Credit card processing can be expensive, but nearly every business needs to be able to accept credit and debit card payments. It can be difficult for small businesses to decide which credit card processing company to go with to get the most for their money.
If there's one trend in credit card processing to bear in mind for 2020, it's constant improvement of the customer experience through exemplary service. You'll want to work with a credit card processor that helps you meet your customers' expectations for a fast, frictionless experience.
As a small business owner, you should be on the lookout for ways to provide top-notch service to your customers without the top-notch price tag whenever possible. No matter which type of business you run, customers expect you to accept credit and debit cards. But choosing a credit card processing company involves many factors to consider, including fees, contractual terms and hardware costs.
How can you know you're getting a good deal? Here are seven tips you should know to save money on rates and avoid unnecessary fees when shopping for a new processor.
Should you go for the cheapest credit card processing service for your business?
While you may be on the hunt for the cheapest credit card processing company, keep in mind that the company offering the lowest processing rates or fees isn't necessarily the cheapest. Variable processing rates and hidden (or at least unanticipated) fees can easily result in you paying much more than you thought you were going to for processing.
The cheapest processor isn't necessarily the best one for your business either. While you may want to pay the least amount of money possible for the ability to process credit card payments, companies that offer the lowest rates often cut corners in other aspects of their services.
What's the right type of processor for your business?
Companies that offer flat rates might be a good place to start your research, because their simple pricing structures make it easy to estimate your monthly processing costs. If you process less than $3,000 per month, or if your average ticket size is $10 or less, a flat-rate processor doesn't charge any additional fees.
Even though processing rates for flat-rate processors are higher than what standard payment processing companies charge, your overall cost will be lower, because you won't have to pay monthly and annual fees. However, if you process more than $3,000 per month or your average ticket size is higher than $10, you may save money with a standard credit card processor.
- Flat-rate processors are usually upfront with their pricing. They post their rates, fees and terms on their websites, making it easy to compare services. Most offer their services on a pay-as-you-go basis, so there's no lengthy contract to worry about, and you can cancel your account without penalty if the service isn't meeting your needs.
- Standard payment processors are often less transparent with their pricing and terms, so you'll need to call these companies for information. The seven tips below can help you select a company with competitive rates, fees and terms.
Can you negotiate credit card processing fees?
A little-known fact is that you can actually negotiate your credit card processing fees. Confidence is the key to any successful negotiation, especially when you're negotiating your credit card processing deal. Here's what you should keep in mind to stack the negotiation deck in your favor and get the credit card processing terms you deserve:
- Know your business. To get the best deal for your business, take stock of your credit card processing needs. Figure out how many transactions you typically process, whether you're considered a high-risk business, and if you expect to deal with a lot of American Express cards, corporate cards or debit cards. Having a good sense of what you need can help you rule out services that wouldn't be compatible with your business.
- Shop around. One of the best negotiating tools you can arm yourself with is multiple rates and quotes. Speak with at least three different providers before making a final decision. Even while hunting for the lowest rates possible, you need to consider overall value. It might be worth paying a bit more for a credit card processor that offers better customer service and supports more integrations.
- Ask for a pricing quote. Whenever possible, you need to deal in concrete numbers. If you know your credit card processing needs, getting quotes should be pretty simple. However, different processors use different pricing models, which can make it more difficult to perform one-to-one comparisons.
Editor's note: Looking for a credit card processor? We can help you choose the one that's right for you. Use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:
To avoid paying more than you have to for payment processing services, keep the following tips in mind as you choose a company to work with.
1. Ask for interchange-plus pricing.
You should call several companies for pricing quotes. Most provide tiered pricing, so you may have to specifically ask for interchange-plus rates.
Some sales reps may try to discourage you from this pricing model because the company doesn't make as much money from it. They may even stipulate that you must process a certain dollar amount per month or work with a company for a certain amount of time before you qualify for this pricing. In such cases, you'll want to look elsewhere.
With interchange-plus price quotes in hand, you can easily compare rates. Because the rate is the processor's markup that will be added to the card network's interchange rates that everyone pays, you have an even ground to compare rates. Tiered pricing, on the other hand, is difficult to compare because companies add their markup to the hundreds of interchange rates and then divide them into qualified, mid-qualified, and non-qualified buckets. Different companies can sort their tiers differently, so there's no way to know if your comparison between companies is accurate.
2. Look for a company that offers month-to-month service.
The average payment processing contract has a three-year term, but the best companies provide their services on a monthly basis, because they're confident enough in their product that they don't feel the need to lock you in.
Monthly service gives you the freedom to move on without penalty if the service doesn't meet your needs or you find a better deal elsewhere. If you sign a three-year contract and want to exit before your term expires, you'll be charged an early cancellation fee and, in some cases, liquidated damages.
3. Don't sign the application until you’re ready to sign up.
Some sales reps will ask you to fill out an application so they can give you a more specific quote. Be aware that the application is part of the contract and signing it signs you up for the service. Don't sign the application or provide your Social Security or bank account numbers until you're ready to sign up with a company.
4. Read all three parts of the contract before signing.
After you receive price quotes, you'll want to request full contracts from the three or four companies you like best. Most contracts have three parts: an application, the terms of service and a program guide. Make sure you receive and read all three so you know exactly what you're agreeing to, which fees you're expected to pay, and what you need to do to cancel your account.
5. Avoid signing up with a company that charges nonstandard fees.
As you read the contracts from your top picks, pay close attention to all of the fees they mention. Consider highlighting or listing them to help you keep track. If you otherwise like a company that charges a nonstandard fee, ask the sales rep if it can be waived. If it can, request a waiver or an amended contract.
- Standard fees: Most processors charge a monthly statement fee, a monthly gateway fee (if you want to accept payments online), a monthly minimum, and PCI compliance and noncompliance fees. Incidental fees (batch, AVS, voice authorization, chargeback, retrieval, NSF) and card network fees (APF, NABU, FANF, data usage) are also common.
- Nonstandard fees: These less-common fees can include additional services, application, annual, audit, cancellation, club, monthly or quarterly regulatory compliance, online reporting, postage and handling, monthly or quarterly technology, and security fees.
6. Be wary of free equipment.
Many credit card processing companies offer free equipment or a free placement program if you sign up with them. However, most require you to sign a lengthy contract in exchange and, in many cases, to return the equipment at the end of the term or renew your contract.
Make sure you understand exactly what you're agreeing to and what it's really going to cost you if you accept this type of offer. Ask how much it costs to buy the equipment outright; a credit card swiper and basic terminal tend to be fairly inexpensive. You need to consider whether you're willing to give up the flexibility of a monthly contract in exchange for equipment.
7. Never lease equipment.
Although paying less upfront on equipment costs is tempting, leasing contracts are notoriously punitive. Most are noncancelable and require personal guarantees, which means that even if you go out of business and return the equipment, you're personally obligated to continue making lease payments until the end of the term.
Most leasing contracts have terms of three to five years, and you may be required to pay a monthly replacement or warranty fee in addition to the lease payment. At the end of the term, if you want to keep the equipment, you may have to renew your lease or pay another fee to buy out the equipment.
If you're considering leasing, do the math. Add up all payments and fees for the length of the lease and compare the number to the purchase price of the equipment. In most cases, you'll find that you could purchase the equipment several times for what you'll pay over the life of the lease. [Looking for a credit card processing company for your business? Check out our reviews and recommendations for the best credit card processors.]
These tips can help you compare rates, spot nonstandard fees, and avoid lengthy contracts so you can choose the best credit card processing company for your store and feel confident that you're getting a good value.
Lori Fairbanks contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.