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Merchant Accounts

In a nutshell, a merchant account enables you to begin accepting credit card payments over the Internet. It's a "liaison" account linking your customer's credit card account with your own business account. Sounds simple, right? So what's the first critical error many online business people make? They assume that all merchant accounts are alike.

First, competitive rates and reasonable fees are important, so do some rate comparison. We suggest you start by talking with your bank, and see what they offer in merchant accounts that work on-line. Here's what you have to look at:

- Transaction Fees: A transaction fee is a fixed charge for every online transaction performed online. If you are selling a small number of high-end, high-margin products, the transaction fee is going to be basically irrelevant. However, if you're selling books or CD's or similar low- margin products, a high transaction fee has the potential to take a sizable chunk out of your profit -- so beware.

- Discount Rates: A discount rate will be a percentage charged to you for every online sale you transact. Remember that, by itself, a low discount rate means nothing. Look at a merchant account's entire rate and fee schedule, as well as other service features.

- Chargeback Rates: Chargebacks stem from returned or repudiated (i.e., disputed and overturned) purchases. Chargeback rates are implemented to protect the merchant account provider in the case of returned merchandise or repudiated transactions. Your chargeback rate will take a percentage of your total monthly sales -- and the specific percentage is determined by what kind of product or service you sell, as well as your chargeback history.

- Chargeback Fees: Some merchant account providers will charge you a fee (beyond your chargeback rate) for every chargeback you incur. If your business typically receives a disproportionately high amount of chargebacks, chargeback fees -- compiled with a chargeback rate -- can hit hard.

When researching a prospective merchant account provider, you need to evaluate the full rate spectrum in relation to your business model, the amount of business you expect to transact, your per transaction profit margin and the category of goods or services you sell. In effect, make sure that your merchant provider does not subject you to a one-size-fits-all approach: There are critical differences between small owner-operated businesses and monolithic corporations.

By now it should be clear that an e-business selling a few luxury items will have different merchant account needs than a business relying on high-volume low-margin merchandise.

Though significant, rates and fees are still just the tip of the iceberg. You need to balance price with the best overall fit for your company. Here are critical factors to evaluate:

- Chargebacks: Do a meticulous analysis of the chargeback policy and find out where you merchant account provider stands. Chargebacks are becoming an increasingly touchy issue with credit card companies and merchants alike, and the dynamics of card-not-present transactions have pushed merchant account providers to 'deduct' an increasingly high percentage of transaction proceeds. So evaluate policy.

- Customer Service: Communication is critical. Make sure your merchant account provider has the customer care platform to swiftly and reliably answer questions and resolve problems. Integrity is important -- and the flight-by-night providers don't like to answer the phone.

- Online Experience: Make sure your prospective merchant account provider has extensive experience working with a wide spectrum of different of business models, both Internet startups and "brick and click" enterprises.

Remember, rates and fees are simply a part of the big picture. Getting a wider perspective on initially intangible items like sensible policies and superior customer service is essential in choosing the best provider for your unique business needs. Look for the details that distinguish one provider from next. First-step decisions like choosing a merchant account provider need to be among your most intelligent strategic moves.

We suggest you use the following link to get started with this very reasonable merchant account. If you plan on using Actinic be sure to select Authorise.net as you gateway. There will be a one time fee of $299 and reasonable monthly fees. Please have the following information ready.

  • Business Contact Information (addresses, phone and fax numbers, email addresses, web site URL)
  • Federal Tax ID# or Social Security # (for sole proprietor)
  • Company Ownership Information
  • Bank Reference and Routing Information
  • Current Credit Card Processor Information (if you have one)

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