Information on Merchant Accounts,
Ecommerce and Credit Card Processing

November 2nd, 2007 by Jamie Estep

Giving the right response – AVS and declined card messages

Filed in: Merchant Accounts | 3 comments

When you integrate a website with a payment gateway, you have to decide what to show your customer when a transaction is declined, or if their card received an AVS or CVV mismatch response. As simple as this may sound, doing it wrong can drastically impact a customer’s desire to change their information and try again.


In the past, I have supported giving a visitor a single response for any decline, AVS mismatch, error or otherwise because it eliminated one of the lesser-known types of online fraud. Card testing is not something that should be overlooked, because it can have severe consequences that many business owners are not aware of.

After some long-term observation, I think that there is a better way to handle card testing while increasing the chances of a prospect becoming a customer. Depending on how your customers react to their transaction not going through as planned, it’s possible to lose a measurable amount of sales by not displaying the correct message.


October 23rd, 2007 by Jamie Estep

Maximize your credit card terminal’s life

Filed in: Credit Card Equipment | 4 comments

Credit card terminals are vital pieces of equipment for millions of businesses in the world. They are also more abused than any other office equipment that I have seen.

While most credit card machines only cost a few hundred dollars, it is a good idea to protect your investment, and get the most life out of your terminal. Terminals can last for ten or more years if they are well maintained, even if they are heavily used.

Common terminal killers:

  • Heat
  • Liquid
  • Extreme cold
  • Mechanical agitation
  • Power surges

Heat is an enemy of electronic components.
Heat causes the resistance of electronic components to change and also causes silicon chips to change their properties on a molecular level. These changes cause variations in voltages inside the terminal, and can eventually cause something to break. Luckily, credit card terminals are nowhere near as complicated as computers, but in the case of newer terminals, there is a lot of electronics inside a very small space. Try to keep the terminal in a somewhat open area, where there is decent ventilation, not in the exhaust path of a cash register.

More so than heat, liquids will definitely destroy a terminal.
I can’t even count how many times I have heard of someone spilling a coffee or sofa on a credit card terminal, causing it to fail. This is a no-brainer, keep drinks and other liquids away from your credit card terminal. If you do spill something on it, you should unplug it immediately, and try to wipe off as much liquid as possible before it seeps further in. Drink spillage is normally not covered by terminal warranties FYI.

Extreme cold.
A lot of the country has nothing to worry about, but in those areas that it does freeze a lot during the winter, try to keep you terminal somewhere that it will not. If it is going to get very cold where your terminal is, keep it running. The biggest problem comes when a frozen terminal warms back up, and condensation shorts it out. Frozen terminals are also prone to loosing the internal battery (or the main battery for wireless terminal) which depending on the model, can cause the loss of information or may just mess-up the internal clock.

The quickest way to break a terminal is to drop it.
Some of the older terminals can take some major abuse, but the newer ones are not likely to take a large fall well. Even if nothing internally is damaged, it’s pretty easy to crack the screen making it unusable. Attaching it with the wall mounts, or using some non-skid rubber tape can keep your terminal from sliding around if the factory rubber-bumps are worn off.

Power surges break terminals.
Power surges can break the terminal from the electrical plug, and from the modem. It’s a good idea to get a good power strip or UPS (Uninterpretable Power Supply) with phone jack, and Ethernet protection. Power outage tip: If you are using an analog phone line (the lines where your phone still works when the power is out) you can use a UPS power supply to retain your ability to process, even during a complete power outage. A small UPS should cost a little over $100, and since terminals have low power consumption, your terminal could be operating for several hours of power outage. It’s a good idea to have so that you can at least ring-up any customers that are in the store when the power goes out, and you can get your batch out for the day.

Final tip: Keep your terminal on unless you absolutely need to reset it or turn it off. It is very rare for any electronic component to fail while operating at a steady state. Power cycles take their toll on electronics, so the less you can get away with, the better off your terminal will be in the long-run.

October 16th, 2007 by Jamie Estep

Credit card nostalgia – the BankAmericard

Filed in: Industry News |

BankAmericardBank of America is going to again issue the BankAmericard.

Along with American express, the BankAmericard was one of the first bank issued credit cards, both originally issued in 1958. BankAmericard was later changed to Visa to differentiate Bank of America from the card.

Here’s a little more credit card history.

October 9th, 2007 by Jamie Estep

A solution for PCI compliance – Stop storing data…

Filed in: Fraud | 2 comments

Computer world magazine just published an article regarding the move for all businesses that accept credit cards to become PCI compliant.

This article covers the basic fact that retail store owners are required to store receipts with full credit card numbers on them for 18 months (they are in case you didn’t know!).

The problem with the whole system which is clearly outlined in the article, is that if card numbers were never stored, there wouldn’t be any need for PCI compliance. Since they are required to be stored by Visa and MasterCard, the system simply perpetuates itself.

The full article »

October 4th, 2007 by Jamie Estep

Mastercard’s payment gateway

Filed in: Industry News, Merchant Accounts | 1 comment

Mastercard just released their own payment gateway.

This system appears to be a little different than the traditional ( / Verisign) payment gateway. It appears to be more like what we would consider a P2P money transfer medium, where buyers can pay businesses directly and businesses can invoice and collect payments from their customers. I guess you would call it a B2B money transfer system. There’s very little information about it currently, but I will be sure to post updates as they release more information about it. The website has some general information for buyers and for sellers.

October 3rd, 2007 by Jamie Estep

Get your money a little faster

Filed in: Merchant Accounts |

This is a quick tip for retail and other businesses who batch their terminals out manually, in the morning or late at night. If you make your daily batch in the afternoon rather than at night, you can often get the transactions from that day into your bank account earlier. Obviously you don’t want to completely screw up your books, but if you are looking to get your money a little faster and changing your batch time wont screw everything up this can reduce a day from your deposit time.

This can also work for merchants using payment gateways that allow them to specify their settlement time at the end of the day. If you can, find out what time your processor makes settlements every day, and set your batch to an hour or so before that time.

September 18th, 2007 by Jamie Estep

Credit card terminal operation is not universal

Filed in: Credit Card Equipment |

When you purchase processing equipment online, or with a company that you do not process with, it sometimes does not have an overlay and usually doesn’t have product manuals that come with it. One of the biggest support requests that I see, are people looking for product manuals for terminals, and quick reference guides. Unlike most other products in existence, processing equipment manufacturer can rarely provide accurate operating manuals for their own equipment.

Most terminals do not have functions hard-encoded in their keys, meaning that when a terminal is used with different processors and with different business types, the keys change. This is the reason that there is often no quick reference manual available for operating a terminal. Most processors do have some sort of manual on how to operate different equipment, but these are largely depending on how common a business type is and how popular the specific terminal is.

When you need a quick reference manual or user guide for a terminal, the best place to check is with your current processor, since they will know who your back-end processor is, and exactly what manual you need.

An example of multiple uses for one terminal:

September 14th, 2007 by Jamie Estep

Credit Card Terminal Certification

Filed in: Credit Card Equipment |

If you work in the merchant services industry, you quickly learn that equipment manufacturers produce new equipment much faster than anyone is ready to use it. Many of the terminals and equipment never get picked up by processors and are lost in history.

From a business standpoint, it is fairly common for a new or potential customer to be asking about some new super terminal that they just read about. Most of the time these terminals are not properly certified with a particular processing bank, or they just aren’t available through any of the terminal wholesalers.

Before a terminal ever makes it to the hands of a business owner, several things must happen. First off, it must be certified with Visa and MasterCard, before is it ever looked at. This is usually done before the company even releases the terminal publicly. If it can’t get certified on this level, there’s no reason for anyone to know about it at all.

Secondly, the terminal must have some new desired feature or new technology before a processor will take the steps to support it. If the terminal does the exact same thing as every other terminal before it, there really isn’t any reason to switch to it. It usually has to offer some additional function that current terminals do not have, and customers want. Additionally, it is always good if it is replacing an aging terminal model, or replacing a terminal that is no longer technically competent or secure.

Terminals certification with a credit card processor is one of the biggest hurdles for a machine to become popular. Visa and MasterCard certification is something that every terminal will get before anyone outside the company ever hears about it, but processor certification is what ultimately decides whether a terminal will be used. Processors have to do a lot of work to support new terminals, and they do not certify new terminals easily.

Processor certification levels:

  • Level A – Fully certified and supported by the processor.
  • Level B – The equipment works with the processor, but the processor will not support any problems or troubleshooting.
  • Level C – The processor does not guarantee that the terminal will work on their platform, and will not support it in any way.

Level A, Level B, and Level C are the three certification levels that processors have, and unless a terminal is certified A, it will rarely be used anywhere. B+ is also common, and is the only non-A certification where a terminal may still be commonly used.

In theory, just about any terminal can be made to process with any processor (Putting proprietary terminals aside), but it takes a lot of testing to ensure the terminal works in many different situations. Since a terminal uses a different program for retail businesses, restaurants, gas stations, and any other type of business, a completely unique program must be built for each business type. Each of these programs must be tested and certified as well, which is why some terminals work with some processors with certain business types, while they don’t work at other processors for the same business type. The best bet is always to use the terminal that your processor recommends (Unless it is something that you just don’t need, or is proprietary!), because they most likely can provide the best support for that terminal.

When you need a new terminal don’t go for the newest thing out there unless it has some feature that no other terminal has, and you really need that feature. The tried-and-true terminals (Nurit 2085, Hypercom t7 plus, Omni 3200SE, etc.) have been very popular for a long time and are still very popular. These terminals are fast (enough), reliable, and cheap. For most small businesses they will be great terminals. Here’s a quick guide on what terminal to purchase when you do need a new one. The Omni 3750 is by far the best terminal for IP based processing. The Nurit 8020 GPRS is the best full-featured wireless terminal.

August 17th, 2007 by Jamie Estep

Independent sales agents looking for info

Filed in: Merchant Accounts |

I get a lot of sales agents that stop by the blog looking for general and specific information. Since this blog is written with the business owner in mind and not necessarily directly for the MLS agent, you may not find the information that you are looking for.

Here’s a few good information resources for independent salespersons:
MLS warriors forum
Greensheet forum
Card forum
Visa partner network
Visa :: Merchants
Mastercard :: Merchants

Also, the blogs and websites under the ‘Payment Processing’ section of the left navigation are good places to get information.

August 15th, 2007 by Jamie Estep

A Real Payment Directory

Filed in: Industry News, Merchant Accounts | 3 comments

I’ve been working on a new project for some time now, and it is finally complete enough to make public (still has a long way to go though). I started making a payment provider directory a few months ago and after integrating various ideas into it, I think it is finally going to be something worth the effort. All of the other payment services directories (BOTW, DMOZ, are terrible, and I hope to make this an authoritative, unbiased directory for processing services.

Basically, this payment directory is designed to list only real, registered payments related service providers. There is no bias to any company. This should help business owners that are trying to verify the validity of a company that they are looking at. It also has a visual feature on the front page that organizes different service providers in a hierarchical model. It’s the only visual model of processor relationships that I have ever seen, and it makes a lot of sense to me especially after seeing it come together. I don’t plan to have user reviews of any companies at this time, mainly to avoid the “this company sucks” reviews, which don’t provide a lot of value to most individuals.

Current Categories:
Registered ISO’s / MSP’s / Banks (Must be registered with Visa, Mastercard and a sponsor bank. Sales agents don’t count.)
1st Tier Payment Gateways (Co-branded payment gateways don’t count.)
Processing Equipment Manufacturers
Bankcard Attorneys (Must be an active member of a state Bar, and have experience in bankcard law)
PCI / SDP / CISP Security Services

Future Categories: (the spam potential is huge for these so I’m hesitant to add them)
Outside Sales Agents
Shopping Carts

There’s definitely some inaccuracies in relationships at this time, but I expect to work these out in the next few months. As more companies are added to the directory the visual model will become increasingly accurate. I have to give credit to smashing magazine, as their recent post on data visualization inspired me to apply it to the directory. Also, the data visualization code JsViz was used for the homepage which is pulled dynamically from the directory database.

I will admit upfront that the visual model is innaccurate in the sense that many ISO’s are registered with more than one processor. As a result, an actual visual model would look like a spiderweb rather than a snowflake.

So, if you get a chance, check out the payment directory. Contributions will be very appreciated, and please let me know if you find any incorrect information, or suggestions.