13 August 2009

12 Common Fees You Encounter in Getting a Merchant Account

In opening a merchant account you will come across certain fees that you need to pay on one-time, monthly, annual, and per transaction basis.  These are application fee, setup fee, payment gateway fee, monthly statement fee, monthly minimum fee, discount rate, transaction fee, address verification service (AVS) fee, voice authorization fee, charge-back fee, annual fee, and termination fee.

If you want to accept credit cards and other electronic payment forms to increase your sales and profits, you need to open a merchant account.  Applying for this type of account involves fees and charges in exchange for the service that merchant account providers give you.  Although these costs vary among different providers, here are the common fees you encounter:

Application fee

As the name obviously states, this fee is asked for by the provider when you apply for a merchant account.  A percentage of this fee and some other fees may go to the referrer, when applicable, as commission promised in a company’s merchant account affiliate program.  Due to heavy competition among providers, most companies do not anymore charge application fees.

Setup fee

This is the initial cost that is asked by certain providers when your account is being set up.  Just like the application key, setup fee is now usually very cheap or free for merchants.

Payment gateway fee

To make their package more attractive and less hassle for clients, some merchant account providers tie up with other companies needed by a business to accept credit card payments.  An example is payment gateway facility providers.  For online businesses, you make use of the payment gateway facility to approve and process credit card transactions over the Internet.  If your payment gateway facility is part of your merchant account setup package, applicable fees will be charged by your merchant account provider.  On the other hand, if it is separately acquired, fees will be charged directly by your gateway service provider.

Monthly statement fee

This fee is for the processing and preparation of monthly statements.  It is fixed regardless of the number of credit card transactions you make in a month.

Monthly minimum fee
Merchant account providers set this minimum or floor amount for the total fees you need to pay monthly.  For example, the monthly minimum fee is $30.  If all your monthly processing fees, including gateway fee, statement fee, and more, sum up to $25 only, you need to pay additional $5 to reach the monthly minimum fee.  If on the other hand your total monthly fee is $35, you do not need to pay additional fee.

Discount rate

This fee can be computed as a percentage of each approved credit card transaction.  Usually rates are more expensive for online merchant accounts than retail, due to higher risk and more processes involved.

Transaction fee

Whether a credit card transaction has been approved or declined, merchant account providers charge you this fee for all transactions made.  For the same reason as discount rate, transaction fees are higher for online merchants than retail merchants.

Address Verification Service (AVS) fee

Address verification services or AVS is when a credit card transaction is verified using your purchaser’s credit card number and mailing address.  This will help you prevent fraudulent purchases when a credit card is not swiped as in a Mail Order or Telephone Order (MOTO), mobile, and online transactions.  Because the amount charged is very minimal, some providers include AVS fee in the discount rate or transaction fee.

Voice authorization fee

In rare cases when your software or Point-Of-Sale (POS) terminal is not functioning, you can still process credit card transactions by calling a toll-free number given by your merchant account provider to complete the transaction.  The voice authorization fee charged to you will be computed per transaction.

Chargeback fee

Chargeback fee applies when a transaction is reversed and funds are returned to your client for some reason, such as wrong product or service delivered or someone else deceptively used the credit card.  You should be able to receive a notification regarding the argument and should respond to it.  Chargeback fees charged to you are for the handling of the dispute as well the additional process of returning funds to your clients.

Annual fee

Some providers charge annual fees to their merchant account holders.  This is especially applicable with providers that have membership programs offering lower monthly fees, lower transaction fees, and other privileges.

Termination fee

Termination fee is a charge you need to pay when you decide to cancel your merchant account before your contract ends.  This is usually fixed regardless of the number of months you have had business with your merchant account provider.  This cancellation fee helps your provider recover the losses they might incur with the high initial costs for setting up a merchant account, which are given to you for free or at very low cost.

Aside from these fees, there are also other very minimal costs that merchant account providers require from you during the entire contract, such as daily batch fee and pin debit transactions for POS debit card transactions.  Before you apply for a merchant account with a certain provider, always make sure that you know what fees will be charged to you for the specific services they offer at any given time within your contract.  Make sure there are no hidden fees that come out after your application has been approved.  Make sure you also know and understand what each fee means.  There might be some fees that serve the same purpose but are listed separately by the provider to earn more profit from you.

A good way to choose the best merchant account provider is to compare providers with regards to services and fees, as well as customer credibility.

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