The Step-By-Step Guide To Starting And Funding A Tutoring Business

The news cycle is full of hype about the “knowledge economy” but often light on details about how the average person can catch a piece of the tutoring action. Do you have a skill you’ve carefully honed over the years — or even one you have accidentally cultivated through repetition at your job? Don’t have state certification and six years of college handy? No worries; you don’t have to have an MA in education to be an effective teacher. One of the more accessible points of entry to a career in education is to teach those skills to other people via the increasingly lucrative tutoring industry.

Have you considered starting a tutoring business? Tutoring may be one of the easier avenues to make a little cash in the knowledge-selling economy, but expanding a part-time coaching gig to full-time, lucrative business can take a surprising amount of planning and resources. Not sure where to start? We’ll walk you through a step-by-step process for planning your tutoring business. We’ll also give you some ideas for where you can turn for funding when you need it.

Ready? Let’s go!

Pick A Tutoring Niche

Life is full of paradoxes, but one key part of thinking big is to narrow your focus. Creativity is as informed by limitation as it is by possibility.

As you would when starting any kind of business, think about where you can add value and what problems your skill set can solve. Are people in your area already doing what you’re planning to do? Is there an X-factor you could offer? A different spin on the familiar? Or is there a niche that’s unserved or under-served, particularly in your local area? For that matter, does your area have needs for specific skill sets?

Don’t have the skills or the local demand to create a flute tutoring business?

You can always fall back on subjects that are in high demand. Languages. Writing. Math. Science. And remember, each of these subjects can be broken down farther into sub-categories like algebra, chemistry, conversational Spanish, etc.

Another safe approach is to tutor students who are studying for standardized tests like the SATs, GREs, and LSATs or even trade certification tests like CompTIA A+ for IT technicians. The possibilities aren’t quite endless, but they are numerous.

Choose A Business Location

One of the great things about tutoring is that you can do it just about anywhere: at a dedicated business site, at a college library, at a coffee shop, at your home, or remotely over the internet.

Early on, your choice of location may not be critical–you can tailor your work environment to meet your own needs and the needs of your clients. Obviously, some of those options will disappear once your business gets large enough–your local coffee shop may or may not appreciate you using their space to run your business–so you’ll want to have a growth strategy in mind if you’re planning on turning your business into a tutoring empire down the road.

At the same time, you’ll want to avoid spending more on overhead than your business strategy requires. If you don’t need a brick and mortar space or a fancy interactive website right away, it may be best to hold off on those investments while you build your brand and reputation.

You’ll also want to consider the demographics of your clientele. Are they easily distracted teenagers who may have a hard time concentrating with a lot of background noise? Are they older adults who aren’t as tech-savvy as you are? Are they dependent on public transportation or parents to get to you? Does your subject matter require extra space for demonstrations? Are you working with clients with learning or physical disabilities? Are you going to need WiFi?

Keep all of these factors in mind when you’re considering a location for your tutoring business.

Create A Business Plan (If You’re Going Big)

If you’re going to be tutoring as a side gig, you can probably skip this part, but it’s not a bad exercise for anyone to try, even if they aren’t planning to incorporate anytime soon.

A business plan is simply a written, organized description of your planned business and business strategy. It’s your vision of how your business will develop, operate, and finance itself. It can also help show prospective financiers and grant-money sources that you’re organized and serious about your operation.

You can find a lot of guidance online about how to organize your business plan. Likewise, your local chamber of commerce and government economic development agencies (and similar organizations) often have resources you can tap.

A typical business plan includes the following:

  • Executive Summary
  • Company Description
  • Market Overview
  • Sales & Marketing Strategy
  • Operating Plan
  • Organizations & Management Team
  • Financials

Calculate Starting Costs

Once you have a basic idea of how your business will operate, it’s time to calculate your starting costs. Does your subject require materials, teaching aids, or similar items? Are you renting a workspace? Are you paying employees or subcontractors? Shelling out for a web host? Purchasing hardware or software? Buying insurance?

Some of these costs may be trivial enough to finance out of pocket, while others may require additional effort. As a new business owner, finding funding can be especially challenging. Many traditional sources of funding, bank loans in particular, usually aren’t available to businesses that are newer than two years old.

Funding Options For Tutoring Businesses

So what do you do if you need money? Here are some options:

Personal Savings

Obvious? Maybe, but tapping your personal savings has distinct advantages over going into debt. You may be accessing your rainy funds, but you won’t be losing additional money on interest payments.

Of course, you are taking a risk using your own money to finance your business. If your business fails, you’ve effectively lost that money. For that reason, and as a general best practice, it’s a good idea to separate your business finances from your personal ones.

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

One of the easier–and riskier–ways to fund your startup expenses is with personal or business credit cards (you don’t actually have to own a business to get a business credit card). Credit cards offer a lot of flexibility and convenience when it comes to making purchases. Even better, many credit cards offer reward programs that can actually save judicious users money.

However, keep in mind that credit cards carry very high interest rates on any balances you carry from month to month. Most business credit cards — and all personal credit cards — offer a grace period of at least 21 days. Purchases that you pay off within that window do not accrue interest. This makes credit cards ideal for purchases you can pay off quickly, and problematic for ones that you can’t.

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

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



Apply Now

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

Business credit cards often have aggressive rewards programs, but rarely will you find one that offers 5 percent cash back on qualified purchases. And since that includes office supplies, the card’s not a bad fit for tutoring.

There’s a $25,000 cap on the higher rates of return, but with no annual fee, it’s quite a bargain.

Recommended Option: Capital One Spark Classic

Capital One Spark Classic For Business


Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


24.74%, Variable

If you don’t qualify for the Chase Ink Business Cash, Capital One’s Spark Classic is an easy-to-qualify-for, no-frills cash back card that can help you save money on purchases while building up your credit.

You’re only getting 1 percent back on purchases, but it’s not a bad place to start if you’re coming off a year or two of hard luck.

Personal Loans

Traditional business loans may not be an option for new businesses, but you can often use personal loans to cover some of your startup expenses. Since you don’t have to worry about business-oriented qualifying factors like the amount of time you’ve been in business, these loans can be easier to get when you’re first starting out.

The downside is you won’t have the liability protection you’d theoretically have if you applied as a business. You may also be more limited in terms of the amount of money you can take out.

Still, if you need a little money to get started and don’t have funds on hand, it’s not a bad option.

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

lending club logo

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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 when you’re first starting out.

Recommended Option: Lendio

Review

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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.

Recommended Option: Upstart

upstart logo

Review

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Another solid option for non-traditional borrowers is Upstart. So long as you have fair credit (620+), a stable source of income, and live in a state other than West Virginia or Iowa, there’s a pretty good chance Upstart will work with you.

Flexibility is the name of Upstart’s game. How so? They’ll use non-traditional means to get a picture of your credit worthiness and they’ll allow you to select between different payment schedules. And with three to five years to settle your loan, you won’t have to worry about paying it off right away.

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

Grants

Nothing’s better than “free” money, and grants might be the closest thing to that in the real world. Grants usually require a fairly involved application/writing process and, as you might expect, are often highly competitive. So while you may not have to worry about interest with grants, you do want to factor in the amount of time you have to spend trying to get a grant, especially considering there’s a high chance that you won’t be selected for the grant.

On the other hand, being awarded a grant comes with some prestige that you can then use in your marketing efforts. And it is “free” money, after all.

If you need some help figuring out where to look for grants, check out our feature on the topic.

ROBS

Not your neighbor-with-the-nice-car Rob, but Rollovers as Business Startups. If you haven’t heard of 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 tutoring 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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Pre-qualify

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.

Register Your Business

blogging

This part is technically optional, but if you’re planning to build your tutoring 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. 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. While it won’t separate your personal and business finances, you should consider filing a DBA (Doing Business As) with your local county clerk. This will allow you to legally operate your business under its own name (Uber Math Works as opposed to Barry Holgram, for example).

Other forms of incorporation will require a bit more work and come with their own advantages and disadvantages. This is where the business plan we talked about earlier will come in handy, because you’ll need one if you’re going to incorporate. Keep in mind that incorporation comes with costs and additional responsibilities, so make sure you’re at the point where it makes sense for your business.

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.

Separate Personal And Business Finances

Even if you’re going to run your tutoring business as a sole proprietorship, you should take steps to separate your business finances from your personal ones. A separate business checking and/or savings account can save you a ton of headache when it’s time to pay your taxes. And even for your own edification, it will make your profits and losses much easier to track.

Choose An Hourly Rate

Get your merchant funds fast. Image description: Clock with money underneath it

Figuring out how much to charge for your tutoring services can be one of the more challenging parts of getting your business up and running.

A good place to start is to do some research on the prevailing rate for similar services in your area and then figure out a strategy for your business. Are you going to try to undersell the competition? Charge more but offer something your competitors don’t? You can glean this information often from your competitors’ websites or by checking out third-party sites that do regional salary comparisons for different industries. You may also want to speak to local colleges and schools about how they handle independent tutors.

It sounds obvious, but you don’t want to charge so little that you’re breaking even, or even losing money, on your gig. Take into account the transportation costs of meeting your clients, any money you’re spending on coffee, etc. And be sure to deduct those expenses when it comes time to pay your self-employment taxes!

Bolster Your Web Presence

Word of mouth can still go a long way in the tutoring business, but these days there’s really no way to avoid the necessity of building a strong digital presence.

It never hurts to have a sleek, attractive website. Indeed, it can make your operation look professional as well as help build hype for your services. Luckily there are user-friendly and cost-effective ways to build a website.

That said, a website is not the only way to use the internet to build up your tutoring business.

Remember that the web is, itself, a medium for instruction and tutoring. You may want to consider offering some freebies on YouTube, for example, to build up your reputation. In addition, free services can function as advertisements for your paid services. Just make sure you don’t make your paid services extraneous.

Social media strategy is too complex to go into in great depth here, but making posts that are fun to read and interact with is a good place to start.

Advertise Your Business

In addition to what we covered above in web presence, you’ll also want to get your name out there in other ways. If you’re just starting out, you’re probably not looking at expensive media buys on TV, radio, or even your local newspaper.

Let your network know what you’re up to so they can spread the word about your new tutoring. Make a Facebook page. Get yourself a Twitter account. Offer free consultations with curious parties. Even cheap, low-tech solution like flyers with tear-off tags can be powerful if you post them in the right places.

Final Thoughts

Does helping someone grow and learn while earning money sound like a dream job? Tutoring can be one of the more rewarding and flexible businesses you can get into. But while the demand for expertise is often high, you’ll still want to approach the industry with a strategic mindset. Take your time, narrow down your niche, and build your reputation and tutoring can turn into so much more than just a side gig.

The post The Step-By-Step Guide To Starting And Funding A Tutoring Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Deferred Interest: What You Need To Know

 

When hunting for a credit card, a loan, or another financing arrangement, you may come across offers advertising “no interest for 12 months” or “same as cash” financing. Take care, because often times, this arrangement will entail deferred interest. Deferred interest financing carries risks that are typically not well understood and often not explained clearly by the lender.

In this article, we’re going to tackle the murky subject of deferred interest.

What Is Deferred Interest?

Deferred interest is defined by Investopedia in the following way:

Deferred interest is the amount of interest added to the principal balance of a loan when the contractual terms of the loan allow for a scheduled payment to be made that is less than the interest due.

That’s the textbook definition of the deferred interest — interest that has accrued on a loan but hasn’t been paid. But how does deferred interest actually work in the real world? Let’s explore.

How Deferred Interest Works

Let’s say you purchased some exercise equipment with a store credit card offering deferred interest for 12 months in order to avoid having to pay the full cost up front. As the months go by without your balance being paid in full, interest will accrue on your card, but you won’t be responsible for paying it off — yet.

Now, if you pay off your balance within 12 months, this accumulated interest will not come due, and you will have paid for your purchase with what is essentially an interest-free loan. However, if you don’t pay off your purchase in its entirety within that 12 months, all the interest accumulated over that 12-month period (not just the interest on the portion of the balance you have yet to pay) is then added to the amount you owe.

One insidious aspect of this arrangement is that the kind of store credit cards that typically offer deferred interest financing normally have high APRs, thus increasing the interest charges you’ll be hit with if you don’t pay the balance in full within 12 months.

Deferred Interest VS 0% APR Introductory Rate

A credit card offering deferred interest financing under the sophistry of “no interest for 12 months” is not the same thing as a credit card offering an introductory 0% APR. I explained how deferred interest works in this particular context with the above example, but let’s say that instead, you purchased the exercise equipment with a newly-obtained credit card that sports a 12-month intro 0% APR period.

You’ll be able to pay off your balance over the course of your first 12 months without being responsible for any interest payments, just as with the deferred interest card. The difference comes after your first 12 months are up. After this point, you’ll become responsible for any interest that accumulates on the remaining balance of your card, but not for the interest you didn’t pay during your initial 12 months with the card.

If that sounds like a better, fairer, and safer arrangement, that’s because it is.

Pros & Cons of Deferred Interest

If everything goes right and you’re able to pay back the principal of a deferred interest loan in full before the period of deferred interest ends, congratulations! Your deferred interest loan has worked out for you and has not caused you any harm.

However, lenders bank (literally) on the increasingly high likelihood that everything will not go right for you during this period. Americans, particularly working-class families, face constant unexpected financial “challenges” from which they enjoy little to no protection. So if you lose your job or your child gets sick and you can’t pay your balance in full before the end of your deferred interest period, your lender will reap the financial benefits of your misfortune and you will be left high and dry.

Best Practices When Using Deferred Interest

Before signing up for a deferred interest loan or credit card, seek out all possible alternative financing arrangements first. If you’ve exhausted these alternatives and find yourself in the unenviable position of having to rely on a deferred interest loan to pay for an expense, make absolutely sure you can pay off the purchase before the deferred interest period ends to avoid being hit with retroactively-applied interest charges.

Additionally, if you use a deferred interest credit card to finance a purchase, avoid charging anything else to this card if you possibly can. That’s because if you ring up additional charges on your card after your initial purchase, the standard purchase APR may apply to those additional charges, and under the terms of the CARD Act (legislation meant to protect consumers in other contexts), any payments you make on your debt will apply first to these additional charges, not to your initial purchase (the purchase on which the unpaid deferred interest is accumulating). That’s because the CARD Act mandates that when you make a payment on your card greater than the minimum due, the amount beyond the minimum due must be applied to the balance with the highest interest rate first.

So while you might assume that your payments will first apply to your initial balance, this is not the case. To go back to my example, you might think that you’ve paid off that exercise equipment you purchased once you’ve made payments on your card equal to the amount of said purchase. But if you’ve made any subsequent purchases on that card, a portion of what you’ve paid will go towards those balances first, leaving a portion of your initial balance unpaid.

And remember, even if you have just one dollar of that initial purchase left outstanding at the end of your deferred interest period, you’ll become responsible for paying all the interest that has accumulated over 12 months on that entire purchase, not just on that one dollar left unpaid.

In short, if you make a purchase on a deferred interest card, don’t use that card to make any further purchases. It can only get you in trouble.

Final Thoughts

The parasitic purveyors of deferred interest loans know that the consumers their products are aimed at are overworked, harried, and dealing with an unholy myriad of escalating financial demands — housing, education, health care, etc. These consumers often don’t have the financial literacy required to make sense of deferred interest offers and can easily find themselves hit with large interest charges on purchases they believed to be interest-free, leaving the most vulnerable people in our society open to being fleeced by unscrupulous lenders.

As a result, the cosseted 1% benefits at the expense of the beleaguered 99%. It’s as if a familiar pattern were at play here.

The most direct advice I can give on the subject of deferred interest financial products: Get a traditional credit card with a 0% introductory APR offer instead. Many popular credit cards (both business and personal) are offered with a 0% intro APR period of 9-12 months, though there are other cards offering 15 or even 21-month 0% APR periods. With these cards, you’ll never have to pay retroactive interest, only interest that accumulates on your card’s balance after your 0% APR period ends.

Credit Card 0% Introductory Period Next Steps
American Express Blue Business Plus 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months Compare
Chase Ink Business Unlimited 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months Apply Now
American Express SimplyCash Plus 0% APR on purchases for the first 9 months Compare
Capital One Spark Cash Select For Business 0% APR on purchases for the first 9 months Compare
Bank of America Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 9 months Compare

If such a credit card appeals to you, let Merchant Maverick help you out in your search!

  • Best Business Credit Cards For 2019
  • APR VS Interest Rate: Know The Difference
  • Top Business Credit Card Balance Transfer Offers
  • Credit Card Balance Transfers Demystified

The post Deferred Interest: What You Need To Know appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Gator Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives

Gator Website Builder

HostGator is one of the best known brands in the website & hosting industry. They’re especially known for their shared hosting, building their reputation on good pricing, fast servers, and great service compared to other brands. While I’ve long used HostGator for website hosting, I recently gave their website builder software, Gator Website Builder, a try.

View Gator Website Builder Current Plans & Pricing.

But before I get into the pros and cons of my Gator website builder review, let’s dive into an overview of website solutions.

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 personal website or running a business, the way you build your site 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 Gator Website Builder?

The Gator Website Builder is HostGator’s hosted website builder. HostGator has traditionally only provided domain names & hosting for other website software (like installing WordPress). Gator is their move into providing domain, hosting AND software in a single subscription.

So, on the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Gator Website Builder lives on the end that is hosted, all-inclusive, provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately (ie, buying your domain name, hosting & installing software).

Using HostGator’s Gator Website Builder 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. You can read more about what a website builder is and how it contrasts to web hosting here.

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

As far as competition, HostGator competes directly with all-inclusive website builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy’s GoCentral and WordPress.com.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed and convenience by offering everything you need to get your website up and running in just a few minutes. HostGator appeals to the non-developer community here (think DIY-ers who need to create a website without having tons of website experience or time to maintain self-hosted software).

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 Gator Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using HostGator’s Gator Website Builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors, but as an overall website solution.

Easy Onboarding Process

One of Gator’s best features is its onboarding process (AKA the process of getting up and running with Gator’s website software). There is typically a part of the onboarding process when you think, “okay… what do I do now?”

With Gator, onboarding is quick, simple, and straightforward. In just a few steps, you’ll have selected your plan, chosen your domain name, and picked a theme to create your website with — all without wondering, “Where the heck do I go now?”

Plus, Gator builds in education not only through email drip sequence, but through a simple, step-by-step tutorial that walks you through how to customize your theme and add content to your website.

Gator Tutorial

All-in-One Solution

Again, HostGator’s Gator Website Builder is an all-in-one solution, which means everything you need — from hosting to domain registration to integrations (more on that shortly) is included in the platform.

That means everything just works — there’s no figuring out if this app or extension is compatible or is going to break your site. There’s no troubleshooting or support needs outside of what they already offer. Even things like analytics are built into the platform.

Analytics Integrations

Spending less time on research and troubleshooting means you can spend more time on stuff that matters – like content, design, and marketing your site.

Plus, since Gator is associated with HostGator — a well known, trusted hosting provider — the platform has the flexibility and resources to provide things like unlimited storage, DNS & domains support (AKA buying and mapping your domain name to your website), and support to migrate to a self-hosted product if or when that makes sense.

Template Design

When you set up your website with Gator, you have to choose a template to start your design. One of the pros of HostGator’s website builder is their pre-built templates. They have hundreds of options to choose from, and each option can be edited and customized in their drag-and-drop website builder.

You could custom build a website on HostGator with software & themes of your choosing (ie, WordPress + themes), but part of Gator’s appeal is that they have a huge selection of well-designed templates that you can tweak for your own needs by adding / removing sections and customizing the colors, photography, fonts, and content — all without worrying about their learning curve or costs of addons.

Site Building Process

Speaking of design… one advantage of an all-inclusive website builder is that you don’t have to write HTML or CSS code — instead, you can just drag and drop elements. What you see in the builder is what you get on the website.

Add Pages Gator

HostGator’s drag and drop builder is simultaneously detailed and simple. It gives you plenty of options for customization, such as adding new elements, change colors and fonts, adding entirely new pages to build from scratch, etc. But it also is extremely easy to use (it’s literally drag and drop). It makes it very simple for someone with no website experience to customize their theme or even give it a major overhaul.

Sections Website Builder Gator

Overall Pricing

While HostGator doesn’t have a free option for a subdomain (like Wix does), their overall pricing is competitive not only compared to other all-inclusive website builders, but also to buying your own hosting.

HostGator

Notice how everything is bundled and unlimited. There are no caps on pages or storage space. In fact, the only difference between the plans is support (priority is “faster” support) and ecommerce functionality.

Compared to building your own website on your host and especially other website builders, Gator’s pricing is very competitive. And while pricing isn’t everything, it’s certainly a factor, especially if you’re looking to bundle price and convenience.

Cons

But of course, no Gator website builder review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at 3 specific cons I found.

Apps, Extensions, and Advanced Marketing

While Gator’s all-in-one platform is a solid pro for the website builder, it does also give it a disadvantage in terms of lack of support and ability to add 3rd party apps, extensions, and advanced marketing tools.

Gator does offer some apps and extensions, like G suite integration and priority support on their platform, but they’re pretty limited.

apps and integrations gator website builder

And while Gator does allow you to edit the site HTML and insert HTML when designing a page, there isn’t a way to go in and edit specific sections of code. This, combined with not having 100% control over your site & server (ie, to FTP verification files), limits you to which marketing tools you can add to your website.

This tradeoff does ensure that everything works correctly (no WordPress white screen of death when adding Google Tag Manager), but the trade off is control and customization.

Pricing + Upsells

Yep — pricing is also a con. While Gator’s pricing options are extremely competitive, it’s worth noting that the 50% off promotion only applies for the payment period. For example, if you commit to the premium plan at the 2-year price, that price only lasts you two years.

pricing rules Gator

It’s also not clear from the initial pricing information that a free domain name is only included in the yearly billing. That information comes during the checkout process.

Yearly Billing

The overall upsell with the domain + the marketing apps is also a bit convoluted. When you’re checking out, it almost looks like you have to purchase a domain name if you don’t yet own one. In reality, you can use a subdomain and purchase a domain separately.

Gator domain registration

The domain add-on is one of a few upsells during the checkout process, which does clutter the onboarding slightly.

Blog Functionality

While Gator does have a blog integration that you can add on to your website, it doesn’t come as a part of your theme. It’s treated as more of an “add on”, and you can select how you want your blog to look. blog themes gator website builder

While it’s great to be able to customize the look and feel of your blog, having to choose a separate theme makes it a bit disjointed and seems like the blog is a secondary feature. If you’re looking to have a website for the sole purpose of blogging, this may not be the best fit for you*

*if you are primarily a blogger, but want the all-inclusiveness of a website builder, then you should check out WordPress.com – it’s powered by WordPress but is hosted and controlled so that the experience is better than self-hosting WordPress.

Review Conclusion

Gator has many of the tradeoffs inherent with all website builders while capitalizing on the potential strengths of a website builder (ie, usability & support).

Compared to other established website builder brands, it lacks many advanced options & templates (ie, especially compared to Wix), but Gator has better usability and pricing than most.

Gator is a really good fit for anyone looking for a well-built, well-priced, straightforward website builder and doesn’t need many extra templates or advanced marketing features (ie, CRO and Schema plugins).

Check out Gator’s current plans & pricing here.

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

Working on a long-term project and need more freedom and don’t mind a learning curve? Check out my posts on trying out and self-hosting WordPress.

The post Gator Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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6 Free Square Tools To Make Running Your Small Business Easier

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

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

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

Inventory Management

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

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

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

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

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

Customer Directory

small business loyalty program

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

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

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

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

Card On File

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

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

Is Card On File Secure?

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

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

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

Gift Cards

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

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

Invoicing & Installments

Square Invoice Tutorial

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

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

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

Virtual Terminal

 

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

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

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

Square Card

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

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

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

Is Square Right For You?

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

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

The post 6 Free Square Tools To Make Running Your Small Business Easier appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Business Loan And Financing Resources For North Carolina Small Businesses

North Carolina is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation and has posted significant economic growth over the last 30 years in cities such as Greensboro, Raleigh, and Charlotte. The city of Charlotte is one of the largest banking centers in the United States and the information and biotechnology industries are thriving thanks in part to the Research Triangle Park, Gateway University Research Park, and the Piedmont Triad Research Park. In 2018, North Carolina was ranked in the top ten on CNBC’s Top States for Business list.

With all this growth and opportunity, it’s no surprise that more people are considering entrepreneurship. Maybe you’ve thought about starting your own small business, or maybe you’ve already opened your doors. Either way, you’re here because you want to learn more about financing opportunities and resources for new and established businesses in North Carolina.

In this post, we’re going to look at the best opportunities for small business owners in North Carolina. From easy online loans to small business grants for new and innovative businesses, we’ll explore the many options available to North Carolinians. Let’s get started.

Online Business Lenders For North Carolina Businesses

online loan companies

If you need an easy and convenient small business loan, look no further than your computer. You can secure a business loan without even leaving your home or office by working with an online lender. Not being stuck in a bank for hours isn’t the only benefit to online lending, either. If you don’t qualify for a traditional loan for any reason (low credit score, new business, or low revenues, for example), you can find a lender that’s willing to work with your specific situation.

Finding an online lender isn’t difficult. Just typing search terms like “small business loan” in a search engine brings up thousands of hits. Unfortunately, though, not all lenders are cut from the same cloth. In your search for an online business loan, you’ll encounter lenders that aren’t reputable, charge ridiculously high fees, or have poor reviews from their borrowers. It’s easy to get caught up for hours just finding a lender, so save time and start with one of these options.

Fundera

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You want to shop around when it comes to financing options, but you don’t want to submit application after application. You also want to avoid having multiple hard inquiries on your credit — a move that could bring your score down or even disqualify you from receiving a loan. By working with Fundera, you can avoid these hassles.

Fundera allows you to fill out one easy application to see what financial products you qualify to receive. Fundera uses a combination of technology and experienced lending specialists to find the best financing options for your business. You’ll work with your lending specialist to evaluate all offers to determine which is best for you. Then, you select your funding and receive the money in your bank account. Your lending specialist will even continue to work with you to determine how you can receive even better options in the future.

Working with Fundera is free, and there’s no impact to your credit score just to shop around your options. However, it should be noted that once you accept an offer, a hard pull will likely be performed on your credit.

Fundera offers several financial products for small businesses, including:

  • Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans: Up to $5 million with terms up to 25 years
  • Lines Of Credit: Starting at $10,000 with terms up to 5 years
  • Term Loans: Up to $500,000 with terms up to 5 years
  • Startup Loans: Up to $150,000 with terms up to 4 years
  • Equipment Financing: Up to 100% of equipment value
  • Invoice Financing: Up to 100% of invoice value
  • Short-Term Loans: Up to $250,000 with terms up to 18 months
  • Personal Loans For Business: Up to $35,000 with terms up to 5 years
  • Merchant Cash Advances: Up to $250,000

Rates, terms, and borrower requirements vary based on the financial product selected.

Lendio

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If you want to compare lender offers, Lendio is another option to consider. This loan aggregator has over 75 financing partners you can reach through just one application. There’s no fee to apply, and submitting your application won’t affect your credit.

The application process takes just minutes, and you could receive funding in as little as 24 hours depending on the product you select. Lendio has a variety of financial options available to small businesses including:

  • SBA Loans: Up to $5 million with terms up to 25 years
  • Term Loans: Up to $2 million with terms up to 5 years
  • Lines Of Credit: Up to $500,000 with terms up to 2 years
  • Equipment Financing: Up to $5 million with terms up to 5 years
  • Commercial Mortgages: Up to $5 million with terms up to 25 years
  • Business Acquisition Loans: Up to $5 million with terms up to 25 years
  • Startup Loans: Up to $750,000 with terms up to 25 years
  • Short-Term Loans: Up to $500,000 with terms up to 3 years
  • Business Credit Cards: Up to $500,000
  • Accounts Receivable Financing: Up to 80% of receivables with terms up to 1 year
  • Merchant Cash Advances: Up to $200,000 with terms up to 2 years

Rates, terms, and borrower requirements vary by financial product.

BlueVine

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If you don’t want to work with a loan aggregator and want to dive in immediately with a direct lender, BlueVine is a reputable lender to consider. BlueVine offers two financial products for small businesses: lines of credit and invoice factoring.

If you want a flexible financing option, a line of credit could be the right choice for you. Instead of receiving one lump sum payment, you’ll have access to a revolving line of credit to use whenever you need it.

You may qualify for as much as $250,000 with BlueVine. You don’t pay if you don’t use your line of credit. When you do make a draw, rates start at just 4.8%. Payments are made monthly or weekly over 6 or 12 months. As you make payments on your line of credit, funds become available for you to use again for unexpected expenses, emergencies, purchasing inventory, or filling revenue gaps.

To qualify for a BlueVine line of credit, you must meet these minimum requirements:

  • Personal credit score of 600 or above
  • At least 6 months in business
  • At least $100,000 in annual revenue

With BlueVine’s online application, you can be approved for a line of credit in as little as 20 minutes.

If unpaid invoices are plaguing your business, BlueVine offers a solution with its invoice factoring service. You can qualify for a line of credit up to $5 million using your unpaid invoices. You can receive up to 90% of the money upfront for your invoices. Fees start at 0.25% per week, and you can be approved for financing in as quickly as 24 hours.

To qualify for invoice factoring, you must have:

  • A personal credit score of 530 or above
  • A time in business of at least 3 months
  • At least $100,000 in annual revenue
  • A B2B business

Amex Business Loans

American Express OptBlue

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If you have an American Express Business Card, you may qualify for a small business loan. Not only will you receive a loan with competitive interest rates, but applying has no impact on your credit since the lender uses your information that’s already on file.

With an American Express loan, you can receive $3,500 to $50,000 to use for your business expenses. Interest rates are 6.98% to 19.97% with repayment terms of 1 to 3 years. You can be approved in just seconds and receive funds in your bank account in as little as 3 business days.

The only drawback to this product is that you must be a preapproved American Express Business Card member to receive the offer. You can find out if you’re preapproved by logging into your American Express account. To receive an offer, you must be a Basic Card Member in good standing, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and at least 18 years old. Please note that meeting these minimum requirements does not guarantee an offer.

IOU Financial

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IOU Financial offers flexible business financing that can be delivered to your bank account in as little as 24 hours. Through IOU Financial, you can receive up to $500,000 for growing your business. Even if you’ve faced challenges receiving funding in the past, you may qualify for an IOU Financial product, as the lender preapproves 85% of all applications.

IOU Financial offers financing with terms up to 18 months. Fixed daily or weekly payments are automatically taken from your business bank account. There is no early payment penalty if you pay off your loan early. If you need more capital, you may qualify for renewal once you’ve paid 40% of your loan. The lender doesn’t use a traditional interest rate but instead uses a factor rate between 1.15 and 1.31. Learn more about factor rates and how they affect the cost of your loan.

To qualify for a loan through IOU Financial, you must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Own at least 80% of your business OR at least 50% if owned with a spouse
  • Time in business of at least 1 year
  • At least 10 daily deposits
  • Annual revenue of at least $100,000
  • Average ending balance of at least $3,000 per day in a business bank account

P2Binvestor

P2Binvestor P2Bi logo

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If you need access to a large amount of capital, look to a lender like P2Binvestor. You can qualify for asset-backed lines of credit from $500,000 to over $10 million. These funds are unrestricted and can be used for any business purpose, from purchasing commercial property to covering payroll. P2Bi’s lines of credit have 1-year revolving terms with interest rates in the high teens.

According to the lender, the ideal candidate for a line of credit should:

  • Have time in business of at least 1 year
  • Have at least 10 employees
  • Have an experienced management team
  • Be a B2B business
  • Have at least $10 million in revenue
  • Have at least 10% annual revenue growth
  • Have accounts receivables that pay within 90 days

Businesses in the construction, real estate, medical insurance billing, and cannabis industries do not qualify for funding through P2Bi.

Kabbage

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If you want a flexible line of credit without having to jump through hoops to get it, apply with Kabbage. This lender offers a quick, easy application process that can give you access to capital in just minutes.

Kabbage specializes in small business lines of credit up to $250,000. Repayment terms are 6 months or 12 months and are based on how much you borrow. Fees are between 1.5% and 10% of your loan balance. If you pay off your loan early, no prepayment penalties are charged and you can save on your monthly fees. Payments are made monthly and are automatically withdrawn from your business bank account. No fees are charged until you use your line of credit.

One thing unique to Kabbage is the Kabbage Card. You have the option to make a traditional draw on your line of credit. Your funds will hit your account typically within 1 to 3 business days. Or you can use the Kabbage Card anywhere Visa is accepted to immediately access your funds. If you go this route, a new loan with the same rates and terms will be created on your Kabbage Dashboard.

To qualify, you must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Time in business of at least 1 year
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue OR at least $4,200 per month for the last 3 months

There are no credit score requirements, as Kabbage bases its approval decisions on the performance of your business. However, a credit check for the business owner is performed.

LendingPoint

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If time in business requirements are holding you back, consider getting a personal loan for business. By going this route, you can qualify for funds using your own personal income and credit score.

LendingPoint is one option to consider for personal loans. This lender provides up to $25,000 for qualified borrowers. APRs start at 15.49% and go up to 35.99%. Repayment terms are 2 to 4 years with payments due twice per month.

To qualify for a LendingPoint personal loan, you must meet these requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a valid ID and Social Security Number
  • Have a verifiable bank account
  • Have an annual income of at least $20,000

Banks, Credit Unions, & Nonprofit Lenders In North Carolina

If going a more traditional route makes more sense for you and your business, there are plenty of banks, credit unions, and nonprofit lenders that serve business owners in North Carolina. If you have a business or personal checking account, you can check out the services available through your own bank. Or if you are shopping around for a specific product or lower rate, consider these picks.

BB&T

BB&T is one of the largest banks in North Carolina with branches in nearly 200 cities including Asheville, Charlotte, Chapel Hill, and Greensboro. In addition to business checking and savings accounts, BB&T offers multiple borrowing options including:

  • Small Business & Startup Loans
  • Lines Of Credit
  • SBA Loans
  • Business Credit Card

You can also take advantage of other business services provided through BB&T including merchant services, payroll services, and employee benefits such as retirement solutions. You can learn more about opening an account and the services provided by calling BB&T’s toll-free number or visiting a local branch.

Truliant Federal Credit Union

Truliant Federal Credit Union was first chartered in Winston-Salem, Burlington, and Greensboro in 1952. Since then, the credit union has grown to serve over 200,000 members in cities throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. Truliant branches are located all throughout North Carolina in cities including Charlotte, Asheboro, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem.

In addition to business checking and savings, you can apply for:

  • Commercial Real Estate Loans
  • Commercial Auto Loans
  • Lines Of Credit
  • Construction Loans
  • SBA Loans
  • USDA Business & Industry Programs
  • Equipment Financing

You can begin the process online by downloading and completing a business loan application. Once complete, bring the application, your business debt schedule, and a personal financial statement to your local financial center.

Business accounts and financial products are available to Truliant members. To become a member, you must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Live, work, attend school, or worship in an area served by Truliant
  • Work at one of Truliant’s partner companies
  • Have an immediate family that is a Truliant member
  • Be a member of the American Consumer Council that lives in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, or Tennessee

Self-Help Credit Union

Self-Help is an organization made up of two credit unions, an advocacy group, and a nonprofit loan fund. Self-Help is a designated community development financial institution that provides opportunities to underserved communities.

Self-Help Credit Union provides financial services including checking and savings accounts to North Carolina residents. Self-Help also offers funding opportunities for small businesses, nonprofits, child care centers, and faith-based organizations.

Loan options available through Self-Help include:

  • Small Business Loans: Up to $250,000
  • Commercial Loans: $250,000 and up
  • SBA 504 Loans
  • New Markets Tax Credit Loans
  • Commercial Real Estate Loans
  • Environmental Loans
  • USDA Rural Development Loans
  • Specialty Loan Funds: NC Rural Center Small Business Loan Program and Golden LEAF Loan Program
  • Small Business Recovery Loans
  • Food System Finance Loans
  • Child Care Loans
  • Charter School Loans
  • Multifamily Housing Loans
  • Neighborhood Stabilization Program Loans

To apply for any of these loan programs, you must be a Self-Help member. To qualify, you must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Live, work, attend school, or worship in an eligible county
  • Meet family or employer affiliation criteria
  • Member of the Center for Community Self-Help

Carolina Small Business Development Fund

The Carolina Small Business Development Fund is a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution that has served communities in North Carolina since 1990. This organization provides business loans and training to community-based organizations, startups, and existing businesses.

Through Carolina Small Business, you can apply for loans and lines of credit up to $250,000. Rates are typically 8% to 12%.

To apply for a loan, you must complete the online application. Along with the application, you must upload documentation including:

  • Personal & Federal Tax Returns
  • Business Plan
  • Resumes Of Managers
  • Financial Statements

Additional information may be requested by a loan officer throughout the application process. Businesses requesting less than $50,000 will receive a loan decision within 10 business days. If the loan exceeds $50,000, a decision will be given within 15 business days.

Small Business Grants In North Carolina

You’ve probably seen the advertisements while watching late night TV: “Access the secret to millions of dollars in business grants for the low, low price of $99.95!” Unfortunately, obtaining a business grant isn’t exactly easy — or even possible — for most small businesses.

This doesn’t mean that grants (financing you don’t have to repay) don’t exist. They do. But most are open only to specific industries and applicants, like veterans, women, or minorities. Even if you do qualify for a grant, competition is often fierce.

If you want to explore all financing options, here are a few grants that may be a good fit for your business.

NC IDEA

NC Idea is a private foundation that provides grants and other resources to entrepreneurs in North Carolina. Opportunities include:

  • NC IDEA MICRO: Up to $10,000 for the advancement of new business ideas
  • NC IDEA SEED: Up to $50,000 for innovative startups with a proven concept

Additional resources include leadership training through NC IDEA LEAD and mentorships for female entrepreneurs through NC IDEA SOAR.

Deadlines and requirements vary. Applicants can learn more by visiting the NC IDEA website.

City Of Raleigh Office Of Economic Development Grants

If your business is located in Raleigh, North Carolina, there are several grants available to small businesses. These grants include:

  • Business Investment Grant
  • Building Up-Fit Grant
  • JobsRaleigh Grant
  • Façade Grant Program
  • Downtown Raleigh Retail Up-Fit Grant
  • Impact Partner Grant

These grants are designed to help encourage growth, development, and job creation in the City of Raleigh. Requirements and deadlines vary by program.

National Association For The Self-Employed

Through the National Association for the Self-Employed, you could receive $4,000 through the NASE Growth Grant. Grant funds can be used to expand your business through advertising, marketing, hiring employees, or expanding your facilities.

To qualify for the grant, you must be an NASE member. Annual memberships are $120 for most entrepreneurs. Students can become members for just $25 per year, while veterans pay only $99 annually. A monthly membership plan is also available.

Grants are awarded each month, and you can apply through the NASE website.

Loans & Resources For Startups In North Carolina

Getting the capital you need to grow your business is difficult, but getting the financing you need to launch your business can be even tougher. Many of the loan options already discussed may be unavailable to you if you don’t have revenue or haven’t been in business for a specific period of time.

This doesn’t mean you’re down and out. There are plenty of business financing options and resources for startups if you know where to look. Unsure of where to start? We’ve rounded up some great options that can help you get your business off the ground.

SCORE

SCORE is one of the nation’s leading resources for startups and small businesses. Through its 300 chapters, it has helped more than 11 million entrepreneurs since it was launched in 1964. SCORE offices are located all throughout the nation, including the state of North Carolina and cities including Raleigh, Charlotte, and Greensboro.

You can contact SCORE to be connected with a business mentor. There is no cost for this service. You can also lean on SCORE’s other business resources, including live and recorded webinars, online courses, and workshops.

Thread Capital

Thread Capital is a program launched by the NC Rural Center. This organization offers custom financing solutions for small businesses. Thread Capital also emphasizes helping underserved business owners, including women, minorities, low-income borrowers, and businesses located in rural areas.

Thread Capital offers small business loans from $500 to $50,000. Startup businesses with less than one year of documented revenue are eligible to receive up to $20,000. Established businesses with more than 12 months of documented revenue may be eligible to receive up to $50,000.

Loan terms are up to 72 months and interest rates start at 12.99% based on a number of risk factors. There are no prepayment penalties if your loan is paid off early.

To qualify for a startup loan through Thread Capital, you must:

  • Have at least 1 employee, which may include the owner
  • Have a business located in North Carolina
  • Put up all available assets as collateral
  • Have all individuals with more than 20% ownership co-sign the loan

As you become more established, Thread Capital offers additional loan options through its lending partners. Loans up to $5 million are available through these lenders.

Small Business and Technology Development Center

Since 1984, the Small Business and Technology Development Center has provided North Carolina small business owners with resources to help them grow and create jobs.

Whether you’re a brand new business or you’re an established business that has stalled on the path to growth, SBTDC offers business counseling and educational services to benefit you. These include:

  • Business & Management Advice
  • Financial Analysis
  • Marketing Assistance
  • Research
  • Financial Assistance
  • Strategy Development & Implementation
  • Leadership & Employee Performance

Most services are free and are always confidential. There are multiple SBTDC locations located throughout the state of North Carolina, serving areas including Boone, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Wilmington. You can visit the SBTDC website to learn more about the services offered and to submit an online request for counseling.

Small Business Center Network

The Small Business Center Network has 58 centers located throughout the state of North Carolina to support the growth and development of new and existing businesses.

Through the SBCN, business owners can receive confidential business counseling, access to resource libraries, seminars, and workshops. All services are available at no cost or for a minimal fee.

Business counseling is available on a variety of topics, including:

  • Business Plan Development
  • Marketing Assistance
  • Management & Human Resources
  • Sources Of Capital & Loan Preparation

Business Link North Carolina

If you’re ready to start a small business in North Carolina, check out the resources offered through Business Link North Carolina. Through this partnership with the NC Department of Commerce, you can receive free one-on-one phone consultations with a business counselor.

Business counselors can answer your questions on multiple business topics such as:

  • Regulatory Requirements
  • Licensing
  • Training

The toll-free hotline is available Monday through Friday. You can also submit an online request to have a counselor get in touch with you.

What To Consider When Choosing A Lender

Now that you’re aware of the financing options available to you, you’re one step closer to choosing a lender. There’s one problem, though: which lender is right for you?

Whether you’re spinning your wheels trying to narrow down your choices or you’re making the final decision between two lenders, ask yourself:

Do I Qualify?

This is an easy question that may immediately eliminate multiple lenders. Do you meet all the requirements of the lender? Is your credit score where it needs to be? Do you have enough revenue? Is your credit report free of anything that would disqualify you from receiving a loan?

If you don’t meet all minimum requirements, move on to another lender. If you find it difficult to qualify with most lenders, evaluate where you’re falling short. Get your free credit score, evaluate your credit report, and look at the financials of your business. If your funding need isn’t urgent, consider taking steps to resolve any issues that prevent you from qualifying for affordable loan options before submitting applications to lenders.

Does The Loan Amount Fit My Needs?

Before you seek funding, you should know how much capital you need. Maybe you need just a few thousand dollars to purchase new equipment. Maybe your financial needs are greater, and you need hundreds of thousands to renovate your commercial space. No matter how much capital you need, it’s important to find a lender that offers loans and financial products that have borrowing limits large enough to fund your project.

Can I Afford This Financing?

Before you submit applications and accept a loan offer, you need to make sure your business can afford to take on new debt. After determining whether your business can afford a loan, shop around to make sure you’re getting the best rates and terms for your business. High fees and interest rates, daily or weekly payments, or very short-term options could equal very expensive financing that could hurt — not help — your business.

Final Thoughts

Whether you apply for an online loan, a traditional bank loan, or a small business grant, there are plenty of financing options available to small businesses in North Carolina. Do your research, compare your options, and determine what opportunities are best to start or grow your business successfully.

The post The Best Business Loan And Financing Resources For North Carolina Small Businesses appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Use Square To Accept Credit Cards In Person

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Square & Payment Security

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

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

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

How To Use A Square Reader For Mobile Payments

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

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

Taking a Payment with Square

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

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

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

Square Transaction Fees & Mobile Reader Costs

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

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

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

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

Square Reader

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

Can You Use A Square Reader With Multiple Devices?

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

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

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

How To Use Square’s Countertop POS Systems

Square Register

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

Square Stand for Contactless and Chip:

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

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

Square Stand for Contactless and Chip

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

Square Terminal: 

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

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

Square Register:

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

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

Square POS Hardware Costs & Transaction Fees

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

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

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

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

Small Business Owner Using Square Customer Service

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

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

Virtual Terminal

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

Card-on-File Transactions

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

Security Concerns with Card On File 

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

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

Manually Keying-In Credit Card Information

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

Invoices

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

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

Square Keyed-Entry Transaction Fees

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

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

Is Square’s Credit Card Processing Right For You?

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

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

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

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

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

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How To Start And Finance An Auto Body Shop Business

You’re an experienced mechanic that’s been working for someone else for your entire career. You’re ready to spread your wings and fly (or drive) right to your own auto body shop. Sound like you? If you’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, then maybe it’s time to set out on your own.

Even if you’re the best at what you do, venturing out into the small business world can be scary. If you’re an employee at a collision center, you probably feel like you have some stability. Why risk a “sure thing” to start your own shop, especially if you don’t have any previous experience running your own business?

Starting your own business is risky and it takes hard work (and a lot of it). But opening your own auto collision shop can be an extremely lucrative venture. The automotive collision repair market brings in billions of dollars in revenue each year, and studies show that revenue will only continue to grow in the years ahead. Isn’t it time you got your share?

If you’re thinking about starting your own auto body shop, this guide is for you. We’ll go through all of the steps of starting your own business, from creating a business plan to finding the right lender. We’ll review potential costs, hiring employees, and other critical steps to building a successful business. If you’re ready to take the next step into entrepreneurship, read on to find out how to get started.

Create A Business Plan

You’ve made up your mind: you’re ready to open your own collision or auto body center and you have an idea of how to do it. That’s good enough, right? Actually, you need to be more prepared before you even begin to move on to other steps in building your business. The best way to be prepared? Create a detailed business plan.

Let’s illustrate the importance of a business plan with an example. You’re going on a hike in the woods. There are lots of paths to choose from. Some of these paths may bring you out of the woods — your end goal — but there may be additional challenges along the way, like steep terrain. Some paths may be wrong altogether … and you’ll have to backtrack to right your course. In short, you can enter the woods without a map and risk getting lost. Or you can get a map ahead of time, plot out your course, and set out only after you’ve planned your route and know what to expect.

A business plan works in the same way. A good business plan outlines how to get from your starting point (launching your business) to your goal. Every entrepreneur has a different goal. Maybe yours is to run a successful local business that sets your family up for life. Maybe you have bigger goals — starting your own chain of auto body shops, for example. The most important thing is to set a concrete goal and create a map of how to get there.

Not only will a business plan keep you on the right track, but you must have a plan to present to investors or lenders when you’re seeking capital.

New to writing a business plan? At a minimum, here’s what you should include:

  • Executive Summary: A concise summary detailing each section of your business plan
  • Overview: A description of your business, including the legal structure, location, and type of business
  • Market Analysis: An overview of your market and a definition of your target market
  • Competitive Analysis: Strength and weaknesses of your competition
  • Management Team: The members of your management team and their responsibilities within your organization
  • Financial Projections: A forecast of the financial future of your business

Find A Location

As realtors say, “Location, location, location!” As you plan your own body shop, location is key, but there are a few other considerations to weigh before you put your name on that lease or mortgage.

You want to make sure that you purchase or lease the best location you can afford. Sure, that commercial property on the outskirts of town is much cheaper, but your customers have to be able to find you. Find a property that’s convenient for your customers and is located in a high-traffic area or at least off of a major road.

Another consideration is whether you’re going to buy an existing business or start from scratch. Buying an existing business comes with definite perks, including an established clientele, equipment, and even licenses and permits. However, there are a few drawbacks. This is one of the most expensive options, especially if the business is successful. You may also have to put additional costs into the business for renovations, like replacing outdated equipment.

If you start from scratch, you’ll rack up costs with the price of equipment, licenses, and building renovations.
Unsure of which to choose? Build a business plan looking at both options, calculate costs, and determine which makes the most sense financially, both in the short- and long-term.

Another option to consider is opening a franchise. With a franchise, you have less flexibility in terms of designing your brand and shop. However, you’ll have a working business model that takes a lot of the guesswork out of owning your own business.

Register Your Business

Before you open your auto body shop to the public, you need to register your business. Not only will you be seen as a legitimate business by your customers, but registering is also required when you want to hire employees, protect your assets, or seek capital from investors.

To register your business, you need to first determine what form of business entity to establish. There are several structures to choose from, including:

Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest business structure. This is best for businesses with just one owner. Sole proprietors can file their business profits and losses on their personal income tax returns. No paperwork is required to register as a sole proprietorship. However, this structure isn’t without its drawbacks. Raising money as a sole proprietorship is difficult, and you are personally responsible for the liabilities of your business.

Partnership

A partnership is a good choice for companies that will be owned and operated by two or more people. There are several different partnership types to consider:

  • General Partnership: Doesn’t require filing with the state and has few requirements
  • Limited Partnership (LP): One partner has unlimited liability and the others have limited liability. The personal assets of the limited partners can’t be used to satisfy the debts and liabilities of the business.
  • Limited Liability Partnership (LLP): Used by professional service businesses, this type of partnership offers personal asset protection for all partners.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

An LLC has several benefits for business owners. With an LLC, a business owner will receive liability protection without paying the high tax requirements of corporations.

Corporation

This is the most complex and expensive business structure. More regulations and tax requirements are put in place for corporations. This structure is best for businesses that plan to raise capital through the sale of stock.

The type of structure you select for your business varies by the number of owners that you have and the future plans for your business. In most cases, however, single owners of auto body shops lean toward LLCs, while businesses with more than one partner select the partnership business structure. Before choosing your business structure, talk to your accountant and/or lawyer to find out which makes the most sense for your business.

Once you’ve determined your business structure, you’ll need to select a name for your business. Choose a name that reflects your brand and the services you offer. You also want to choose something that’s catchy and/or easy for customers to remember.

Your business will need to be registered with city, state, and federal governments. You’ll need to sign up for an employer ID number through the Internal Revenue Service if you plan to hire employees. To learn about the specific business license and permit requirements in your area, contact your local Chamber of Commerce, Department of Revenue, or Small Business Administration office to learn more.

Calculate Your Startup Costs

Every new business has one thing in common: the need for capital. In order to start your own collision center, you need money. The big question, though, is how much do you need?

One of the first steps to starting your own business is to calculate your startup costs. In order to do that, begin by making a list of everything you need for your business.

One of the biggest expenses for your new business will be equipment and tools. While your list may look a little different, some of the most common equipment and tools in this industry include:

  • Hydraulic Lifts
  • Hand Tools
  • Pneumatic Tools (Air Tools)
  • Air Compressors
  • Diagnostic Machines
  • Wheel Balancers
  • Paint Guns

Additional startup costs to consider include your business licenses and certifications, insurance, hiring employees, and shop rental or mortgage fees. You should expect to spend at least $50,000 to get your shop up and running. However, as you make a list of your costs and research pricing, this number could potentially rise.

Before you seek funding for your business, a good rule of thumb is to always overestimate your costs by about 30 percent. For example, if you calculate that your expenses will be $200,000, plan to seek $260,000 in funding. In other words, always plan for the unexpected.

Seek Funding

Now that you’ve calculated your startup costs, it’s time to figure out how to pay for it all. If your bank account looks a little low, don’t worry. Most entrepreneurs don’t have the funds to cover these costs out-of-pocket. Instead, they turn to a lender to get the financing they need. Consider these loans and other funding options when you need capital to start your new body shop.

And if you can’t find the option you’re looking for here? Check out more recommendations in the post, Business Loans For Auto Repair Shops.

Personal Savings

If you have money in a savings account, consider using these funds to pay your startup costs. There are several benefits to using your own money. You won’t be indebted to a lender, so there are no monthly or weekly payments to worry about. You also won’t have to pay interest or fees. On the downside, though, if your business fails, you risk losing your savings.

Friends & Family

If you have a friend or family member with extra money to invest, consider pitching your business to them. Present your business plan and tell them why they should invest in you.

There are two ways to go about this. You can stick with traditional debt financing. This means that you would take a loan from your friend, family member, or colleague and pay it back over a set period of time, along with interest and fees.

You may also consider equity financing. Instead of taking out a loan, you’d receive capital in exchange for ownership in your business. The investor would get their money back over time through a share of your profits. While the risk falls on the investor and you wouldn’t have to begin paying back money immediately, you would have to share your profits and lose some control over your business.

Unsure of which option is right for you? Learn more about debt financing vs. equity financing.

Personal Loans For Business

One of the biggest challenges a new business owner faces is meeting the requirements for a business loan. Many lenders – especially the ones with the lowest rates and best terms – want to work with established businesses with high revenues and solid business and personal credit histories. If you haven’t even opened your doors to a single customer, meeting these requirements is impossible.

However, if you have a high personal credit score, you can take out a personal loan to use for your startup costs. Time in business, annual revenue, and business credit history aren’t required to qualify for personal loans. Instead, you use your personal credit score and your own income to qualify.

If you choose this option, it’s important to make sure that your lender doesn’t have any restrictions prohibiting you from using funds to pay startup costs or other business expenses. Most personal loans don’t have restrictions and can be used to purchase equipment, hire employees, pay operating costs, or use as working capital.

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

lending club logo

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Lending Club is a peer-to-peer lender that provides personal loans up to $40,000 to qualified borrowers. Repayment terms are 3 years or 5 years with APRs starting at 6.95% for the most creditworthy applicants. APRs for less creditworthy borrowers go up to 35.89%.

To qualify for a Lending Club personal loan, you must meet these minimum requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or live in the U.S. on a long-term visa
  • Have a verifiable bank account
  • Have a personal credit score of at least 600

In some cases, Lending Club may recommend adding a co-borrower to increase your chances for approval. If you meet all requirements, you can get funded in as little as 7 days.

As you grow a more established business, you can later take advantage of Lending Club’s business loans. Lending Club offers up to $300,000 in business funding with terms of up to 5 years and fixed monthly payments.

Lines Of Credit

A line of credit is a form of financing you should consider if you want instant access to cash without having to wait for lender approvals. Once you’ve been approved for a line of credit, you can make draws as needed to inject cash into your business.

Here’s how it works. You apply for a line of credit with a lender. The lender looks at a number of factors, such as your personal credit score or business performance, when determining whether to approve your application. These factors will also be considered when setting your credit limit.

Once you’ve been approved, you can initiate as many draws as you’d like from your line of credit up to and including the credit limit. Funds are typically transferred to your bank account immediately, and you can access the money in 1 to 3 business days with most lenders.

As you repay the borrowed funds plus fees and interest charged by the lender, the funds replenish and become available to use again.

Lines of credit are useful for unexpected expenses, emergencies, or to fill revenue gaps. Having a line of credit allows you to access money when you need it without having to go through the application and approval process over and over again.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Fundbox offers lines of credit up to $100,000 for qualified businesses. The lender charges a one-time fee for each draw that starts at just 4.66% of the draw amount. Terms of 12 weeks or 24 weeks are available, and automatic payments are drawn from your bank account each week. You can save by paying your loan off early, as Fundbox will waive all remaining fees.

There are two ways to qualify for a Fundbox line of credit. The first is by linking your business bank account or submitting bank statements. These will be used by the lender to evaluate the performance of your business. If you have unpaid accounts receivables, you can use these to qualify. All you have to do is link your supported accounting software.

Minimum requirements to receive a Fundbox line of credit are:

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

Once you’ve filled out Fundbox’s quick application and have linked your accounts or submitted documentation, you can be approved in just minutes. Then, you can instantly put your line of credit to work for your business.

Business Credit Cards

Another option for fast funding is a business credit card. Once you’ve been approved for a business credit card, you can use it any time. You can use your card as often as you wish provided you stay within your set credit limit.

Business credit cards can be used anywhere credit cards are accepted. You can make purchases online or in-person. You can also use your card for recurring payments, such as utility bills, which is even smarter when you use a rewards card that gives cash back or other perks.

Like lines of credit, business credit cards are revolving forms of credit. This means that as you pay down your principal balance and interest, funds will become available to use again. Once you’re approved for a business credit card, your card is ready to use immediately whenever you need it. This makes it a great payment option for emergency expenses, purchasing supplies or inventory, or for paying recurring expenses.

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Preferred

Chase Ink Business Preferred



Apply Now 

Annual Fee:


$95

 

Purchase APR:


18.24% – 23.24%, Variable

If you have excellent credit, consider applying for the Chase Ink Preferred card. With this rewards card, you can receive 3 points for every dollar spent on combined purchases in travel, shipping, cable, internet, phone services, and advertising. Even though earning three points on these purchases is capped at $150,000 per year, you can still earn one point per dollar spent with no limitations on all purchases.

If you’re approved for the Chase Ink Preferred card and spend $5,000 within 3 months of opening your account, you’ll receive an additional 80,000 bonus points. Points can be redeemed for rewards including vacation packages, gift cards, Amazon purchases, and cash back.

This credit card comes with a variable APR of 18.24% to 23.24%. A $95 annual membership fee is required.

To qualify for Chase Ink Business Preferred, you must have good to excellent personal credit.

Rollovers As Business Startups (ROBS)

Withdrawing retirement funds may be tempting, but who wants to pay penalties and taxes for early withdrawal? Luckily, there’s a way that you can leverage these funds to put capital into your new business. This method is known as rollovers as business startups, or ROBS.

How does ROBS work? The first step is to create a C-corporation. Then, a new retirement plan is created for the C-corp. Next, the funds from your existing retirement plan are rolled over into the new plan. These funds are used to purchase stock in the new C-corp, giving you access to the capital you need to get your business running.

Sound too complicated for you? Then consider working with a ROBS provider. A ROBS provider will get everything set up for you legally and ensure you maintain compliance. In exchange, you’ll pay a one-time setup fee and a monthly maintenance fee with most ROBS providers.

When you use this type of financing to fuel your business, you don’t have to worry about repaying a lender. After all, you’re using your own funds. However, be aware that if your business is unsuccessful, you risk losing your retirement funds.

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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Guidant Financial is a ROBS provider that can help you leverage your retirement funds. All you need is a qualifying retirement or pension account. Qualifying accounts include:

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

Qualifying accounts must have a minimum of $50,000. You must also be an employee of the business.
By working with Guidant Financial, you can receive funds in as little as 3 weeks. The setup fee is $4,995. You must also pay a Plan Administration fee of $139 per month.

Unsure if a ROBS plan is right for you? Don’t worry — Guidant Financial offers other business financing options including:

  • SBA 7(a) Loans
  • SBA Working Capital Loans
  • Unsecured Business Loans
  • Equipment Leases

Purchase Financing

If you’re looking for a way to pay your vendors that frees up some of your cash flow, purchase financing might be the solution you’re looking for. With purchase financing, your vendor gets paid immediately for your purchases – think tools, fluids, and other critical shop supplies. In the meantime, you’ll get additional time to pay. Instead of paying off the full balance of your purchase up front, you’ll be able to split it into more affordable regular payments.

Purchase financing gives you more control over your cash flow, freeing up funds and allowing you to pay back on a schedule that works best for your business. Of course, like with other financing, you do have to pay interest and fees for this service.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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Behalf offers purchase financing of $300 up to $50,000. You’ll receive up to 6 months to repay the lender and can choose between weekly or monthly payments.

Monthly fees for the service start at 1% and are based on creditworthiness. There are no additional fees for using Behalf’s financing.

There are no time in business or revenue requirements to qualify. However, Behalf performs a hard pull on your credit, considers business credit history, and looks at other business performance factors to determine if you are eligible for financing.

Choose Business Software

Small Business Online Accounting Software

To keep operations flowing smoothly, you need to pick the right business software for your repair shop. Business software helps you more efficiently run your business, from keeping up with customers to tracking your finances for tax purposes.

Accounting Software

Accounting software allows you to perform various accounting functions so that you can track and record all financial transactions. With accounting software, you can track accounts receivable and accounts payable. Most modern accounting software also offers additional tools including bill payment, payroll, and invoicing. You can purchase accounting software or pay a fee to subscribe to an online service.

Accounting software not only allows you to keep track of your finances at any time, but it also can be used to run financial reports that may be required to receive financing. These reports will also serve you well when it comes time to do your taxes.

No experience in accounting? Don’t worry — we have you covered. Check out our free eBook “The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting” that breaks complicated accounting concepts into ones that are easy to understand.

Auto Repair Invoice Software

Accounting software often has a feature that allows you to create and send invoices. However, you might want to invest in specialty software for auto body repair shops.

Auto repair invoice software includes a variety of tools that can be used to track service requests, create invoices and estimates, track leads, and manage inventory and orders.

Payment Processing Software

No longer do we live in a cash-only world. Now, customers almost always make their purchases using debit cards, credit cards, and even smartphones.

In order to be able to accept these forms of payment, you’re going to need a payment processing service. The payment processor serves as the communicator between your customer’s bank and your own bank, allowing you to process credit, debit, and other forms of payment.

For your auto collision business, you might want to consider getting a point-of-sale system. With POS software, you’ll be able to process credit cards, scan barcodes, print receipts, track inventory, run reports, and perform other functions. For a fee, your business can receive the software and hardware needed to best serve your customers.

Hire Employees

While you may start your collision center as a one-man operation, you have to hire employees if you want to grow.

One of the first hires you’ll make is a mechanic that will work on repairing vehicles. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mechanics make approximately $39,550 per year. An auto body and glass repairer averages around $40,580 annually.

As you bring in more employees, you’ll also want to hire a manager to oversee them all. Salaries for managers vary widely based on experience and how many employees they will be overseeing. Managers may bring in anywhere from $45,000 upwards of $60,000 per year.

Eventually, you may also want to hire a front-desk receptionist. The role of the receptionist is to greet customers, answer the phone, and make appointments. This employee may also take payments from customers and handle some of the company’s bookkeeping. The average salary of a receptionist is around $27,000 per year.

Do some research to find out more about salaries in your area, as these numbers can vary. You also need to take into consideration that there are additional expenses associated with hiring employees including:

  • Onboarding & Training
  • Background Checks
  • Drug Testing
  • Taxes
  • Benefits

When you’re ready to hire an employee, there are a few ways you can find quality candidates. The first is to ask for referrals. If you know someone in the industry, ask if they know of any potential employees. Even if you don’t have connections with anyone in the industry, ask around among your friends, family members, and colleagues.

You can also post your jobs on online job boards. Make sure that your job listing has an overview of responsibilities and requirements for all candidates. As resumes hit your inbox, you can set up interviews and hire new employees for your business.

Bolster Your Web Presence

Before you even hold your grand opening, you need to start your marketing efforts. The best place to start is the internet. When researching new businesses, most people use their laptops or smartphones. If you don’t have a web presence, how will your customers find you?

Getting your business online is easy. Start with these simple steps.

Create Social Media Profiles

It seems like everyone’s on social media these days, from your teenage nephew to your grandmother. Social media doesn’t just connect friends and family members, either. It’s also a great place for users to find new brands and businesses.

Setting up your social media profiles is free and easy. Consider starting with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Add your logo, contact details, and important information like services provided and hours of operation. As you build your business, you can update your profiles with specials, coupons, photos of your completed work, and other information.

Create A Website

You also want to make sure that you have a website that provides important details to your customers such as your shop hours, specials, and services provided.

No web design experience? No problem. These days, any small business owner can create a professional website with easy web builders that feature templates, drag-and-drop design, and other tools to create a website in just minutes.

Your website should be a reflection of your brand, so make sure to choose templates, photos, and colors that best represent your shop. Your domain name should also represent your brand, so make sure it’s easy to remember and avoid numbers, symbols, or very long URLs.

Your website shouldn’t be overly complicated, and it should be easy to navigate. You don’t have to load down your site with lots of information. Start off by including key info such as hours of operation, services performed, and contact information. Also make sure to highlight any features that make your shop stand out, such as certifications, free estimates, or rental car/shuttle services offered to your customers. In the future, you can add additional features such as a signup option for email newsletters or online scheduling.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Learn more about creating and maintaining an online web presence for your business.

Advertise Your Business

Your website and social media profiles are a great way to start advertising your business, but in order to grow and scale, you can’t stop there. You need to plan a marketing and advertising campaign to get the word out about your business.

Consider paying for social media ads or pay-per-click ads on search engines, or sign up with Yelp For Business. These options can be affordable for new businesses and are easy to set up.

You can also look beyond the internet to advertise your business. Consider placing flyers or door hangers in the area around your business to bring in new customers. Before you take this route, though, make sure to understand the local laws in your area regarding the posting of flyers on public and private property.

As your business grows and becomes more successful, you can explore options including radio and TV advertisements and mailers. However, these ads are typically quite expensive, so hold off on these options until your business is bringing in steady revenue.

One of the most important things to remember here is that word-of-mouth advertising is one of the best forms of advertising. If you perform a great service, your customers will tell others about your business. Keep customer satisfaction high to increase those referrals and draw in more revenue for your body shop.

Final Thoughts

While you may be itching to get your auto body shop off the ground immediately, a business isn’t born overnight. Take the time to plan out your business, and you’ll increase your chances for success. The hard work doesn’t stop after your grand opening, either. You’ll need to continue working hard to bring in customers, increase your revenue, and become a successful entrepreneur.

The post How To Start And Finance An Auto Body Shop Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Use PayPal In Stores (And Other PayPal Questions)

The name PayPal is synonymous with P2P payments and digital wallets for consumers, but over the years PayPal has also dabbled in creating options for users to pay with their PayPal balances in stores. Despite a few failed attempts, PayPal seems to finally have worked out the kinks in the process. PayPal users can now use near field communication (NFC) technology to spend their balances at brick-and-mortar shops.

Wondering “how do I pay with PayPal in stores?” Do you have other questions about PayPal payments or how PayPal works in general? The answers aren’t always easy to find. Thankfully, Merchant Maverick is here to help. Let’s take a look at the answers to these questions and more and set the record straight about all things PayPal!

How Do You Pay With PayPal In A Physical Store?

If you have a PayPal balance and you want to spend it in a brick-and-mortar store, you actually have two options: NFC-based payment using your Android phone, or a PayPal-issued card (of which there are several options).

It’s also important to know that PayPal has discontinued two in-store payment options it previously offered: payment codes and the mobile phone + pin method. (Support ended for both on March 31, 2018.)

Let’s start with looking at the card options PayPal offers, and then we’ll talk about NFC payments with PayPal.

PayPal offers MasterCard-backed debit cards for business and personal users, depending on what type of account you have. For consumers, there’s even a prepaid card that allows you to load your PayPal balance in set increments, among other perks. These cards are linked to your PayPal balance and even allow you to withdraw cash from ATMs at no charge from PayPal (the machines themselves may still charge a fee).

PayPal also offers two branded credit cards (though, apart from depositing cash back rewards into your bank account, these cards have very little to do with your actual PayPal balance). The PayPal Cashback MasterCard (read our review) and the PayPal Extras MasterCard (read our review) offer different perks and incentives for their users.

Can You Use PayPal Credit In Stores?

Currently, PayPal doesn’t support the use of PayPal Credit in stores. Note that PayPal Credit exists separately from PayPal’s credit cards. PayPal Credit specifically applies to online purchases and offers 6 months of no-interest financing on purchases.

Where Can You Pay With PayPal In Stores?

There’s no specific list of businesses or locations that accept PayPal payments in-store, because the debit and credit cards are accepted by any merchant that can process MasterCard, which… is just about any business that can process credit cards to begin with. Likewise, to accept NFC payments, merchants need to have the appropriate hardware — specifically, an NFC-capable credit card reader or terminal.

How Do You Set Up PayPal NFC Payments?

At the time of writing this (February 2019), PayPal doesn’t currently support NFC payments from directly within the app itself. Instead, PayPal has opted to form a partnership with Google to allow Android phone users to connect PayPal to their Google Pay accounts and even make it the default payment option. That means in order to pay with PayPal in stores, you need an Android phone that supports Google Pay.

However, you can connect your PayPal balance to Google Pay from within the PayPal app. PayPal will ask you to set a PIN and also specify a top-up amount if your PayPal balance drops below a certain threshold or your PayPal balance doesn’t have enough funds to complete a purchase. (You should also open the Google Pay app and make sure that all of your settings are as you would like on the Google end of things.)

Samsung Galaxy users can also add a PayPal account to Samsung Pay if they prefer. Both options are easily accessible within the Settings menu of the PayPal mobile app.

Can You Add PayPal to Apple Pay?

Unfortunately, PayPal does not currently support NFC payments with Apple devices, and you cannot link your PayPal balance to Apple Pay or Apple Pay Cash. That may change in the future, but for now, it’s not an option. You won’t see an option to link PayPal in the Apple Pay wallet setup, or in the PayPal app on an iOS device.

However, Apple does allow you to link your PayPal balance to your iOS account so that you can use PayPal to pay for iTunes purchases, as well as iCloud and Apple Music subscriptions. By enabling PayPal’s One Touch feature, you can eliminate the need to log into your PayPal account to authorize each purchase.

How Can Merchants Accept PayPal Payments?

The good news is you don’t have to be a PayPal merchant to accept payments from PayPal customers in stores. (If you want to accept PayPal payments online, that’s another story and I suggest you check out our PayPal review to see whether the company’s merchant services fit your needs.)

Keep in mind that customers have two ways to pay with PayPal: using one of PayPal’s MasterCard-backed debit or credit cards, or NFC payments. The good news is that if you already accept debit or credit card payments, you don’t need to do anything more to accept PayPal cards. As long as your agreement includes MasterCard processing (and it almost certainly does), you’re good to go! If you don’t currently accept credit/debit cards and are considering making the leap, we recommend checking out our top-rated credit card processors as a starting point!

For most customers to pay with NFC via Google Pay, you (the merchant) need to have NFC-enabled hardware. Look for the contactless payment symbol on your credit card reader/terminal, or check the specs in the user manual or online. Samsung Pay users can use a nifty feature called MST (magnetic secure transmission) to emulate a card swipe even if the terminal doesn’t support NFC hardware, but you likely won’t see this feature used very often.

Now What?

PayPal offers an almost dizzying array of payment tools for both consumers and merchants, and it’s likely we’ll see the features list grow even longer in the future. Will we see NFC support in the PayPal app directly, or added support for Apple Pay? Currently, that’s an unknown, but in the meantime, we can all appreciate the fact that the future has finally arrived and we can actually spend our PayPal balances in stores — not just online.

The post How To Use PayPal In Stores (And Other PayPal Questions) appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Mobile Credit Card Readers For iPhone and iPad

If you’re in the market for a mobile card reader and a credit card processing app, there’s no shortage of options. The trick is finding the right option for a given business. One of the big factors that determine which apps are suitable is what kind of smartphone or tablet you have. Fortunately, if you have an iOS device — that is, an iPhone or an iPad — you have plenty of options.

Our Top Picks For iOS-Based Credit Card Readers & Mobile Apps

The first decision when choosing a card reader and mobile processing app is selecting the device itself. For the most part, iOS-compatible mobile apps and readers support iPhones and iPads alike with no major issues. But after you’ve narrowed down the list of apps based on supported devices, you’ve still got several other factors to consider — transaction costs, monthly fees, essential features, whether you want a standalone mobile app or something that supports invoicing and online payments… and that’s just to get the list started! The cost of the card reader and accepted payment methods are just as important as app features when you’re dealing with mobile processing.

So without further ado, here’s a list of our favorite card swipers and mobile apps for iPhones and iPads, as well as why we like them.

App Name Square Shopify Lite Payment Depot Mobile Fattmerchant Mobile

Payment Depot merchant services review

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

In-Person Transaction Fees

2.75%

2.7%

2.6% + $0.10

Interchange + $0.15

Monthly Fee

$0

$9

$10

$99

Monthly Minimum

$0

$0

$0

$0

Type of Processor

Third-Party

Third-Party

Merchant Account

Merchant Account

Account Stability

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Card Readers

Free magstripe reader (Contactless + Chip Reader $49)

Free Chip & Swipe Reader (retail price $29)

Free Swift B200 reader (chip and swipe)

BBPOS Chipper BT (chip and swipe, $75; swipe, chip and contactless, $100)

Payment Depot (Swipe Simple)

Payment Depot (read our review) offers a subscription-based pricing model for its merchant accounts, with a host of software options for businesses to choose from (including Clover). Standard pricing plans for Payment Depot start at $49/month, with transactions processing at interchange + $0.15. However, if you’re looking for a mobile solution that runs on an iPad or iPhone, Payment Depot offers the Swipe Simple app, and Merchant Maverick readers can get access to special pricing that’s competitive even for low-volume merchants.

With this exclusive plan, you’ll get the Swipe Simple app and payment processing at 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction, with only a $10 monthly account fee. Remember, this is a Merchant Maverick exclusive, so you’ll need to use our link in order to get the special pricing.

Swipe Simple is a very functional credit card processing app. It runs on iPhone and iPad devices, as well as Android hardware. It even comes with a demo mode so you can test out the app before you sign up, which is always nice to see. There’s limited inventory management, but you can track stock counts. There’s even an offline mode. Check out our Payment Depot Mobile/Swipe Simple review for a closer look at the software.

In addition to the app, Payment Depot offers a choice of two readers. The Swift B200, a Bluetooth-enabled reader that supports magstripe and chip card transactions, is available to merchants for free. If you’d like to add contactless payments, you can get the Swift B250 for just $25, which is a fantastic price for an all-in-one card reader.

Shopify Lite

Shopify (read our review) is mostly known for its ecommerce platform, but it has also developed a quite powerful POS app that integrates with its online shopping tools. Shopify POS is included for free in all standard Shopify ecommerce plans, but if you don’t plan to sell online or only need some very basic online sales tools, there’s another option: Shopify Lite (read our review), which lets you create “buy” buttons and run a Facebook store for online sales, as well as giving access to the Shopify POS.

Shopify Lite will run you $9/month and 2.7% per transaction, which is a reasonable cost. The POS app runs on both Android and iOS, but an iPad offers the best user experience and access to the most features. However, keep in mind that the Lite plan is still limited even with an iPad; specifically, there’s no support for a cash drawer, barcode scanner, or receipt printer. That feature is only accessible with the Shopify Basic plan, which costs $29/month and includes a full web store with unlimited products.

Shopify also offers a free Chip & Swipe Reader for its merchants. It retails for $29 normally, which is still a great price for a Bluetooth-enabled chip card reader. We’ve reviewed the Shopify Chip & Swipe reader already, and you can check that out for a closer look.

Square

Square’s mobile point-of-sale app, simply called Square Point of Sale, gets a lot of love, and rightfully so. The app is free to use and you only pay a per-transaction fee of 2.75%. Square’s pricing makes it very attractive for low-volume and startup businesses, and there is an assortment of hardware options available. The Square Point of Sale app supports both iOS and Android devices, but certain features are not universally supported. An iPad gives you access to the vast majority of these features, but the iPhone supports all of the core features and many of the secondary, non-universal features. Check out our in-depth Square POS review for a comprehensive look at the free POS app and its features. For a closer look at the rest of Square’s products, check out our complete Square review.

As far as hardware goes, let’s start with the basics. Square has been offering a free basic magstripe reader for a long time, and it still does. (Note: you can also get the Square reader in some retail stores for $10.) However, the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack from newer iPhone models has complicated matters somewhat. Square responded by rolling out a Lightning port magstripe reader. When you sign up for your free Square account, you can choose which model of reader you need. Square no longer offers multiple free readers; after the first one, you’ll pay $10 per reader.

However, it’s important to also consider accepting EMV chip cards, especially if you’re doing a consistent volume of business or large transactions. Square’s Contactless + Chip Reader supports both EMV and contactless NFC payments. It includes a separate magstripe reader for swipe transactions.

The Contactless + Chip Reader sells for $49, but Square does offer financing for hardware purchases that cost at least $49 (convenient, isn’t it?). You can also purchase cash drawers, receipt printers, and even tablet stands directly from Square.

Want to know more about Square’s hardware? Check out A Guide to Square Credit Card Readers & POS Bundles for an in-depth look at your options.

Fattmerchant Mobile

Fattmerchant Mobile isn’t an option that I talk about a lot, mostly because it’s best targeted at high-volume businesses. However, until recently, it was an iOS-exclusive, and even now, the iOS platform is more robust than its Android counterpart. Fattmerchant (read our review) offers customers their own merchant accounts, which translates to a high degree of account stability. Its Omni platform, which includes the mobile processing app, invoicing, and a customer database and inventory management, combines many core features in a single platform. Check out our Fattmerchant Mobile review for a more comprehensive look at the app and its features.

Fattmerchant operates on a subscription pricing model, with a monthly fee that starts at $99/month. Mobile and invoice transactions cost interchange fees + $0.15 per transactions — there’s no percentage markup at all. However, if you opt for the mobile credit card carder, you’ll get the card-present rate of interchange fees + $0.08 per transaction. You can simply key in all the transactions if you prefer — just know that you’ll pay higher interchange fees in addition to the $0.15 markup.

Fattmerchant offers a choice of two different card readers, the BBPOS Chipper BT and the BBPOS Chipper X2 BT. The Chipper BT model supports both magstripe and chip card transactions and connects to your device via Bluetooth. It goes for $75. The Chipper X2 adds contactless payment support to the magstripe and chip card readers and also connects via Bluetooth. It goes for $100.

Honorable Mentions

While I have no qualms with saying the four options I’ve presented are the best of the best, there are a couple of other mobile apps and card readers that are good options for iPhone and iPad users. So let’s talk about them!

PayPal Here

PayPal Here integrates with the rest of PayPal’s services so that you can sell online and in person seamlessly, much like Square. While it doesn’t offer quite as many features as Square, it’s still a very functional mobile app. Check out our PayPal Here review for a closer look at all the features.

PayPal Here processes payments at 2.7% per transaction, with keyed entry at 3.5% + $0.15. PayPal no longer offers a free card reader. Instead, you’ll need to shell out $15 to get its magstripe reader. PayPal will also place limits on your account if you opt for the magstripe reader, making it viable mostly for very low-volume businesses. As an alternative, PayPal offers two Bluetooth enabled cardreaders, starting with the Chip and Swipe reader, for $24.99.

If you also want contactless support, PayPal’s Chip and Tap Reader (retail price $59.99; bundle with stand $79.99). However, there’s another option for iPad users who want a more robust software option: Vend (read our review) with a PayPal integration. You’ll get PayPal’s 2.7% rate for payment processing with no monthly fee from PayPal. Of course, you’ll have to choose your Vend plan as well — and get the appropriate hardware. You’ll need the PayPal Chip Card Reader, which goes for $99.

PayPal + Vend POS
Advanced POS software
Easy credit card processing integration
Get Started For $0

SumUp

SumUp (read our review) isn’t quite as complex or feature-laden as some of the other options on this list, but if you just need an iPad or iPhone credit card reader and app, SumUp will get the job done. Payments process at 2.65%, and there’s no monthly fee to use the software. For a better idea of how SumUp stacks up against the competition, I suggest checking out our Square vs SumUp comparison.

SumUp’s cardreader, at $69, is definitely a little expensive, but it’s a beautifully designed piece of hardware. It’s Bluetooth enabled and supports magstripe, chip card, and contactless payments. You can also occasionally catch it on sale for a reduced price. I suggest checking out our SumUp unboxing review for a closer look at the reader.

Which iPhone/iPad Credit Card Swiper Is Right For You?

In payment processing, especially mobile processing, it’s impossible to take a one-size-fits-all approach, so it’s really important that you, the business owner, spend some time figuring out what features you need in a credit card processing app. You should also consider what kind of pricing model works best for your business, and do the math to see what you’d really pay with each option on your short list. And of course, there’s the card swiper, too. While a free magstripe reader might be enticing, you should really consider upgrading to a chip card-capable reader to protect your business.

App Name Square Shopify Lite Payment Depot Mobile Fattmerchant Mobile

Payment Depot merchant services review

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

In-Person Transaction Fees

2.75%

2.7%

2.6% + $0.10

Interchange + $0.15

Monthly Fee

$0

$9

$10

$99

Monthly Minimum

$0

$0

$0

$0

Type of Processor

Third-Party

Third-Party

Merchant Account

Merchant Account

Account Stability

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Card Readers

Free magstripe reader (Contactless + Chip Reader $49)

Free Chip & Swipe Reader (retail price $29)

Free Swift B200 reader (chip and swipe)

BBPOS Chipper BT (chip and swipe, $75; swipe, chip and contactless, $100)

The takeaway is that there is no shortage of great credit card processing apps for iPhone and iPad users! And you’ll get a great assortment of credit card readers to go with. Don’t forget to check out our companion article, The Best Credit Card Reader Apps to Android.

Thanks for reading! What’s your favorite credit card processing app and mobile card reader for iOS devices?

The post The Best Mobile Credit Card Readers For iPhone and iPad appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Top No Transfer Fee Credit Cards Worth Your Look

no transfer fee credit cards

If you’re looking for a credit card that can help you claw your way out of debt, you might consider transferring your debt to a card with no balance transfer fees and a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers.

With a typical credit card, interest payments on your debt can keep you stuck in that debt hole. If you can transfer your balance to a card with a nice long 0% intro balance transfer APR, you stand to save money. And if that card charges no balance transfer fees, all the better!

Generally, credit cards with 0% intro rates on balance transfers are more common than cards with no transfer fees whatsoever. In fact, with business credit cards, it’s quite uncommon to find a card with no balance transfer fee. Nonetheless, when it comes to transferring a balance from another card, some business cards are better than others.

In this article, we’re going to look at the best credit cards for balance transfers, both business and personal. However, here’s something I should mention at the outset: Most credit card issuers don’t allow you to transfer a balance from one of their cards to another. For example, you can’t transfer a balance from one American Express card to another Amex card.

For more details on how balance transfers work, go read our handy guide on balance transfers for small business owners. (Non-business-owners can take advantage of these tips too!)

Credit Card Balance Transfer Fee Balance Transfer 0% Intro Rate
Spark Cash from Capital One 0% None
Amex Blue Business Plus 3% 0% APR for 15 months
Chase Ink Business Cash 5% 0% APR for 12 months
Amex EveryDay Credit Card 0% for the first 60 days 0% APR for 15 months
Chase Slate 0% for the first 60 days 0% APR for 15 months
BankAmericard Credit Card for Students 0% for the first 60 days 0% APR for 15 months
SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card 0% for the first 60 days Prime Rate (currently 5.50%) APR for 3 years

Best Business Credit Card With No Transfer Fees

Spark Cash from Capital One

Capital One Spark Cash For Business


capital one spark cash select
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Annual Fee:


$95 ($0 the first year)

 

Purchase APR:


19.24%, Variable

Spark Cash from Capital One is one of the very few business credit cards on the market that does not charge a transaction fee on balances transferred to the card. As such, it must be the best business credit card for balance transfers, right?

Not so fast. While the lack of transaction fees applied to balance transfers is beneficial to entrepreneurs trying to climb out of debt, the card doesn’t carry a 0% intro APR on balance transfers (or purchases for that matter). So while you won’t be assessed a fee for transferring a balance to this card, the monthly APR on your transferred balance will be 19.24% starting the first billing period. If you don’t envision being able to pay off your balance within a few months, you may be better served by Amex’s Blue Business Plus card despite that card’s 3% fee on balance transfers.

The Spark Cash business card offers a great cash back deal: 2% cash back on all purchases with no limit to the amount you can earn. It’s great for business owners who just want cash back without having to consider which category their spending falls into. On the downside, a $95 annual fee kicks in after the first year.

Best Business Credit Cards With 0% APR On Balance Transfers

Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express

Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express



Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


13.49% – 21.49%, Variable

The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express might just be the best business credit card currently available for the purposes of transferring a balance. Why?

Two reasons.

First, the card offers a lengthy 15-month 0% APR period for balance transfers. (The card’s business competitors offer, at best, 12 months of 0% APR on balance transfers.) Second, the card applies a 3% fee (or $5, whichever is greater) to balances transferred to the card. While it’s true that there are plenty of personal credit cards that impose no balance transfer fees whatsoever, the Blue Business Plus’s 3% fee is lower than that of most competing business credit cards, most of which charge a 5% balance transfer fee.

Along with being a great business card for balance transfers, the Blue Business Plus also gives you 2 rewards points for every $1 you spend on your first $50,000 worth of purchases per year. What’s more, cardholders are able to purchase above their credit limit so long as they pay the full amount purchased above their credit limit each month (along with the minimum payment).

Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



Apply Now

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

The Chase Ink Business Cash card offers 0% APR on all balance transfers for 12 months. While this doesn’t quite match the Blue Business Plus’s 15 months, it’s still quite competitive as business cards go. In fact, many business cards offer an introductory 0% rate for purchases only (or not at all).

Unfortunately, the Ink Business Cash charges a 5% (or $5) fee on all balance transfers.

Apart from balance transfers, the Ink Business Cash is a top-of-the-line cash back business card. Here’s what your business spending will get you:

  • 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable, and phone purchases each year
  • 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each year
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases

Best Personal Credit Cards With No Transfer Fees

Amex EveryDay Credit Card

Amex EveryDay Credit Card


Amex EveryDay Credit Card
Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.24% – 26.24%, Variable

The Amex EveryDay Credit Card is a uniquely valuable personal credit card for those striving to get out of debt.

The EveryDay card lets you transfer a balance over with no balance transfer fee, provided you transfer the balance within 60 days of opening your account (a 3% charge will apply thereafter). You’ll also enjoy a 0% intro APR on balance transfers and purchases for 15 months and no annual fee.

While the Amex EveryDay card is a great card for cost-free balance transfers, you’ll also get a remarkable level of rewards for such a practical card. You’ll get 2 Membership Rewards points for every dollar spent at a) US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases and on b) travel purchases booked through AmexTravel.com. Furthermore, if you make 20 or more purchases with your card in a billing period, you get 20% extra points on those purchases (minus returns and credits).

Of course, such inducements to spend may be said to run counter to the goal of helping you out of debt, but that’s an existential issue outside the purview of this article!

Chase Slate

Chase Slate



Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


17.24% – 25.99%, Variable

The Chase Slate card is a credit card specifically designed to help you manage your credit card debt.

It’s not an exciting card. There’s no cash back to earn and there are no fancy benefits to accrue. However, the card offers the debt-burdened cardholder three benefits. First, the Chase Slate card lets you transfer a balance over with no balance transfer fee so long as you do so during the first 60 days your account is open. After 60 days, a 5% fee will be applied, so transfer those balances early.

Second, the Chase Slate features a 0% intro APR for 15 months on balance transfers and purchases so you’ll have a decent amount of time to pay off that balance before any interest charges accrue.

Finally, the card carries no annual fee.

BankAmericard Credit Card for Students

BankAmericard Credit Card For Students



Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.24% – 25.24%, Variable

The BankAmericard Credit Card for Students should be of interest to any student (yes, you must be a student to qualify) looking to consolidate credit card debt.

With the BankAmericard student credit card, you can transfer a balance to the card with no fees (provided you do so within 60 days of opening your account.) A 3% charge (or $10, whichever is greater) applies to balance transfers after the initial 60 days. You’ll also get an introductory 0% APR for 15 months on all balances transferred within 60 days of opening your account and on all purchases.

Additionally, the card has no annual fee and you’ll be able to check your FICO score for free with your Mobile Banking app or in Online Banking. There are no rewards to earn.

SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card

SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card



Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


13.49% – 23.49%, Variable

The SunTrust Prime Rewards credit card offers a unique deal to debt-addled consumers looking to consolidate credit card debt.

Like several other cards listed here, the SunTrust Prime Rewards card won’t charge you a balance transfer fee on any balances transferred within 60 days of your account opening. However, when it comes to paying off your transferred debt, all balances transferred within 60 days of opening your account will be subject to a Prime Rate (currently 5.50% variable) intro APR for 36 months. Now, 5.50% interest isn’t as good as 0% interest, but you’ll have a full 3 years to pay off your debt at this low rate.

The card has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee, and you’ll get an unlimited 1% cash back on all qualifying purchases.

Final Thoughts

It may seem odd to use credit cards to work your way out of debt considering the fact that credit cards got you into debt in the first place. However, transferring your debt to the right card can, indeed, save you money on interest payments — provided you play your cards right. [Pause for laughter.]

Still looking for a credit card to fit your small business needs? Check out these helpful articles on the subject!

  • Top Business Credit Card Balance Transfer Offers
  • Best Credit Card Offers For Businesses: January 2019
  • The Best Free Credit Score Sites

The post The Top No Transfer Fee Credit Cards Worth Your Look appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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