When looking for a credit card processing solution every small business owner is bombarded with a myriad of different offers. As soon as you register for a business license you should expect your mailbox to become overflowed with offers for free credit card processing equipment, business loans, smartphone apps and iPhone credit card reader point of sale solutions etc. This can become very confusing as so many solutions are available choosing "the right one" could prove to be overwhelmingly difficult. Unfortunately, many new business owners do not understand how a merchant account or credit card processing services work. The most common question that we are asked on initial consultations with new business owners is "what is your price." Our answer is "first let's determine what type of merchant classification you fall into. Once we classify your business and discuss your specific needs we can then identify a solution that works for your unique business model. After that, we can address credit card processing costs, account fees, POS equipment and e-commerce solutions if necessary. We will also discuss the difference between a pay-as-you-go shared merchant account pricing plan and a traditional merchant account pricing plan and which option may be right for your business. These options all carry different benefits and drawbacks and come with completely different pricing models. Let's go over all the options and see what's best for you." Remember, the goal is to provide your customers with the easiest and most seamless way to pay you. Your customers don't care at all how much you're merchant processing services cost, they don't even consider it. Although, if you don't offer easy credit card payment options you are most likely to get an earful from one of your customers about how you need to keep up with the times and why another business offers something that you don't and why they are now taking their business to them? Guess what, the money you lost on that customer is equal to what you saved on the low-budget credit card processing system you thought was going to save your small business a boatload. Go figure...
What is a shared merchant account?
Shared merchant accounts are by far the most popular credit card processing services offered today. Shared merchant account services were popularized by Silicon Valley tech startups like PayPal and the new major player in the game is the very popular San Francisco based SquareUp. A shared merchant account is classified by the card brands (VISA & MasterCard etc.) as an aggregator. The definition of aggregator is "a wholesale buyer or broker of a utility service, such as electricity, telephone or credit card processing services, who packs it and re-sells it to consumers. The last word in the definition of aggregator is "consumers." Shared merchant accounts are made for everyday consumers selling as an individual or small home based businesses. Hair stylists, personal trainers, tattoo artists, mobile food trucks, locksmiths, general small job handyman repairs, make up artists, plumbers and other small operations are who shared merchant accounts were made for. 90% of applicants for shared merchant accounts fall into this classification and have no problem with the services provided.
Unlike a traditional merchant account a shared merchant account is operated by an organization with a master merchant account and gives sub-users the ability to use it as opposed to opening unique accounts for every user, thus increasing their cost. This is why every shared merchant account has a daily cutoff time for funding. All the sales are settled at the same time for the entire system and every user on it. At night the funds are electronically distributed to each users bank account. Shared merchant accounts are ideal for users who demand an affordable and simple solution to process credit card payments on the go. Shared merchant accounts are not designed for high dollar sales over $1,000 or retail businesses processing more than $5,000 in monthly credit card sales. Also, many legal industries that have been classified as high risk may also not be good candidates for a shared merchant account. A shared merchant account provider will pre-approve you based solely on an identity check. Once you start using the service by processing payments is when they will make their final decision on whether to keep you as a user. Read it, it's all in the fine print of the agreement! By using a shared merchant account you run a huge risk if you're processing high dollar payments or are selling items or services that could be considered high risk by that processor, the list of restricted and prohibited business types is buried deep within the fine print of the "click here I agree" contract. Literally, thousands of reviews are on the internet in regards to users complaining about funding holds caused by shared merchant account providers and the lack of customer support or a customer service phone number provided by these companies. The bulk of complaints are in regards to SquareUp and the fact that they provide no telephone customer service, only email and twitter support. The advice we give our clients is to proceed with caution when using these services.
What is a traditional merchant account?
Traditional merchant accounts are primarily for established businesses with more than one employee and a retail location. A traditional merchant account is also a good idea for any business who makes sales of more than $1,000 in any single transaction. Most e-commerce businesses would also benefit from the added functionality of a traditional merchant account or online gateway. Unfortunately, the pricing for these type of accounts is not clear at all and this is why traditional merchant accounts have received so much negative press lately. With a traditional merchant account you are paying for each part of the service individually. The cost is broken up into transaction cost and processor markups, equipment costs and additional account fees. Although, when added up most businesses processing over $5,000 per month will see a substantial savings with this plan as opposed to the latter more simple to understand pay-as-you-go shared merchant account setup. The down side to this unclear pricing model is that unscrupulous sales associates after a quick up-front commission will use a business owners lack of intelligence to misinform them into making a bad decision and signing a very unfavorable merchant agreement for credit card processing services and equipment. These unscrupulous sales people target business owners shopping on "price only" and not services as they are only briefly in the credit card processing industry themselves and really have no knowledge of the inner workings of payment processing. They simply quote a price and sell their personality and reassure the client that they will be taken care of. By the time the client receives the bill the sales associate has most likely vanished or does not take calls and the business owner is stuck dealing with years of high rate processing fees or a solution that does not meet their businesses needs.
The benefits of a traditional merchant account are number one you are going to be receiving a very high level of customer support if you sign up with a reputable provider. Additionally, you will have an FDIC insured merchant identifier that guarantees you will get your money up to a certain limit as long as no fraud activity has been detected. Business owners who require the assurance of receiving funds in a timely manner will always opt for a traditional merchant account. Applying for a traditional merchant account requires a more lengthy application process and verification of business financials and business practices. This process is very costly for payment processor to vet each business individually. This is why we commonly see account fees and minimums associated with traditional merchant accounts. The processor wants to ensure that they will get return on the investment of vetting the business even if the business does not use the service. Additionally, software with more functionality may be added and this making the the cost of services go even higher for inactivity. The bottom line is that if you establish a traditional merchant account, you had better use it or be prepared to pay, there are fees for inactivity. If you are in a seasonal industry in which your business is closed for a set number of month per year you can have your account set up to only be active during these months. In the off season you will not be charged inactivity fees although you may still be responsible for equipment lease or rental payments or any other non-processing fees associated with your merchant account set-up.
Which option is best for me?
After reading this post you should have a good idea about the differences between a shared and a traditional merchant account. You need to weigh the options as a business owner and take into account what your specific priorities are. Seek out a reputable payments consultant like Bravertek to help you make this very serious decision.
Bravertek specializes in both shared merchant account and traditional merchant account set-ups. We will go over each option with you and together we will make an educated decision on which option is best for your growing business.