Has your business grown to the point that you can no longer put off accepting credit card payments for your offered goods or services? Or maybe your company is establishing an online presence, making it essential to accept plastic to amass sales. Regardless of the reason behind taking your business to the “next level” by accepting credit card payments, you must first have a merchant account, which entails choosing a merchant account provider (MAP).
Before you begin auditioning different MAPs (and there are a plethora of ones to choose from), it would be wise to first construct an outline from A to Z of what to look for in a merchant account provider. This would not only make your search for a MAP easier, but also ensure that you receive the best deal possible.
So, what are some of the main attributes you should look for in a merchant account provider before signing on the dotted line? Seven of the most critical ones are as follows:
- Full fee disclosure – At first, it can be quite mind boggling trying to decipher the various fees that go hand-in-hand with a merchant account. However, make certain that the MAP takes the time necessary to go over each and every fee that would pertain to your account. Become knowledgeable regarding the various fees associated with a merchant account, such as batch, gateway, AVS, monthly minimum, termination and mid and non-qualified rates so that you can asked informed questions and get straight answers in return.
- Affordable rates – By becoming knowledgeable concerning the different merchant account fees, you would then be better able to compare and contrast proposals. Gain additional negotiating power by asking for sample contracts from each of the MAPs you audition to compare their terms and rates. Also, various fees can be waived without jeopardizing quality. Will a MAP work with you to make credit card processing affordable by waiving a few unnecessary fees such as setup, application, installation or batch fees for example?
- Complete, reliable product line – For example, for on-line transactions, it is mandatory to have a payment gateway. Two examples would be Authorize.net and E-Processing Network. If you conduct business over the Internet, you want a gateway that is secure, incorporates numerous fraud-preventative measures, is compatible with most shopping carts and experiences few hiccups or little “down time”. Better yet, there are also merchant account providers that offer customers a virtual terminal and a shopping cart. Make certain that you are quoted a total monthly expense, as some MAPs do not include the gateway into their monthly fee.
Retail business owners should look for MAPs that have value-added products such as a gift card program, electronic check processing, check guarantee, etc. Even if you are not initially interested in such services, you may decide to change your business model in the future, especially if a MAP offers these programs at an affordable rate.
- Reputability – In other words, you want a MAP with a stellar track record. Perform an on-line search to see if there are negative comments posted concerning the provider. Also, check with the Better Business Bureau to note if there have been numerous complaints made. Taking time to thoroughly investigate the background of a promising MAP could potentially save you a lot of headaches down the road.
- Honesty – When auditioning different MAPs, it would be wise to heed the sage advice, “If it is too good to be true, it usually is”. Don’t be fooled by suspiciously low fees/rates. If a MAP is offering rates that are well below those of other MAPs, it is safe to bet that they have hidden fees and “honesty isn’t their best policy”. MAPs are running a business, not a charity. If you think you’re getting something for nothing, you are either getting nothing in the way of customer service or something in the way of hidden fees that may end up costing you a bundle.
Of course, please note that there exist MAPS that are willing to take less profit per account and charge very low fees. Such MAPS are trying to establish a long term, mutually beneficial business relationship with merchants.
- Five-star customer service – Do you know the old adage, “service with a smile”? This sentiment should apply to your MAP as well. Is the MAP friendly upon first contact? Do they take the time to answer all of your questions without you feeling rushed or that you are being a burden? First impressions are everything and if they can’t get this right, it is doubtful that they will provide exemplary customer service after you become a client. Also, make certain to inquire about their customer service and technical support practices, toll free customer service number and hours.
- Stands behind their word – This goes hand-in-hand with reputability and honesty. You should be able to secure a 100% money back guarantee on any initial outlay of money (i.e., set up or application fees) to ensure that everything stated by the MAP holds true if you were to become a customer. A reputable and honest MAP would not balk at this request. If they do, it should send up a red flag to look elsewhere.
Moreover, MAPS that do not have any termination fee underscore their confidence in their own programs. As any such contract is month to month, these MAPS have to live up to or surpass merchants’ expectations.
Starting a merchant account can be a bewildering process. However, if you become knowledgeable about the various merchant account fees before you begin your search, you would be in a better position to negotiate, not to mention, you would be less likely to be taken for a ride.
Before signing a contract, make certain that you were quoted all fees that would pertain to your account and that they are affordable or “merchant friendly”. Ask for a money back guarantee (at least for any fees required to open a merchant account) in case the quoted rates do not match the ones on your statement or fees were included that were not in the initial quote.
It is also crucial not to become fixated on cost only. Customer service as well as the reputation of the merchant account provider is just as important. If either are lacking, it could diminish your overall satisfaction with your chosen MAP.