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How to Get a Merchant Account
By Shirley George Frazier
Cash is king, but it isn't easy to get greenbacks from a customer who lives 3,000 miles away. A check might bounce, and after a gift basket has been shipped, it may be tough to retrieve money from a local or out-of-town client. What's the alternative to this nonstop nightmare?
Companies that do not accept credit cards are missing out on a lot of sales. Accepting credit cards will not only alleviate the above scenario, it will also allow you to increase your business income. The good news is that credit card accounts are becoming easier to install, especially because home-based businesses have grown in numbers.
Before you make your first telephone call to a facility that offers credit card accounts, there is one thing that you cannot get around or overlook: no one is going to give you this service for free. You either accept credit cards, taking the good and bad that comes with it, or you don’t. There’s no "best time" to open an account. If you accept credit cards and no one charges a purchase, you’ll still pay monthly fees. Consider this as part of the cost of doing business. Here’s how to start.
Look for the easiest option to install a system, and that will be through the bank that processes your business checking account. Call or go to your bank and ask them if they offer merchant accounts. Merchant account means "the ability to accept credit cards." To be clear, banks work with companies that do the actual processing. The bank provides a streamlined way for money to be placed into your account. This is what makes a bank the best way to set up an account.
If your bank offers this service, let a bank officer explain the procedure and fees. Most banks with merchant accounts process Visa and MasterCard transactions. Ask if the account also includes American Express and Discover processing (if not, you may have to apply for this on your own). After discussing your options with the officer, ask for a merchant account application. Complete and return it to the bank with the proper documentation, which is usually a copy of your business license.
If your bank does not offer merchant accounts, call other area banks to ask about merchant account availability. You may have to change banks to set up an account, because most merchant accounts are tied to your business checking account. When you process a credit card sale, the proceeds (sales minus transaction fees) are deposited into your checking account within two to three business days.
Here’s an example:
The 2.5% transaction fee is an example and may be higher or lower than what your processing company will charge. There are other fees, which the bank officer should explain to you. These include:
Terminal fee - you must have a terminal in your office in which to process credit card sales. This is a small, square box that some retail stores use to process your personal credit card purchases. The terminal, which is connected to and works through your business telephone line, has a key pad to enter data such as the credit card number, expiration date, and sale amount, as well as other transactions (voids, credits, other adjustments, etc.).
Statement fee - you receive a statement every month with a breakdown of all transactions and charges.
Miscellaneous fees - these run the gamut, depending on the processing company, but the fees are quite low. For example, in January, I was charged 60 cents for authorization fees (45 cents for American Express and 15 cents for Discover).
Once your merchant application is approved, the bank or processing company will call you for an appointment to install a terminal at your place of business. You will be given a lesson on terminal basics, printed literature, and a toll-free number in case you have questions. You are now ready to accept some or all of the major credit cards from buyers who wish to charge their purchases.
Where do you go if local banks don't offer merchant accounts?
These and other questions are answered in Part 2 of How to Get a Merchant Account.
About the Author:
©2007-2010 Shirley George Frazier
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