Credit Card Processing 101: What You Need to Know

If you want to stand your own among the competition, the ability to accept and process credit cards quickly, securely, and wherever your customers shop (mobile, online, or in-store) is an absolute must for your business. The problem for businesses of all sizes is choosing the right credit card processing service to help them meet that need.


What Kinds of Businesses Need to Process Credit Cards?

As fewer people carry cash, the need for businesses to accept card payments in a variety of ways is growing by leaps and bounds. Even industries that were once reluctant to process credit cards are beginning to see the demand growing to reach virtually every sector.

Government Agencies

Government agencies abound in the U.S. and they, too, are beginning to see a genuine need for the ability to accept credit cards, checks, and various other methods of payment (including touchless payment options powered by near field communication, like Apple, Samsung, and Android Pay services). Government agencies that deal with numerous individual transactions often need to accept credit card payments, including:

  • Child support and welfare
  • Tax and revenue
  • Transportation
  • Labor and employment
  • Public assistance

Retail Establishments

Retail businesses undoubtedly face the greatest demand for versatility in payment processing. Your businesses see the widest variety of customers and you need to be able to take care of them efficiently and effectively, regardless of which payment methods they prefer. Businesses that cater to younger audiences, especially, need access to the latest technology from their credit card processor for payments at the register, online, and on-the-go.

Nearly every industry has some form of retail—many of them operating at lightning fast speeds. You need credit card processing equipment that can keep up with your needs to serve your customers as well as your customer’s demand for fast service.

Petroleum Industry

Businesses in this industry fuel the world and you need more flexible options from your credit card processor than most businesses. Rewards and loyalty programs, mobile apps, gift cards, credit cards—the petroleum industry uses it all. Drivers are looking to get in and out as quickly as possible, meaning you have to provide a variety of payment processing options for greater efficiency and better expense tracking and reporting at places like:

  • Truck stops
  • Fueling stations
  • Convenience stores
  • Pay-at-the-pump operations

Grocery and Supermarkets

Grocery stores and supermarkets have somewhat unique needs to consider when it comes to payment processing. Since many grocery stores accept EBT cards, you must be able to process them accurately and keep outstanding records of EBT transactions. Of course, this is in addition to the usual payment processing needs of retail environments that include credit cards, debit cards, gift cards, and checks.

Hospitality Businesses

The hospitality industry encompasses a wide range of businesses that often have unique needs for payment processing. Things like in-room services, tips, spa services, room service, etc. can throw some credit card processors into a bit of a tailspin.

Effective payment processing is about so much more than the simple ability to accept transactions tendered with multiple types of currency. You need a processor that offers sensible payment processing solutions that accommodate all these things while managing rewards points, credit cards, gift cards, checks, debit cards, and more with accuracy and speed. This keeps your customers happy without the worry of billing errors, allowing you to take care of them efficiently each time they visit your business.


What Pricing Structures Are Available for Credit Card Processing?

With customers carrying less cash and online shopping skyrocketing, it goes without saying that it’s more important than ever to accept credit cards. But merchant accounts with many credit card processors can be expensive—especially for a small business—unless you know what to look for.

Zero-Fee

Offset credit card processing fees by giving customers a choice: when customers use credit cards they agree to pay the fees associated with the transaction. To avoid paying the fee, customers can choose other payment methods (such as cash or debit, for which the merchant pays the transaction fees). This allows you to keep costs low and pass savings on to customers instead of raising prices to cover processing fees.

Interchange-Plus

Normally pricing models don’t disclose the interchange rate (the preset rate that the merchant service provider pays to the issuing bank), only the rate at which you’re assessed—which gives providers incentive to overcharge for their services. Interchange-plus, however, is the most transparent, cost-effective form of merchant account pricing. This model adds a constant, flat margin on top of the interchange rates. This allows MSPs to price their accounts fairly, because merchants who process at higher volumes will pay more fees, but only proportionately so, while smaller merchants are not penalized for processing minimal amounts.

Tiered

Tiered rate models organize cards into different tiers and charge processing based on which tier they fall in. But what most merchants don’t realize is that these tiers are arbitrary and determined by the provider. Meaning if your merchant services provider decides to place all the most popular card types in the most expensive tier, you might not realize the reasoning behind their groupings.

Billback

One of the most confusing billing methods in the credit card processing industry today is the billback method, which can be known by a number of other names including Enhanced Reduced Recover (ERR), Blended Rate, or Mixed Rate. Using billback pricing, you’ll be charged a low, flat rate for every transaction. But since different transactions and card types come with various fees accordingly, the processor will recoup any fee differences by charging you for the difference on your next statement. In the end, you’ll need to save two months worth of statements to track your fees.

Flat Rate

A relative of percentage markup models, flat rate models charge an additional percentage on top of the interchange for each transaction. However, no matter which card is being used, you’ll be charged the same percentage. It appears easy and simple on the surface, but it gets more expensive the more you process. Cards with low interchange rates are still charged the same percentage markup, which can get pretty significant in comparison. For example, if your flat rate is 2.9%, even if the interchange rate for a specific card is 0.5%, you still get that 2.9% added on.


What Do These Fees on My Statement Mean?

Any additional fees on your statement vary based on your merchant services provider. Some fees and surcharges seem straight forward while others come with confusing names or fluctuate depending on how many transactions you have each month. Which is why you should pay careful attention to your monthly bill to ensure you aren’t overpaying for your processing.

Transaction Fees

Associated with each credit card transaction you process, these fees can be broken down into interchange and cents per transactions (both of which are the only mandatory fees associated with credit card processing and set by the credit card companies themselves). Essentially, you’re paying Visa, MasterCard, and all the others for the ability to accept their cards. If the card issuing bank offers rewards, cash back, and other perks, the interchange rates could be higher to cover the cost of maintaining that card. Which positions debit cards as the lowest transaction fee, and business credit cards typically as the most expensive to process.

Recurring Fees

In addition to interchange rates, many credit card processors tack on merchant fees to make extra profit, billing them as any number of things on your statement. Keep an eye out for lines on your monthly statement like minimum fees, statement fees, batch fees, IRS report fees, annual fees, or anything else that seems a bit random — these are never actually required in order to accept credit cards.

One-Time Fees

In addition to recurring fees, your provider might charge you fees triggered by individual actions. These show up on your statement as line items like terminal fees, set up or termination fees, address verification fees, or chargeback and retrieval fees. Keep an eye on you statements to make sure you’re aware of what you’re paying and why.


What Should I Look for in a Credit Card Processor?

Not all credit card processors are created equal. It’s not merely about the fees that are charged and how well you understand those fees. It’s about the level of service, security, and integration you can expect from the company who provides your payment processing services.

  • Versatility. It’s important to choose a processor that works with all major brands and multiple payment types (checks, credit cards, fleet services, contactless and chip reader, gift cards, and more).
  • Support. Look for payment processors that offer technical support on your terms. Especially look for those that offer it when you’re likely to need it since emergencies never seem to occur during usual office hours.
  • Speedy. Prompt processing and authorization is essential. Don’t forget to consider prompt payments as well. The faster you have access to your money, the better it is for your business.
  • Secure. In the day and age of big, bold data breaches, you want to know that the company handling payment processing for your business offers security you can depend on and meets all industry standards for PCI compliance.
  • Customizable. Your business is unique. Which is why you need a payment processor that offers the versatility to meet the unique needs of your business. It’s not only about accepting a variety of payment types, but also about easy integration with your existing POS equipment, software, and other technology.
  • Transparency. There are few things more disconcerting to businesses than not fully understanding the fees or costs of doing business. Look for payment processors that explain their charges completely and offer complete transparency in their billing practices with no hidden fees or surcharges tacked on.

Choosing a payment processor is important for your business. It establishes what types of payments you can accept and how. Don’t forget to pay attention to things like whether or not a payment processor can work with your existing equipment or if they offer equipment you can use to meet the evolving needs of your business and your customer base.

Contract Length

You don’t want to be locked into a long-term contract, especially if it comes with a hefty cancellation fee. What starts out as a great relationship with your merchant services provider might change down the line as your business grows and your needs change. Say goodbye to cancellation fees and find a partner like BankCard Services that offers their services with the flexibility of no long-term commitments on a month-to-month basis.

Flexibility

Look for more than a variety of payment processing types (NFC, EMV, checks, debit cards, gift cards, and loyalty and reward payments), but consider how easily your credit card processor will blend with your existing equipment. At BankCard, we offer access to more than 175 gateways and incredible versatility by integrating with 99.99% of POS systems to work with what your business needs.

Equipment

Some credit card processors will require you to rent or lease their equipment, tacking on more fees and surcharges to your bill. Others, like BankCard, integrate with your existing equipment or handle all of the reprogramming needs. If new equipment is needed, service providers like BankCard offer free top-notch equipment and solutions for payment processing (you read that right: no renting or leasing!).

Security

Fear of data breaches has kept many businesses from finding credit card processing solutions that fit their needs for far too long. You shouldn’t let this fear hold your business back from reaping the rewards of accepting credit cards in a manner that suits you, whether online, in-store, or on the go. With state-of-the-art technology and tools from processors like BankCard Services to keep your customers’ information safe, you’ll meet (or exceed) the industry standards for security.

You know that accepting credit card payments is inevitable and good for business, but the hardest part can be choosing a processor. Are you confident that you’re processor is charging you fairly? Make sure you know what’s on your statement—find a merchant services provider that you can trust to design a plan with your needs in mind. Contact BankCard Services to get started with your customized processing plan today.

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