There was a time when cash was king in collecting payments from customers, but that’s no longer the case. These days, businesses of all types rely on credit card payments because consumers are less likely than ever to carry cash. In fact, a Federal Reserve study from 2020 shows that 75% of American consumers use credit cards to buy goods and services.

Unfortunately, accepting credit card payments as a small business also means accepting the fees that go along with them. Keep reading to learn how you can maximize your business’s profit without sacrificing the convenience your customers expect at check out.

How to accept credit card payments

First and foremost, you’ll need to open a merchant bank account. This account receives payments once they’ve been cleared and processed by your credit card processing provider. the type of business you own usually dictates how you’ll receive payments:

  1. In person, through a physical reader
  2. Online, through an online payment processing system
  3. Over the phone, through a physical or online processor

Many businesses offer all three options. Here’s how it works:

  1. The customer offers their credit card information, either at a physical terminal or online payment form.
  2. The transaction information (credit card and customer information, payment amount, and more) is sent to the third-party processing company.
  3. The credit card company verifies whether the customer is within their credit limit.
  4. The processing company pays the merchant by sending funds to their bank account.

To accept payments in person, you’ll need a physical point of sale (POS) system. Most modern POS systems offer integrated credit card readers. For mobile businesses, try a portable reader. These plug into your phone or tablet for on-the-go processing. These also allow you to type in the credit card information, so you can receive payments over the phone.

E-commerce businesses should seek an online payment processing company. There are numerous options available. Some may integrate into a website via codes and widgets, while others send customers to third-party payment systems (such as PayPal, Google Pay, and Amazon Pay). Some systems may allow you to receive payments over the phone.

How credit card fees work

For customers, there’s nothing easier than swiping a credit card, but it’s a little more complicated for business owners. Accepting credit cards isn’t free. Both the credit card company and the third-party processor are providing a service and require compensation as a result.

Here are the types of fees you’re likely to encounter:

  • Service fees: A processor may charge monthly or annual subscription fees on top of transaction fees.
  • Transaction fees: These fees are paid each time a credit card transaction occurs. They’re usually a percentage of the total sale price, hovering between 1–4%, plus another fee of 50 cents or less. The percentage and flat fee may vary, depending on the processor, credit card, or membership plan. For instance, many companies do not take American Express due to their high fees.
  • Equipment: Some processing companies require you to purchase or lease your POS system.
  • Other fees: Chargebacks, insufficient funds, and special verification may incur additional one-time fees.

Fees may be charged in three ways: flat fees, interchange plus, and tiered fees. Typically, flat fees are best for small businesses who process less than $5,000 per month.

Keep in mind that accepting payments over the phone has the greatest risk of fraud. If you choose to accept payments over the phone, expect the fees to be higher than online or in-person payments.

Choosing a processing provider

When it comes to credit card processing providers, small businesses can pick and choose how to accept credit card payments.

Here’s a closer look at some of the most popular options:

  1. Square: Square is best for businesses on the move. Their small physical card readers and app turn any phone or tablet into a mobile POS system. The readers also work offline and can accept card-not-present transactions, although the fees are typically higher.
  2. PayPal: PayPal is great for brick-and-mortar retailers. It can also support online payments. The transaction fees are in the normal range, and they offer both a physical POS system and an invoicing service for billing clients. However, some of their premium services incur additional fees.
  3. Venmo: For online-only companies, Venmo is introducing credit card processing solutions. Simply link your Venmo for Business account to Braintree or PayPal. Customers can pay through the app. The payment processing fee is 2.9% plus 15 cents per transaction. While there are no fees for standard transfers to your bank account, instant transfers incur fees.
  4. Stripe: Stripe is another processor geared toward online businesses. While they accept in-person payments, the fees are higher. Stripe’s primary appeal is its scalability: as your company grows, Stripe can integrate with other tech solutions.
  5. Shopify: Shopify is an e-commerce platform that offers credit card processing. Basic plans start at $9 per month, while premium plans go up to $29. The fees are competitive, but you will need to build a website through their platform.

The bottom line

Finding the right credit card payment processing method—and company—can be overwhelming. While you may be tempted to go for the processor with the lowest fees across the board, that shouldn’t be the only factor you take into account.When deciding how to accept credit card payments as a small business, there’s more you’ll need to consider. You may exclusively take online or in-person payments, depending on your business type. However, as your business grows, you may require different ways to accept credit card payments. Many hybrid businesses choose a processor that at least offers all three ways to process payments, even if they have to pay slightly higher fees or lease equipment later. When you factor in all potential costs and features, the best choice for your company is usually clear.

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