Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ecommerce Credit Card Processing: The Fees

For the uninitiated - and even for merchants who have owned an internet business for years - the wide array of credit card processing fees that can be incurred in the operation of an ecommerce store can be a bit bewildering.

In this article, we'll discuss most of the costs involved in maintaining an internet merchant account. Note that these fees are in addition to what you may have to pay as an upfront fee for the software required in order to set up your ecommerce facility (these fees can range from $50 to $200 usually, although nowadays some providers waive this fee altogether). You may also have to pay for a shopping cart, although this service too is now sometimes packaged as a freebie when you set up the ecommerce facility.

Here are the fees that merchants can anticipate having to pay on an ongoing basis in order to process credit cards via their website:

The most significant monthly fee you'll be charged is what is known as the Discount Rate - a percentage of the dollar amount of every sale you process through your website. Limiting ourselves here to internet merchant accounts for US-based businesses in non-high risk industries, you can presently expect to pay between 2.19% and 2.40%.

In fact, discount rates call fall into 3 distinct categories: The lowest of these rates - the range quoted above - and the most commonly applied, is the Qualified Discount Rate which in the context of ecommerce retailing is where your customer "keys" in the card information in his computer's browser, and the information he provides concerning his billing address matches that in the bank's records ("AVS match"). Some companies charge up to 10 cents per transaction for the AVS service.

Tip! You will first need to find a reputable bank or credit union that will agree to extend a merchant account to you for this purpose. To get approved, you will need a solid credit history, a reasonable business plan, and documentation to show that you are able to manage the costs associated with credit card processing rates.

On occasion however you may be charged a surcharge on top of that. The Mid-Qualified Discount Rate will be added to your normal discount rate where there is no AVS match (usually an additional .75% to 1.25%). And a further additional surcharge (the Non-Qualified Rate) of from 1.5% to 2% may be levied where your customer makes his purchase using a foreign-issued card or where the card was issued to a company or the government.

Most providers will charge you a Monthly Minimum - this is the least amount you'll have to pay for the discount rate charges in a month. This is often $15 to $25 - so you'll always pay at least that much, even if you don't process at all during the month. You'll also most likely have to pay a monthly Statement Fee, often around $8 to $15.

A Transaction Fee is almost always charged - here you pay a set amount for each transaction you process on your website, regardless of the dollar amount. Usually this is in the 17 to 30 cent range.

The other standard monthly charge - and this applies only to ecommerce processing - is the Gateway Fee, generally in the $15 to $30/month range. This fee is to cover the costs of connecting your website software and shopping cart to the transaction processing system.

Tip! As far as your credit card processing application is concerned, everything. How you run your personal life is indicative of how you will run your business, helping the underwriters of your credit card processing application to determine whether or not you should be considered a risk.

We don't have the space here to go into all the other fees you may come across in operating your ecommerce business, but we'll briefly mention three of them here:

• a Chargeback (often $20 to $40) whenever a customer has a dispute about what you charged him, or whether you delivered the goods or services promised.

• a Programming Fee, if you are switching from one provider to a different one.

• a Cancellation Fee, where you sign a long term agreement and want out early.

So as you can see, there are a lot of different costs you can be hit with when running your ecommerce business. So before you sign with any particular company, have them give you, in writing, a complete list of all the possible fees they might levy against you. It pays to shop around.

Colin Albert operates The Merchant Account Explorer website, which offers advice and recommendations for merchants looking for ecommerce credit card processing solutions. The service enables business owners to comparison shop for the most suitable internet merchant account for their particular needs.

The Purpose of a Credit Card Processing Company

If you want to accept credit card payments on your website, you need to engage the services of a credit card processing company. What these companies do is process the credit card payments that generate from your site including following through on approvals or denials so that your shipping department knows what to ship. The credit card processing company notifies the company by email when they have received an authorization from the credit card issuer as well as notify them if the sale is declined.

Using the services of a credit card processing company can save you a great deal of time because you will not have to worry about obtaining authorizations or making sure that the payments are credited to your bank account as your processing agent takes care of all of that for you. Of course, you will pay for credit card processing, but the extra sales you can make because of your ability to accept credit cards online will make it worth the cost. Without the ability to accept credit card payments, you limit yourself to the methods of payment you can accept, meaning you have to wait for your customers to mail a check or money order. The problem with this antiquated way of accepting payments is that your customer will not likely be receptive to it and will go elsewhere to shop.

You do not want to accept the services of just anyone who offers credit card processing, but you want to do some research and locate the one who best suits your needs. Each company has its own set of fees per transaction in addition to whatever the card issuer charges for the transaction fee, which is a percentage of the sale. In addition, you want to ,make sure that the credit card processing services meets your needs for volume and type of payment options you desire including debit card processing. After all, credit card processing is to help with your business, so the processing company you choose must be willing to work with you and develop a program that best suits your needs and those of your customers. They must be able to customize your services so that you have the most important payment options for the type of merchandise you sell.

Tip! * Whether or not you made personal credit card payments on time or at all, over drafted your accounts, or filed for bankruptcy may indicate your ability to repay future creditors. * Whether or not you have enough credit for your credit card processing underwriters to be able to satisfactorily discern your ability to repay debts.

Why bother with a credit card processing company? You could, realistically, bypass the credit card processing company and manually process your credit card payments, but it would take a credit deal of time. This would mean calling for authorization and filling out the forms and submitting them to your bank the way it was done before the Internet became a big issue. Even with the use of credit card terminals, a merchant had to close out his sales for the day, and write a deposit slip for send to his bank. Credit card processing has changed all of that, thus eliminating a great deal of time, effort, and paperwork on the part of the merchant. Saving time and money means more income potential for the merchant as well as more time to devote to the customers.

Top 7 PayPal Credit Card Processing Advantages

Here are seven good reasons why you should consider as your credit card processing solution and merchant account alternative.

1. Accept Credit Cards Without a Merchant Account

You can accept all major credit cards as well as payments from bank accounts. Your customer doesn't have to be a member of PayPal to pay by credit card.

2. Low Cost

There are no initial or monthly fees to join PayPal. Fees are 2.9% of sales and $0.30 per transaction; rates vary slightly by country and sales volume.

3. Flexible and Easy to Use

PayPal payments can be made in six different currencies for digital or physically shipped products, auctions, services, recurring payments (like subscriptions), et cetera. As well, PayPal is very easy to use and setup.

4. Shopping Cart5. Buyer Network

According to, PayPal has "more than 86.6 million accounts in 56 countries and regions ...growing by 83,000 a day... One in three online buyers in the U.S. has a PayPal account."

6. Merchant and Auction Tools

PayPal has a number of automated tools to make your life easier including financial reporting, shipping calculation, sales tax and value-added tax calculation, and much more. Since PayPal is an eBay company, it is designed to integrate well with eBay auctions.

7. Fraud Detection

PayPal claims to have "one of the lowest loss rates in the online retail industry." Their Seller Protection Policy is designed to protect the merchant; their Buyer Protection Policy is designed to protect the customer.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ecommerce: Merchant Account and Credit Card Processing

Having an online business that takes in money over the internet requires the ability to accept credit cards directly from your website. This is commonly known as "ecommerce", or electronic commerce. This tutorial will help explain all there is to know about processing credit cards over the internet.

The Basics

Terms to Know:

Shopping Cart: An online application that collects all your products and gets them ready for checkout, passing the information about the transaction to the payment gateway. • Merchant Account: The bank or financial institution that actually processes and handles the transaction of debiting one account and crediting another. • Payment Gateway: The program or application that communicates between the website and merchant account, verifying the credit card information and executing the transaction. • Web Hosting: Serving your website or web page from a web server to any requesting client browser. • Secured Socket Layer (SSL): The process by which information is securely exchanged between the web server and the client browser. 128-bit encryption is the most secure. • Secure Certificate: A certificate of authentication that assures website visitors that the website being used is safe, secure and tested and up-to-date. • IP Address (internet protocol address): The physical, numerical address that is associated with the domain name. There are two types of IP addresses: 1. Static IP: There is one IP address that is associated with a domain name, and it never changes. 2. Dynamic IP: The IP address can change at any time, depending on the need and whenever necessary, as determined by the hosting company. There are 3 things required for credit card processing: 1. A web hosting account with a static IP address 2. A merchant account with a reputable company 3. A current, secure SSL certificate Web Hosting

Tip! The benefits of credit card processing online usually outweigh the disadvantages. Unfortunately there are some pitfalls involved with credit card processing you should be aware of.

There are many web hosting companies that operate online, and choosing one is not too difficult. However, there are a couple requirements that you need to look for when choosing your company. The hosting account must have a static IP address because a secure SSL certificate is required when transferring confidential information over the internet through the payment gateway.

Merchant Account

A merchant account is required for credit card processing because this is how the payment will be processed; money must be taken out the buyer's account and deposited into the seller's account. The merchant account is the generic name for the process by which all transactions are handled. This is explained in detail:

1. The website visitor selects the product or service to purchase and initiates the sale. 2. The website takes the visitor to secure area of website (with gold lock on bottom of browser) and requests payment information (credit card info). 3. The visitor completes the required information and clicks ‘submit'. 4. The information is sent securely through the payment gateway for the information to be verified as valid or invalid. 5. After verifying the accuracy of the credit card information, the transaction amount is debited from the buyers account (bank or credit card) and deposited into the seller's bank account. 6. The buyer receives a payment confirmation via the website. Account Fees & Charges:

Tip! The heart of credit card processing is, of course, a merchant account. A merchant account is a service that you would have to enroll with to avail of a credit card processing system that would take care of your orders.

There are two basic charges associated with a merchant account. These are:

Administrative Fee: This is usually a monthly fee that is assessed for all administrative fees. • Discount Rate: This is a fee (percentage based) that is imposed based on the total amount of the sale. • Per Transaction: This is a payment gateway fee that is charged with each transaction that comes from your website.

The way this fee system works is the same, no matter what merchant account provider you use. For instance, let's say you have a transaction rate of $0.25 and a discount rate of 2.5%. If you have a product that you sell for $10 from your website, each time the product is purchased you will receive $10 deposited into your account. You will also be charged $0.25 for the transaction, and $0.25 discount rate (computed at the end of the month). That's a total of $0.50 in fees for the $10 sale of your product.

Most merchant account providers will impose a monthly base (minimum) fee for the account. Let's say the base fee is $15. This base rate is an either/or charge, meaning you are charged that amount unless your discount rate and per transaction fee amount to more than the base amount.

For example, through the course of business, you sell your $10 product to 20 buyers. At the discount rate and per transaction rate used above ($0.25 transaction and 2.5% discount), your fees amount to $10 on $300 ($10 x 30) in sales. Since this amount is less than the base rate ($15), you will be charged the base rate for the month. However, if you sell your $10 product to 90 buyers, your fees amount to $45 dollars for the month. Since your fees amount to more than the base rate ($45 vs. $15), you will be charged $45 on $900 in sales.

Tip! If you always wanted to know about credit card processing, then this article is for you. We will discuss the many benefits that can be gained by incorporating credit card processing into your online business, as well as the steps that you'd need to take to have a credit card processing system firmly entrenched in your business' operations.

Types of Transactions

There are two basic types of transactions when purchasing goods or services online:

1. One-time Purchase 2. Recurring Subscription

Most online stores and catalogs deal with ‘one-time' purchases, meaning you find a product online and purchase it. After confirmation of sale, this ends the relationship between buyer and seller.

The other type, ‘recurring subscription', is based on interval billing. This type of purchase can be for membership fees, or for any other type of fee that is billed on intervals.

Payment Gateway

The payment gateway is an application that you integrate into your website. Most payment gateways have an API that allows for easy, seamless integration into your website, meaning the user's experience on your website remains consistent, even through the credit card processing phase. The payment gateway is responsible for validating the credit card information provided, such as address verification and security code matching. There are many payment gateways available on the market, but to ensure compatibility, it's recommended that you use the one provided at the time of your merchant account setup.

SSL Certificate

The secure digital certificate validates the site as being secure, letting the buyer know that the information exchanged over the internet will be sent using the best possible encryption. In other words, the personal, confidential information sent will be scrambled to avoid interception by a 3rd party and used fraudulently. An SSL certificate requires a static IP address, but does not have to be associated with your website. You can link the transaction to another website (sharing a certificate) to handle the transaction. However, it is recommended that your website have its own static IP and secure certificate to maintain site continuity. Think of it this way; you're at the supermarket, and when you go to checkout, you are either taken across the street to handle the transaction, or the transaction can be handled at the store you're currently at. Basically, it looks more professional to process the transaction immediately, rather than take the buyer somewhere else.

Tip! Although you may have relied on cash transactions up to now, you might find that is becoming more cumbersome to make correct change, accept checks that could bounce, and track delinquent payments, all while keeping track of each and every transaction. Farming out some of these tasks to hired help can be costly, which is why you may be able to benefit from credit card processing services.

In Conclusion

That is what merchant accounts are all about. All merchant accounts operate on the same guidelines, and determining which merchant account you want to conduct business with is up to you. The main things to consider are the per transaction fee, discount rate and base monthly rate. Make certain that the merchant account provider you are going to use is a top-tier provider, meaning the company is the actual processor, and not a reseller of another provider. This is important when it comes to the fees and customer service for your account.