encrypts it through the payment chain with no need for a separate payment gateway.

What this means for you is cost-savings compared to a traditional merchant account. You won’t be paying initial set-up fees, PCI compliance fees, monthly account fees, batch fees, or higher rates for processing cards like American Express. Square also doesn’t assess any chargeback fees and offers merchants up to $250/month in chargeback protection. All of this is a pretty big deal because Square spares business owners from the laundry list of itemized charges that can come with traditional merchant accounts.

So if Square isn’t a traditional merchant account, what is it? Square is a third party processor. This means that instead of opening a merchant account directly, you are basically a sub-user on Square’s giant merchant account, along with all of Square’s other customers. Square acts as a payment processor and also assumes the financial risk associated with your business to do so. The whole premise behind Square is that it makes setting up a shop very easy for the busy entrepreneur. In fact, you can get an account set up and running to take payment the very same day. The Square sign-up process doesn’t even require a credit check!

While you don’t need to jump through a lot of hoops to open up an account with Square (as you would working directly with a bank), Square is more apt to terminate or put a hold on an account if certain red flags are raised. While the overwhelming majority of businesses will never have a problem with an account hold, it can be disconcerting if it happens to you. Check out our post How to Avoid Merchant Account Holds, Freezes, and Terminations to find out more. Again, most merchants will likely never have to face this issue, but it helps to cover your bases.

Now that we have covered Square Payments as a third party processor and the cost of processing, let’s dig into Square’s offerings when it comes to going live and selling online.

Option 1: Build A Free Square Online Store

Square Store Template

As I said in the introduction, you can get a free Square store up and running today with no technical expertise needed. This whole process is powered by Square Payments and Weebly (read our review). After creating a Square account, you can go back into your dashboard and select “Online Store” in the menu. Then, Square leads you through the process of selecting the categories that most closely apply to your business. You’ll get a suggested template, but you can choose a different one if you fancy another one better. You can also add your logo, choose from limited fonts, and have some color choices, but overall the design freedom here is limited to the template itself.

Again, for being free, there isn’t much to complain about. A Square store is the simplest solution to get your shop up and running. All you need to do is add your products — your eCommerce shop syncs with Square POS and all of the other Square software and tools. Your inventory automatically updates when you sell an item, too.

One potential drawback to the freemium option, however, is that you are bound to the Weebly logo in your domain name and the footer of your website, and your shipping options are minimal. The screenshot below shows the shipping options available when setting up the free Square store with Weebly. Note that you must upgrade your Weebly plan to calculate real-time shipping rates:

Square Free Store Shipping Setup

If you want a bit more customization and dynamic shipping calculations (among other upgrades), you can purchase a domain and upgrade to a professional or premium account through Weebly.

Square Online Store Upgrade Options

Square and Weebly

The free online store option, although robust in its own way, limits you a bit. As you can see from above, for example, if your company relies heavily on shipping items with large size or weight ranges, it may be worth it to you to go to the Premium eCommerce plan for the real-time shipping rate calculator and accurate rates for UPS, FedEx, or other third party carriers.

The free store also has a 500 MB storage space limit, which could limit the number of photos on your site. The paid tiers give you a considerable upgrade with unlimited space, along with website analytics and insights.

As far as accepting payment goes, you can accept all major credit cards. Digital wallets like Apple Pay are not supported at this time, but I suspect they will be soon. For more about the pros and cons of this solution, check out our Square Online Store and eCommerce Review.

Option 2: Connect Square To An eCommerce Platform

Square eCommerce Apps

Whether you already have your site up and running or you are building your site from the ground up (or somewhere in between), you can probably find what you need in the Square App Marketplace. Square integrates with many eCommerce platforms, including:

  • 3dcart (read our review)
  • Wix (read our review)
  • BigCommerce (read our review)
  • WooCommerce (read our review)
  • Ecwid (read our review)

And of course — let’s not forget that Square also integrates with Weebly, as well as WordPress and WP EasyCart.

On the topic of app integrations and Square, it’s worth noting that Square can easily integrate with a range of different types of apps that you can shop for right from your dashboard. You can find everything from accounting to invoicing, employee management, loyalty and rewards, and marketing, to name a few. Pricing depends entirely on the apps themselves, but the Square App Marketplace is set up to compare costs easily.

All of Square’s basic eCommerce features integrate with these apps, so you’ll be able to enjoy the same payment processing rates, security protection, and inventory updates as you sell. Of course, each app platform has specific features and benefits, so the finished product (and look) varies depending on the integrated solution you choose. Check out The Best eCommerce Integrations That Work With Square Payments for our top picks!

Option 3: Build Your Own Checkout With Square APIs

If you already have your own site and you have developer expertise, then you have two more options thanks to Square API: Square Checkout and Transactions API. The most significant difference between the two is that Square Checkout is much closer to an out-of-the-box solution. With Square Checkout, Square is actually hosting the payment form, and the UI is already done for you. If you want more freedom in the checkout and payment UI and you want to host the payment form on your site with customized branding, you can opt for Square Transactions API.

Here is a handy side-by-side comparison chart to give you an overview of what you can expect with each solution. Note: All Square APIs and SDKs are free to use. As always, you pay only the payment processing fees.

Square Checkout Feature Square Transactions API
Yes Requires Developer Support Yes
No Can Customize Yes
Yes Square Hosted No (You host)
Yes Store Customer Data Yes (With integration)
No Card on File & Recurring Payments Yes (With integration)
Yes (Customer data
& itemization)
Detailed Dashboard Reports No (Transaction
amount only)
Recommended,
not required
SSL Needed Yes, with
separate integration
Yes Eligible for Chargeback Protection Yes (with conditions)
Yes Data Encryption Yes
Yes PCI Compliance Included Yes
Yes Itemization Yes, with Orders API
No Dynamic Shipping Calculations No
Yes Accept Google Pay Yes
Yes Accept Apple Pay Yes
No Accept MasterPass Yes
Yes Accept All Major Credit Cards Yes
Yes Inventory Syncing Yes, with Inventory API

The choice between Square API and Transactions API largely depends on your particular needs and what you find most important in the customer journey.

Other Ways To Accept Online Payments With Square

Square Developer In-App

Though we have explored several options in Square payments, there are yet a few more to keep in mind. Before we go on, it’s worth mentioning that you can’t add an embeddable “Buy Now” button to any site like you can with PayPal or even Shopify. However, there are still ways to take payments online — even without a website! Let’s check out the last two ways you can take payments via Square from your customer online — through invoices and in-app payments.

Invoices

Square Invoices

You don’t need an online store to send and collect payment from your customers if you use invoices. Square allows you to send one-off invoices for single orders, or to set up recurring invoices for subscriptions or even installments. It’s easy to track the status of invoices and follow up right from your Square Dashboard, too. Want more info on invoices? Check out How To Use Square Invoices To Ensure You Get Paid On Time so you can leverage this option for your business.

In-App Payments

With all the cash being exchanged through in-app purchases, it was only a matter of time before Square decided to join the party. That’s right; now Square offers in-app payment support with a few lines of code! You can update elements to match your app’s style and have the freedom to customize the look and feel however you want. It’s all in Square’s Transaction APIs and completely free for you to use with your Square account.

Is Square Online Payments Right For You?

Square offers solutions for both the tech-savvy and those who want something ready to run out of the box. With that being said, the more appropriate question is, “Which of Square Online Payment solutions are right for you?” And that answer comes down to your needs. From a quick-to-set up Square Store to Transaction APIs that are customizable and free to us, or plug-ins apps that add eCommerce to your existing site, there are many solutions to choose.

Keep in mind that you can add or subtract Square’s services and other integrations to scale up or down with you as needed, so you don’t have to make a final decision today. Setting up a Square account is the first step to get the ball rolling and see the options along the way. With no sign-up fees, binding contracts, or credit checks, Square is one of the least intimating companies to deal with if you are just checking things out.

The post How to Accept Online Payments With Square appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Zero Fraud Liability: What It Is And What You Need To Know

If you’ve recently undergone credit card theft, it can be a harrowing experience to see unauthorized purchases show up on your account. Besides having to deal with canceling credit cards and requesting replacements, losing money is never fun. Luckily, many issuers offer something called zero fraud liability.

A zero fraud liability policy means you won’t be held accountable for those unauthorized purchases. Such a feature can save you much hassle (and money!) long-term. While it isn’t legally required for business credit cards, it’s still a standard inclusion on most popular business-centric cards.

To get the full nitty-gritty on zero fraud liability, read on!

What Is Zero Fraud Liability?

best restaurant credit cards

Zero fraud liability protects you against fraud in case your card gets lost or stolen and is then used without your consent. In most cases, the liability policy covers unauthorized purchases made online and in-person. The “zero” part means that you are protected against any amount a fraudster spends on your card; in some cases, you may have $50 fraud liability, which means you’ll still be on the hook for up to $50.

Almost all issuers offer some form of fraud liability. However, only consumer cards are required to do so by federal law. Corporate or business cards are not required to offer fraud liability.

It’s also worth noting that if your card network (like Visa or Mastercard) offers zero fraud liability, you’ll be automatically covered. You won’t need to go through extra hoops to sign up, as you might with a rewards program.

How Zero Fraud Liability Works

When you launch a fraud investigation, your card network should cancel all unauthorized charges immediately. Because you’re protected by a zero liability policy, you won’t be held liable for any of the payments.

How to actually go about a fraud investigation varies from network to network. American Express, Discover, and Visa handle all cases and want you to come to them first. Mastercard, however, requires that users first contact merchants and request that the charges be canceled before reaching out.

Technically, issuers have 10 days to investigate fraud. In some cases, it may take even longer. This means that you won’t always have immediate access to money that’s been fraudulently used. However, most major issuers and networks provide next-day access to funds.

You’ll be able to catch fraudulent charges by monitoring your credit card statement, or by checking your activity digitally via an online portal or smartphone app. It might be a good idea to get into the habit of checking your activity on a weekly basis—that way you can catch fraud before it gets out of hand.

Some issuers also offer fraud monitoring services. These services will check to see if a purchase falls outside your usual buying habits, or perhaps monitor risky websites for your information. If your card’s network offers such a service, you can sign up to get text alerts, email notifications, or phone calls when they spot questionable activity.

When Does Zero Fraud Liability Apply?

Signs Your Small Business Needs To Switch Payment Processors

If your card is physically stolen and used by the thief, you won’t be responsible for any of their purchases. Similarly, if your card is stolen online (say, in a data breach or hacked database), you’ll also be covered.

In many cases, you won’t be able to receive coverage for PIN-based debit transactions (this is true for all Mastercards and Visa cards). This is because fraud liability policies usually only cover signature-based transactions. On top of this, most zero liability policies only apply to U.S.-issued cards.

Additionally, you may not be able to get your money back through your card’s fraud coverage if a disgruntled employee goes on a spending spree with their employee card. Because employees to whom you’ve given cards are technically authorized users, their activity may not count as fraud in the eyes of your card’s issuer or network. As such, you’re liable for purchases employees make with their company-issued credit cards.

How To Tell If Your Credit Card Has Zero Fraud Liability

There are a couple of ways to find out if your card is covered by a zero fraud liability policy. To start, you can call the number on the back of your credit card and ask if your card is covered. Most issuers also provide the necessary information on their website.

Besides reaching out to your issuer, if you know your card features Visa Business Benefits, is a Mastercard, or is issued by Discover, you likely have a zero liability policy because it is a standard feature for those networks. Of course, you’ll still want to double check because exact benefits can vary from card to card.

Additionally, while consumer or personal credit cards may not always have zero fraud liability, if your card is one of the consumer variety, you’ll have some form of fraud liability. At minimum, this policy will cover anything a thief spends over $50, as mandated by federal law.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, zero fraud liability protects you against a thief putting charges on your credit card. This feature means you won’t lose money if your card is used fraudulently. Thankfully, it’s a fairly standard inclusion across the gamut of business credit cards, even though it isn’t required by federal law.

Curious about finding the top credit cards? Check out our list of the best cards for your business. If you want to know more about credit cards, learn about the difference between APR and interest rates.

The post Zero Fraud Liability: What It Is And What You Need To Know appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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