How to Acquire a Credit Card Merchant Account

by : Akhil Shahani

Did you know that over 85% of purchases made online are paid for by credit cards? Or that sales can go up by as much as four times when credit cards are accepted? If your business is still insisting on the old fashioned check, or worse, cash, you may as well put it up as a museum exhibit! Acquiring a credit card merchant account is one of the first things businesses must do if they hope to compete.

If you've never heard of a credit card merchant account or don't have a clue of how to go about getting one, don't sweat. It involves a fairly simple procedure and there are a number of service providers who will be only too happy to sign you on.

But, first things first. Arm yourself with a little knowledge of how credit card processing works so that you can sound smart when you begin discussions. Basically, the key players are the credit card companies like Visa or MasterCard; banks, which tie up with these companies to issue credit cards to their customers; and clearing houses, which actually process and verify transactions. Then there are the merchant account providers or independent sales organizations, whose goal is to ensure that your company is successfully fixed up with a credit card merchant account. These are the guys that you will be talking to, so make sure you choose a reliable provider. Some providers like Merchant Accounts Express offer a price protection guarantee to safeguard the interest of the credit card merchant account holder.

Right! Now that we've got that out of the way, let's come to grips with what infrastructure you need in order to operate a credit card merchant account. Well, the most important thing is to establish a gateway, which is a means of communication with the clearing house. One of the ways is to use a swipe machine, the type that you see in all retail establishments. The credit card is swiped in the machine, which relays information to the clearing house. Once the transaction is authorized, a charge slip is produced. The card owner signs a copy and hands it over to the credit card merchant account owner.

If your business largely relies on e-commerce, obviously the swipe machine is not for you. An option is to install a type of software in your computer which will facilitate the exchange of information between your credit card merchant account and the clearing house. However, this requires manual keying in of customer card data, value of transaction etc., therefore you will have to factor in the extra time and effort and also the possibility of data entry error.

Still not happy? No problem. Most e-commerce websites use a real time payment gateway, like PayPal which completes the data transfer and validation process while the buyer is online. The credit card merchant account owner need not be hassled by any manual processes. The only precaution that needs to be taken is to ensure compatibility of the gateway with the other software and systems that are part of the e-commerce process (for example shopping cart software).

That's pretty much all you need to know about a credit card merchant account. Besides of course, that once it is set up, it will help push your sales skywards!