Factors to Consider When Choosing a Merchant Account

Shannon Andrade |

May 31, 2012

There are several factors to look at as well as traps to avoid when choosing the best merchant account for your business. This article should help guide you in making the best choice for your business when choosing a merchant account.

Suspiciously Low Rates

  • Make sure the rate you’ve been quoted is for the type of transactions you’ll be processing. For example, many mail order merchants have mistakenly signed up for a retail merchant account with low rates and found themselves getting charged much higher fees because they were not swiping their customers’ cards.
  • Ask whether the rate you’ve been quoted is an introductory rate. Some processors automatically raise your rates after an initial period, resulting in unexpected credit card processing costs down the line.

Average Ticket and Monthly Volume

  • Every processor will ask you to estimate your average sale and monthly credit card volume. This, in part, allows the processing company to determine the level of risk they are taking by extending you a merchant account. If you estimate far too low, you may run into trouble, as you are now a higher risk than the processor initially estimated. On the other hand, if you guess far too high, you may be required to file some extra paperwork and provide significantly more business or personal credit-related materials. Talk it over with your account representative; he or she should have plenty of experience estimating volumes and average tickets.

Understanding Fees

  • When you first get a quote for merchant accounts, some fees may seem a bit confusing. Take the time to go through your application and ask questions about the fees you don’t understand. Taking the time to go through the fees may prevent unpleasant surprises when you get your first merchant statement. Remember, a quote is not the same as a statement of fees. Many quotes do not list all possible fees, so make sure to do your homework and get the statement of fees.

Contracts & Cancellation Fees

  • Before you even set up a merchant account, ask for details on how you would go about canceling. Is there a termination fee or time commitment? Some processors may have contracts for their merchant accounts that automatically renew if you don’t give written notice more than a month before your contract expires. Also, beware of claims such as "even though you have a fee in your contract, we never charge it."
  • Not all processors require a contract, so unless there are some special circumstances, it is usually best to go with a company that is flexible and doesn’t require you to make a long-term commitment. Think of it this way: if you can cancel your merchant account at any time, a good company will work hard to keep you a satisfied customer.

Customer Support

  • Many companies use the same employees for sales, account service, and technical support, or worse, don’t even have an internal support staff. A company that has dedicated departments for each will be able to offer you expert help, whether you have questions about your statement, or need to get your terminal back up and running in a hurry.
  • A processor that offers 24 hour support will be there whenever you need them, meaning you won’t be at the mercy of someone else’s business hours. 24 hour support is also a good indicator of the company’s commitment to its customers beyond the application process.

Find more information about merchant accounts in our Merchant Account Resource Center.