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Most Important Things to Understand About Your Credit Card Processing Agreement
In my years in the field, consulting with merchants on their credit card processing, it never ceases to amaze me how little they actually know about the process or the contract. But hey, it’s not your fault because often you don’t know all the questions to ask and reps usually don’t just volunteer all the details… for obvious reasons. So, what I want to do here with this article is to give you some insight and more specifically, the questions you need to ask, whether you are an existing merchant or a newbie looking for merchant services. So, here are some ideas for you to strongly consider because it is essential to inform you:
- What is the duration of my contract?? Typically, you’ll see them for three years with an “early termination fee” for early withdrawals. You must know what the penalty may be for your future reference. The reason is that you will always be expected by industry representatives, and, they have a way of “seeing” things better than they actually are. So, armed with the information you have here and possibly elsewhere, you’ll be better able to apply the math to see if the “new deal” will ultimately result in cost savings. For example, let’s say that your new proposal shows an expected savings of $25 per month based on your average volume and average tickets. Well, that would be a savings of $300 over a twelve month period. So, with that in mind, and let’s say you have a $195 early termination fee to leave your current provider, it will take you less than eight months to start going green with the new guys. On the other hand, if your initial term fee is $295, it will take about a year to get there. Simply, know the potential rewards versus your costs, do the math and make an informed decision.
- What rate do I pay for pinned debit transactions?? Now, if you use a pinpad, and your average transaction is under $50, you can save some here by capturing more pinned debit sales. As you may or may not know, pinned debits cost less than swiping a credit card For example, let’s say you make a $50 sale and your customer gives you a debit card that goes through the NYCE network. Effective with the April 2010 Debit Network Fee Schedule, a Pinned Debit on a $50 sale will have a “cost basis” of approximately $.55 (plus the transaction fee your processor charges you). Those same transactions are swiped, since a credit card’s “cost basis” would be about $.68 (and you know your processor is charging something significantly more than that. So, here again, ask the question based on your pricing structure. (I 3 tier, 4 tier or cost-plus pricing), you know exactly what you are being charged and you can train your staff accordingly for maximum savings.
- What rate am I paying for Swiped, a generic credit card?? You see, if you’re on a cost plus pricing program (which by the way is the most transparent form of pricing) you’ll know exactly what you’re paying for all the different types of transactions and card types just by knowing what your “plus” is. Have and have access to exchange rates. The problem comes when you set pricing on any kind of tiered pricing because, literally, processors can make their own decisions about which “bucket” they want to put your transactions into. And, you can bet, it will usually benefit them….and Not you!
- What rate am I paying for the rewards card?? Now this, especially these days, can be a big one. Again, if you’re on cost-plus pricing… not a big deal once you know what your “plus” figure is. That’s because you’ll get the exact interchange rate and “plus” for the card or transaction type every time. Again, the problem comes when you are in a tiered structure. Come right out and ask your representative and show them in writing what you are paying for these rewards cards. Let’s face it, more and more people have and are using some form of credit card that gives them some kind of “reward” every time they use that card. And, guess who pays more to accept that card and indirectly, help the customer return the rewards……that’s right….you, the merchant. And hey, watch your own spending by using plastic these days. If you had the option of using a plain ole generic card, or one that gives you rewards, which would you use? The problem with a tiered structure is that processors can put those transactions into any “bucket” (Tier 2, Tier 3 or Tier 4) they want, and furthermore, they can change which bucket they go into at any time, as they wish. Here is where the next point comes into play.
- Check your statement monthly, details. There are times when I consult with a merchant that they give me their most recent statement, still sealed in the original envelope. They have given up trying to decipher them because they feel that there are more important things to tend to. Let me tell you, if you spend some time with them and have a rep or customer service, explain each line item to you in detail, they are not that hard to understand. And, after all, who has more motivation to understand them than you, owner? In addition to looking at your statement each month, you generally want to compare it to the previous month for any changes in rates or fees. If you find any, call and have the changes explained to your complete satisfaction Another thing to look for is the “statement message” or something that is usually found on the first page of your statement. The reputable processors here will alert you to the changes that are coming And, some even give you helpful tips to improve your spending.
- When was the last time you asked for a rate review?? Most traders never think to do this. All it takes is a phone call to your representative or customer service and say something like: “I’ve been with you for a while and have been doing consistent business, and I’d like to have my account reviewed for any rate reductions. I’m entitled to that.” can be”. This is an especially good move after you get a competitive quote that “looks” better than what you currently have. Don’t give your current guys the rates you’ve been offered but simply tell them you’re enjoying an offer and would like to give them a chance to be “more competitive” to keep your business. This, it’s worth calling, don’t you think?
- Here are some other ideas you might want to ask: You will likely find many other fees on your statement, some of which are fair and worthwhile and others that are simply profit generators for the processor. Here again, look for and ask the justification for these types of fees: debit access fees, monthly minimum fees, statement or service fees, gateway fees, “merchant benefits” or similar (usually for terminal replacement or paper fees), PCI/DSS Fees (if you see these, ask if they’re monthly, annual, or a combination of both and what benefits you get from them), and simply, any other fees you don’t understand what they’re for.
Well, I guess that’s the most important thing to understand about your merchant services or credit card processing agreement. It is your business and it is your money that is being spent on this service so it is absolutely essential that you know everything there is to know about this cost center for your business. I would encourage you to become more thoroughly educated about credit card processing because the people selling you this service usually don’t want you to know everything there is to know… for obvious reasons. Blessings to you and yours!
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