Information on Merchant Accounts,
Ecommerce and Credit Card Processing

November 2nd, 2017 by J B

The Future: Signature Less Payments

Filed in: Monthly Newsletters |

But first, let me take a selfie.

With the conversion to EMV (chip cards) payments, face to face credit card fraud is on the decline. That said other card payment methods are still struggling to become more secure. While banks and businesses want a more secure transaction process, businesses and especially consumers want faster, more efficient payments. The demand from all sides is pushing what could be significant changes to the payments industry.

Where we stand today:

Signatures are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Whether signing a receipt or signing a credit application, the signature means little anymore. No one is verifying your signature and many transactions or applications are processed in such away that signatures are impossible. With seemingly weekly data breaches and the pay or apply online world that we live in, identity theft will continue to be on the raise.

In the instance of a dispute an individual can claim identity or card theft rendering the signature invalid without additional proof to support it. This is proof that most businesses are not going to be capable of providing.

Big banks such as Bank of America, Citigroup, and Chase have been working on bio-metric systems to help protect themselves and their customers. The large institutions have the resources to deploy teams to work on these kinds of systems, but those won’t protect everyone. With companies like Apple, Samsung, and Google implementing bio-metrics into their new devices, smaller institutions and businesses are starting to take advantage of the increased security without having to invest in additional infrastructure.

Changes are coming:

Visa and MasterCard are both making changes to policies and investing in technology to take the systems in the marketplace today and use them to make our financial lives more efficient and secure.

MasterCard recently announced that effective April 13th, 2018, they will be dropping the rule requiring merchants to obtain signatures for transactions on both credit and debit in the US and Canada. MC has recognized the obsolescence of the signed receipt and are hoping this change will help lower costs for merchants retaining signed receipts as well as increase the speed and consistency during checkout. This is being made possible by improvements by the large banks, and services like ApplePay, and other payment securing technologies.

Visa will be releasing its new platform to allow banks, both large and small, to integrate biometric systems into credit card applications and payments. This might allow banks to use existing systems like fingerprint readers or cameras to verify a person’s identity. This could be a number of different ways, for example using a Smartphone’s fingerprint reader to verify the person. They may also require the applicant to submit a selfie and also take a picture of their driver’s license that their systems and compare against each other for confirmation.

This platform could also be used during the transaction process. Issuers could reach out to their customers when they see suspicious transaction activity and use TouchID to confirm they are attempting to make the purchase. This could also be done with a photo, or voice recognition. This system is being designed to allow each card holder to choose what their preferred biometric verification type.
Expect to see a lot of changes in financial security over the next couple years. As more and more systems and devices keep us connected, the payments industry will continue to use our connection as verification methods.

While that is a bit concerning to think about, so is not preventing fraud which has a direct impact on our lives, businesses, and overall cost.

September 14th, 2017 by J B

Website and eCommerce for All

Filed in: Monthly Newsletters |

Every business should have a beautiful website!

These days it’s important to have some sort of web presence even if it’s only so your customers can find your location and store hour information. For most business owners web design is not their specialty, so they get a site built by friends, family, or a professional. Then, when it comes time to update the company’s website they find themselves yet again looking for assistance. This leads to company websites becoming out of date, poor quality, or a continual administrative nuisance for many businesses.

That has led many small businesses dropping their website altogether or not even building one when they open their business. Some of those small businesses have started to favor using sites like Facebook because of the ease of setup. This allows them easy access to update their customers and company information. While this method works in at least getting your business visible on the internet you still don’t have a site of your own. This limits the control of your own business content and you are left to a third party who controls how your information is displayed and found within its system.

Where do you get your information?

When you are searching for a business or product online, do you immediately seek out information from a social media pages? Rarely…

While I think we would all agree that social media should be part of your web presence it’s not a replacement for a traditional website. I always prefer to find a company’s website, even if it’s just basic information about the store hours and location, it still adds an additional level of legitimacy and longevity.
Where are all the web pages?

It’s easier than ever for anyone to build and maintain a website. There are all kinds of sites that will allow you to point and click your way to a website and you won’t need any sort of technical knowledge. So why doesn’t every business have an amazing website?

One of the big hurdles for many businesses that just want a simple landing page is they feel the monthly costs of having that site hosted outweighs the benefits.

Another hurdle is for businesses who want a somewhat more robust site and find the standard hosting options don’t include the features they need.

Businesses who are looking to take their brick and mortar business into the world of Ecommerce often find that the prices and complexity of running such a website are even higher than before. Then there is the overhead of keeping their eCommerce shop up to date, which can be a full-time job.

So, what’s the solution?

There isn’t a one size fits all web solution, however there is a system that has three sizes which will fit most small businesses.

If you want to have a robust website that you can easily build and maintain, has completely free web hosting and is integrated with full Ecommerce Point of Sale system – Clover Online is what you need. Its interface is the easiest and quickest te building tool I have seen. In fact I tried it out and had a fully functional eCommerce website with products up and running in less than 10 minutes.

Clover Online

There is so much to Clover Online that it would be difficult to touch on everything here, so I am going to stick to the key points. Clover Online comes in 3 options.

Online Basic: Free

I really like this feature, completely free site design and web hosting.

It’s a simple single page website, that shows you’re the basic information about your business along with a map showing your business. It sets up in less than a minute.

The best part is the price. Free.

Just a couple clicks and you are up and running with single page site, that gives anyone looking for your business everything they need to reach out to you.


Online Plus: $14.95

This option gives you a complete, professional, website and the hosting is included. You get access to design templates and over 100,000 professional stock images. All of the templates are designed to function properly on mobile devices and have social media integration.

Once you have selected a template, you can change all the text and images on the website. You can choose from the 100,000+ stock images, or upload your own. You can also register your own domain name and link it to your hosted Online Plus site.

In 5 or 10 minutes, you point and click your way to a beautiful, fully functioning website.

Online Pro: $29.95

This is by far my favorite option.

Full Ecommerce at your fingertips, with none of the down side. This option is also great for restaurants as it populates their menu in real time.

It’s a flat $29.95 per month!

No additional transaction fees…
No SSL Certificates to buy and keep up with…
No maintaining servers and software…

You get the same power and beauty from the Plus option with the additional of full Ecommerce. Since Clover Online is fully integrated into Clover Point of Sale, your menu or inventory are always up to date on your website without any additional maintenance.

Attract more customers and reward existing ones with built-in discounts, coupons, and payments. If you have an old web store, Clover can even assist you in transitioning to their platform.

Since your inventory is synced across the entire Clover platform, the setup for this site is basically the same as the plus version. All of your products are already loaded into your online store, you just need to add product pictures, and turn off any items you don’t want listed online.

That’s it… Full Ecommerce. 10 minutes. Done.
If you are looking to just give your business a simple home on the internet, or are wanting to bring your storefront to world, Clover Online is a spectacular product.

July 25th, 2017 by J B

Big data for small businesses: Insights

Filed in: Monthly Newsletters |

Have you ever wanted to have access to some seriously big data?  First Data’s Clover Insights app allows you to use their massive amounts of credit card transaction data to benchmark your business against other similar businesses in your area.  First Data uses data from both sides of the house; processing and issuing. It uses this data to bring you information about your business, competitors, and customers so that you have real time information to help you build your business.

While Insights is integrated into Clover POS, it also works with many existing point of sale systems.  You can also take it for a test drive through the mobile apps for Android and IOS devices.  Whether on site or on the road you can access insights from just about any device.  If you are already a First Data customer you can login using your merchant ID to see Insights just based off your processing volume.

Just select a location and Clover will bring you real business data to help you see area trends.  You can even find other businesses serving similar customer which could be handy when strategizing about obtaining more customers.

What can it do?

Insights can give you a quick snapshot of your business showing you sales data from the last week, month, or year.  Several of which will let you drill down to get a quick view of more information or to jump to the details.

You can quickly find similar businesses to your own and see how your business is stacking up against the competition.  You can use that information to set goals for your business instead of just guessing.
It gives you the ability compare your revenue against your previous year, or even other similar business.  You will be able to view an extended timeline view (imaged below) or a day of week breakdown to better show peak sales days easily.

Heat maps are a good way to see where your customers live and shop to develop a better idea of where to market and to whom.  In addition, you can use the sales analysis to gain even more insights into your customer behaviors and buying habits.

You get charts and graphs on product specific sales data.  You can also link Clover Insights to your company’s social media pages to gain even more insight into you customers.  There are some helpful reports in Insights that can help you grow and fine tune your business and at $10.00 per month its cheap enough to try it out for a month to see what data might be valuable to your business.  There are also some third-party apps that use the Clover Insights data to give you even more powerful reporting if you so desire.

May 19th, 2017 by MSI Newsletters


Filed in: Monthly Newsletters |

Thinking about Payment Surcharging?

Many business owners have been considering surcharging their customers for paying with a credit card to help offset the cost of accepting those payments. One of the common views by these business owners is that the fees charged for accepting card payments are too high and are dramatically impacting the business’s bottom line. For the past several years, the card brands have allowed businesses to surcharge consumers. However, there are limitations and procedures that you must follow. Keep in mind that your business must not be in one of the states that prohibits surcharging all together. We understand that surcharging credit card transactions is an enticing idea, however it may or may not be the best plan for every company out there.

Why Surcharge?

It seems like every month there is some new interchange fee being handed down. It feels like we are all being nickeled and dimed to death with credit card fees. For businesses with tight margins, or small tickets sizes, the cost of processing a card payment can exceed the potential profit. Passing costs back to the card holder promotes the use of more cost-effective payment options, or at least covers the cost, and helps preserve the business’s bottom line. Also, some business owners believe it will help to keep interchange rates from increasing as the card holders will understand the costs are being generated by the issuer of their card and issuers. If their customer is the one paying these fees, it might influence the amount of purchases they make on a credit card.

What are the limitations and procedures of surcharging?

There are limitations for surcharging consumers that you need to be aware of if you are considering adding a surcharge at your business. This is not an exhaustive list; however, it will get you thinking about what you will need to do if you want to start surcharging. You will want to contact your payment processing provider for assistance so that you have the most up-to-date procedures.


All of this only applies to true credit cards, as the Durbin Amendment made it federally illegal to surcharge debit cards and prepaid cards.

You will also want to review your state’s laws to see if you are prohibited from charging a surcharge to your customers. Below is a list of states that as of this writing, have a law on the books concerning the prohibition of surcharges on credit card transactions. If you’re located in one of these states, most likely surcharging is either completely prohibited or greatly restricted.

States that Prohibit surcharges:
New York
Puerto Rico

While Visa and MasterCard were forced to allow surcharges, you may have signed a merchant agreement where you agreed to not surcharge your customers. You will also want to review your merchant agreement, as it might have a clause that prohibits you from surcharging your consumers. With some processors this clause might be removable, but you would have to modify it with your processor. If not you still have the option to shop around for a processor who will allow it.

Rules and Limitations

There may be changes to make to your business before you start. You will need to post the proper signage at the entrance to your business and at the register. This would explain what the cardholder will be surcharged and that it doesn’t exceed your cost for the transaction. You must also have a point of sale system capable of surcharging appropriately. Your receipts will need to have a separate line item that shows the surcharge for the transaction and you will also need to keep up with how much you have surcharged. There are also limits to how much you can charge a consumer for using a credit card.

Merchants are only allowed to charge a customer no more than it costs them to accept the payment, up to 4%. So, if your per transaction costs exceed 4%, you are still going to be paying more than the customer. If your fees are exceeding 4% then it’s probably an appropriate time to shop around for other processing options.

You will need to provide your payment provider and the card brands with written notice, stating you will be surcharging customers. This must be done at least 30 days before you begin. It’s important to reach out to your payment processor and ask them what information needs to be on your notice and where that notice needs to be sent. It will also be important to follow up with them after you send written notice to confirm they have received it, and that there are not any issues with your notice.

Thoughts on surcharging:

Surcharging might be a good option for many businesses who want to recoup some or all of their processing costs. However, they should take some time to think about their business and your customers in regard to what impact a surcharge might have.
Your goal isn’t to alienate your customers, or prevent browsers from becoming customers. Depending on the industry, having an additional surcharge might really push away customers, and while you might be recouping processing fees you are driving your sales. Many consumers would rather see a slightly higher cost of goods, than a lower cost that comes with an additional fee. This is routinely observed in online sales, where higher price but lower shipping often sells better than lower price with additional shipping costs. Again, it’s going to depend on your customers and on your competition.

So, check out what the other businesses in your industry are doing, if it’s commonplace to have a surcharge, then the effect on customers will most likely be minimal. The same could apply if your product or service offerings are unique and consumer shopping for what you sell have very limited options.

You might also think about implementing an alternative method, where you increase the price of the products and services you are selling and offer a cash, or equivalent, discount to help entice more customers to pay in cash.

The potential of pushing customers away, and more importantly creating a limit to what those customers can spend, can make the decision to implement a surcharge very difficult. If the customer feels the surcharge is keeping them from buying with a credit card, then they are limited by the cash they have on hand.

So, it’s going to come down to what will work best for your business.

If you have any questions about surcharging, please don’t hesitate to email us or call at (888) 528-0058.

April 19th, 2017 by MSI Newsletters

Rate Structures

Filed in: Monthly Newsletters |

Previously we went into a very detailed, multi-page, explanation of some different structures and we wanted to give a summarized refresher. In this article, we will focus a little time to flat rate merchant processing, tiered and Interchange plus with the primary pro and con for each.

Basics of industry pricing:

All credit card processors are charged a fee by the card issuers for moving money, called interchange. Interchange is currently made up of over 800 card and charge type combinations ranging from 0.05% + $0.22 up to 3.25% +$0.10 per transaction. The processing industry built different pricing structures for several reasons, most primarily to simplify the costs to the merchants. Now that you know a little about the basis of the structure let’s look at a couple different structures.

Tiered and Flat Rate Pricing Structures:

The tiered rate plan has always been a popular option, generally consisting of 4 or 5 different rates based on the transactions processed. Basically, the processor takes the 800+ possible rates and groups them together into buckets and charges the merchant one rate for each bucket. It’s much easier to explain to a merchant how a card type, or method of acceptance will be billed at one of a few rates than explaining interchange.

Companies like Square use the tiered structure to charge merchants based on how they accept a card. Quick example: swiped transaction process at 2.75% and keyed transactions process at 3.50% + $0.15. While is this referred to as a flat rate setup, it’s actually a two tier account. They just use the two tiers to simplify the cost of card acceptance.


Simplified fee, which are easier to understand and easier to estimate processing costs


As the merchant you can’t tell how much you’re paying to your processor and how much is going to interchange.

Interchange Plus:

This structure has been around forever, however has become more mainstream in the past 10 years. In this structure the processor doesn’t bucket anything, it simply passes the interchange cost from each transaction processed to the merchant and then separately tacks a small flat rate on top. It can be difficult to wrap your head around the idea at first, just due to the number of possible fees, however in either structure you are paying for interchange, this one just shows you what the issuer charged to move the funds.

This structure is very transparent, in that you will see exactly what you paid in interchange and what you paid to your processor. This allows you to better control your merchant processing costs, however your trading a little bit of simplicity for better control.


Almost always more cost effective, and easier to know where who is getting your processing fees

Con: It’s a little more difficult to understand, and adds some additional complexity to processing statements

So, which is better?

It’s almost always Interchange Plus, in fact there are only two ways tiered beats it.

1.The plus side of your Interchange Plus account is inappropriately high, which can be resolved by shopping around.

2.Your processor was not effective in setting up their buckets and they basically don’t have any margin on the buckets. (Quite unlikely)

I’m not saying you can’t have a fair setup either way. I have seen plenty of tier accounts that were very cost effective, however if I were looking at change providers I would only be looking an interchange plus structure.

How do I know if my current setup is competitive?

You need to start by figuring out what your total processing volume and your total monthly fees are for a given month. If you divide your total merchant account expense by your processing volume you will end up with your effective rate.

Example: If you processed $12,152.79 last month and the total fees were $392.54 you effective rate was 3.23%.

$392.54 / $12,152.79 = 0.0323 or 3.23%


Now if you are happy enough with that percentage and don’t feel like shopping around at least you know what that month costed you. If you want to shop around you now have a basis of comparison. When you receive a quote from a processor is should include an estimate of what your dollar volume is going to cost using their service and you can calculate the effective rate of that quote to compare against your own.

Something to keep in mind: The lower your processing volume the higher your effective rate maybe due more static fees. Regularly checking your effective rate against your volume is a good idea to stay on top of your effective cost.

Send us an email with your statement and let us do the breakdown for you and give you our opinion of your current setup and how your payment types are affecting your processing fees. There are many instances where changing an internal business process will do a lot to lower your effective processing costs even before changing your rates.

March 19th, 2017 by MSI Newsletters

News Briefs and Fees

Filed in: Monthly Newsletters |

News Briefs

Interchange Regulation

The National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association have asked the US Supreme Court to let stand an appeals-court ruling. This ruling had struck down the 5-year old Interchange rate settlement. The trade groups that represent large retailers argue that the settlement provision to allow merchants to add surcharges for credit card transactions, has done little to aid those merchants. The surcharging restrictions, which were loosened under the card-brand rules, allowed merchants to charge the lesser of the actual acceptance costs, or 4% of the transaction amount. Surcharging is currently allowed in 40 states. For now, even though the settlement has been thrown out by the appeals court, surcharging is still allowed because the card networks have not reworded their rules put in place due to the settlement.

Payment Fraud

Counterfeiting cards is still the largest type of fraud in the payment industry, but probably won’t be for long. The Federal Reserve recently released a payment study that shows, “fraudulent use of card numbers” is fast over taking counterfeiting. This fraudulent use of card numbers is another name for a card not present, web based, or internet based fraudulent orders. This is a direct result of the new EMV chip based cards that are harder to counterfeit.

Mobile Processing

Mobile Commerce now comprises 21% of all online orders, according to comScore Inc. (a based data-measurement firm). This growth is up 45% from the year before, for the 4th quarter of 2016. This shows that retailers are doing a much better job at making their sites more mobile friendly. This also foreshadows the increasing growth of mobile wallets in the years to come.

Just about every Merchant Account has monthly set fees. Some call these,“Padding Fees” and I’ve seen all kinds of names for various fees on merchant statements. What are they? Am I getting ripped off? The best answer without looking at your statement is: Maybe. It depends on how many of these fees you have, and how high they are.

More fees?  What am I paying for?

To keep an account on file or active status, it costs money to your processor. If a merchant doesn’t run anything on their account, and lets say they don’t have any kind of monthly fee, the processor or sales office is losing money. Sales offices are charged an, “on file fee” from the bank they have placed the account with. This fee can range depending on the agreement between the sales office and the bank, however there is always some type of fee. To cover the cost, most providers simply pass this on, typically as a statement fee. Over the years some started calling it a service fee or support fee and so on. Sometimes I see where a merchant is getting charged a statement fee AND a support fee AND some other type of monthly on file fee. While having one of these charges is common, if you have a myriad of these on your statement, it may be worth a call to your processor to make sure what the charges are for.

andry_at_laptop.jpgStatement Fee – (Service Fee, Support Fee, On-file Fee, Terminal Service Fee) This is a generic fee to help offset the costs of maintaining an account.

PCI Non Compliance Fee – (Non Supported Terminal Fee, Non PCI) This is in effect, a fine from your processor for not being PCI-DSS compliant. This can be removed by completing your compliance requirements, or providing a copy of a valid compliance certificate to the processor.

PCI Service Fee – (Annual PCI Fee, Monthly PCI fee) This fee covers the cost of the PCI Certification Vendor. You might be able to get this fee removed if you already have a PCI certification vendor you are working with, however most processors still won’t do it, because the PCI Certification Vendor also maintains all the PCI records for the processor, even if you are using another vendor.

Regulatory Product Fee – (IRS Reporting Fee, Reg Fee) This fee covers the cost of managing reporting requirements.

Terminal Rental Fee – (Terminal Service Fee, Rental Fee) A charge for equipment that is rented from the processor. If you have a rental fee, you should really consider purchasing a terminal, or shopping around for other processing options. Credit Card terminals are cheap, and removing a rental fee generally pays back in less than a year.

February 16th, 2017 by MSI Newsletters

ISO’s Vs. Banks vs. Agents

Filed in: Monthly Newsletters |

You had a dream, and you made it come true, you are a true entrepreneur that helps drive our country. Not only that but you call the shots, set the hours, you are the boss, which means you also really understand the saying “open a store marry the door”. While you wear many different hats when running your business you are constantly the target of business to business salespeople hungry to land their next big deal, and credit card processing companies are no exception.

When you opened your checking account, your bank told you to open a merchant account with them, on top of which you are getting 10 calls a day from merchant providers, and door to door salespeople looking for a few minutes of your time, all of whom saying they are cheaper than the last company you spoke with. One company says one thing, then you’re told another, and everyone changes back again. It’s confusing and frankly makes you wonder who would best serve you. Don’t worry, let’s calm down and start making sense of who does what and where there key focus lies. From there you will be better educated and know more about how to find the best options that work for you and how you do business.

In the processing world you have 4 basic sales channels.


Credit card processors are the back-end payment systems that process all credit and debit cards. They are the ones who handle funding your bank account. No matter who you process your credit cards through they are going to be using a processing bank to handle your money. These are usually very large organizations who build and maintain the infrastructure to handle thousands upon thousands of transaction requests per second, and facilitate countless money transfers between business owners and card issuers.

Processors are effectively the wholesalers of the industry and “can” have their own internal and/or external sales teams, which makes you feel like your cutting out the middle man and going direct. If you sign up directly with a processor, you may be technically going direct, but the processor’s sales team is in a business in itself and needs to maintain profitability. It will have roughly the same costs of any other provider you will find in the industry. You are also not going to get direct support from your sales person, but instead be given their national or offshore call center for future support.

Independent Sales Offices

Many times referred to as ISO’s or MSP’s (Member service providers), ISO’s are companies registered with Visa and MasterCard to represent a processor or processors and solicit and support merchant accounts. ISO’s vary in size from small offices to large corporations, as large or larger than processors even. Becoming a registered ISO is not cheap and requires many steps and proof of technical and financial solvency. However, they in effect the retailers of the industry. These companies are sales focused and many do their own technical support and customer service in house. They may also carry some of the financial risk and liability related to their merchant’s processing accounts.

ISO’s sales forces and support teams generally lend themselves to more personalized service than larger processors. Instead of calling a national call center with hundreds of agents, your sales or support team will generally be small, and when talking to them, you’re likely to get the same people on the line. Many times, your sales person will remain your lead support contact as well. Your salesperson and ISO will also typically act on your behalf with the processor, handling research, tracking down funding, disputes, and tracking account changes are just a few of the things most ISO’s can handle for you so you don’t have to. This may seem insignificant until you try and navigate a processor’s support system or are never able to speak with the same person, requiring you to start from scratch every time you need support.

ISO’s sales operate similar to that of the processors, however they will have much greater flexibility with account pricing and account structures. ISO’s often have less staff but much more experience and lower employee turnover than larger organizations, automatically giving them an advantage in providing support and solving problems.

Traditional Banks

Many traditional banks can technically fall into either the processor or ISO category. It really depends on the bank and how they structure their credit card processing program. To the traditional bank, credit card processing is a value add, and so many, if not the vast majority, have farmed out the handling of their merchant’s services divisions to other companies. This way they can focus on the more traditional side of banking.

With any bank, don’t expect to be able to run down to your local branch to fix any problem you might have with your merchant account. While a few banks may have that ability, you will most likely be calling into a large call center for support, and that call center might be the processor, or an ISO.

However, since you are already a bank’s customer, the likelihood that you will sign up with them without checking other options, is greater, meaning they can charge more than others in the industry and still obtain new customers. Some banks may offer to lower fees for other services, which may off set high processing costs. And while it is an illegal practice called tying, some banks may require you to process with them in order to obtain a loan or other service. In any case, with any company, we strongly suggest looking at a few different options. We’ve seen more bad deals with banks than any other type of provider in the industry.

Sales Agents

This group is much like an insurance agent, a good one is worth their weight in gold, and a bad one will make you despise everything about the industry. Being a sales agent is a relatively easy way for a person to run their own business by selling merchant accounts and it requires very little but motivation, and on the job training, to get started. With an independent sales agent, the accounts they sign up will go through an ISO or a processor who is registered with card associations and the sales agent earns commission based on the accounts they write.

Outside Sales Agents should be your sales person and your first level support person the entire time you have an account with them. It’s not only their job to get you setup and running, but they are normally very interested in making sure you are well taken care of. Having an area rep who can look out for your account individually and will come by and help solve issues in person is a very nice thing to have access to. While there are some agents out there who will sign up an account, never to be seen again, most work for their merchants and advocate for their customers as if they were their own businesses.

Generally speaking, sales agent’s hard costs can very quiet a lot, but the better sales agents will have cost and pricing options comparable to ISO’s, and may sign accounts to multiple processors. Outside agents can have even more flexibility than processors and ISO’s because they carry some of the risks of negative revenue on accounts. But, they must conform to the systems in place by their sponsoring sales office. meaning they will have limits as to what they can assist you with personally on your account. Higher level support issues are typically referred to the ISO or processor.

When using an outside agent, one should really look for an agent that has been in business for at least a couple years, and can provide reference, ideally someone local. There is a large portion of outside agents that previously worked in the processing industry and wanted to apply their knowledge in building their own business. Many of these are some of the most knowledgeable and dedicated sales and support persons in the industry.


One of the biggest areas where merchant account sales channels differ is costs for processing equipment and software. Banks and some sales agents tend to try and lease equipment far more than processors and ISO’s. While a lease in itself isn’t an end of the world situation, when you’re offered a 48 month, $100 lease, on a piece of equipment that costs only $300, you can do the math on how great of a deal this actually is.

We’ve seen a resurgence of leases in the past few years, and there are some downright ugly deals floating around. Make absolutely sure you understand the terms and the total cost of a lease and the approximate retail cost of the equipment you’re leasing. It makes little sense to spend many times the cost of equipment as well as getting stuck in a non-cancellable lease on equipment that you could easily purchase outright.


Now you should have a good understanding of the industry and where pricing comes from, and that’s half the battle. Now when you talk to a sales person hopefully it won’t sound so Greek to you. All three options work, they will all allow you to run credit cards and put the money in your bank account. You just need to decide if you like the one stop shop or are freedom and leverage with the personal touch more important. Look at multiple options when shopping for processing and always request and check references to find out where each option may have short comings. Once you know the answers to these questions you should be able to make an easier educated choice.

As always, for information on the Merchant Store’s services, or for answers to additional questions please email, call us at: (866) 937-5973, or visit our website.

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December 16th, 2016 by MSI Newsletters

Defense against the Grinch

Filed in: Monthly Newsletters |

The holiday season is a joyous occasion for businesses and consumers alike, however there is always someone out there looking to profit off of the misfortune of others. It’s easy to get caught up in the in the spirit of the season and let your guard down, but this time of year it’s important to keep focus on defending your business from the Grinch’s trying to prey on you. In this article we are going to touch on a few different methods fraudsters use and how you might defend yourself.

Friendly Fraud

Unlike its name there is nothing friendly about friendly fraud. Friendly fraud is a broad term that encompasses fraud by legitimate customers who utilize chargebacks or other systems to steal merchandise or services or cash from a business. These types of fraud can be difficult to prevent and can be nearly impossible to recoup losses on.

Chargeback fraud

Generally, chargeback fraud works when a person enters your business, or shops online, and legitimately purchases goods or services, and then disputes the charge with their card issuer. Someone who knows what they are doing can easily dispute a transaction in such a way that the business owner will most likely not be able to fight it. Card issuers determine who wins chargeback, and they inherently favor card holders over merchants. There’s no question that the customer is stealing from you but police departments are reluctant to pursue friendly chargeback fraud cases, if they’ll even accept a report on them at all. Most of the time they will refer merchants to the civil court system which is time consuming, costly, and offers no guarantee of recourse even if the merchant wins in court.

The key to protecting yourself against chargeback fraud is to stop card holders from being able to cleaim they didn’t receive what they purchased, that it was defective or not as advertised, or that the charge was not authorized by the card holder. Unfortunately for online businesses, or situations where a card is keyed into a terminal or POS system, fighting this becomes very difficult, as proving the card holder made the purchase with the card in hand is all but impossible.

To prevent this method, you will want to swipe or dip (EMV Chip) as many transactions as possible. This can also prevent other forms of fraud such as duplicate card fraud. When you swipe or dip the card your customer gives you, it proves you were face to face with the customer, which aids in supporting your case that the card holder did make a purchase. Not everyone has the ability to swipe or dip cards, or even if they do they might also need to ship products to the consumer.

For ecommerce or mail/phone order businesses, the best thing you can do for yourself is to ship directly to the card holders billing address, and preferably ship everything with a signature required for delivery. If you are shipping to an address different from the card holder’s address, you have no way of proving that they received the product. Not even a signed invoice with a photo ID attached will prove to the card issuer their customer actually made the purchase. Or, even with a delivery signature, the card issuer will usually side with the card holder. While it should go without saying, but if you’re not swiping or dipping the cards, you should be using address verification for both the street and the zip code to ensure the billing address provided by the card holder matches what the card issuer has on file. If you are not sure how to use address verification (AVS), contact your processor or payment gateway for more information. AVS is not available in some countries or specialty cards like some gift cards, and it’s not uncommon for card holders to not know the exact address they are billed at, so it’s not by any means 100% fool proof. CVV is another mechanism that should be used on all non-present transactions. It at least verifies that the customer had the card in hand at some point as duplicated cards rarely store the verification code as well as the data on the magnetic stripe.

It’s a good practice to keep a clear return policy and always be willing to offer exchanges or refunds to you customers when appropriate. Many card holders will dispute a credit card charge instead of requesting a return if they feel it’s going to be a hassle, or they feel like the business won’t accept a return or exchange in a seemingly reasonable situation. Making these policies clear from the moment of the transaction can help decrease potential chargebacks.

Gift Card Fraud

This form of fraud is quite easy, has a low risk of being caught, and effects both the business and their legitimate gift card holders. Gift cards function very similarly to credit cards and therefore share some of the same risks. The data stored on the magnetic strip on a gift card can be copied and used to make cloned cards for a fraudster to use in stores. This is just one popular method of gift card fraud. Many gift card providers offer the ability for card holders to set a PIN number on their card to help prevent misuse, however not many card holders go through these steps. In the case of any card type, gift, debit, or credit, checking the physical number on the card against the number that a terminal or POS system electronically captures can tell you if the card is legitimate. This has become a more common practice by large retailers protecting themselves from duplicated card fraud. In the case where the numbers do not match, calling the police may be the best option, as there is a high likelihood the customer is trying to make purchases with a fake card.

Another risk that pertains primarily to gift cards is through credits or refunds. Crediting a gift card works differently than a credit or debit card as some cards will automatically receive the balance of a credit when it is run by a merchant. When this happens, the balance of the card is instantly increased by the amount returned to it. While that doesn’t sound like an issue, it gives you, the business owner, no time to identify accidental or fraudulent credits or make corrections. Funding a gift card by mistake gives the card holder time to spend those funds before you can correct the mistake, or even settle your terminal, and can lead to the card issuer disputing your attempted correction later. There have also been cases where gift card holders attempt to distract a cashier so they can access the point of sale device and issue a return to their card. This is one situation where employee involvement puts a business in an impossible position to catch the fraud. The business is unlikely to notice a return has been processed until they settle out for the night, the fraudster is left with the rest of the day to make purchases on their newly acquired funds.

The best way to combat this and any other return or credit related fraud, is to have strict controls over the ability to refund and credit a customer’s card. All refunds should require manager approval and a refund should never be made to a card other than the one used to make a purchase. Terminals and POS devices should be in areas where customers do not have easy access to them and return and credit functions should be password protected at a minimum.

Return Fraud

Return fraud can be a huge problem for retail merchants, especially retailers who are large enough that employees do not have the ability to remember most of their customers, and ones who stock widely available products.

The most common form of return fraud is when a person returns goods that were purchased cheaper from another store or stolen goods for cash. A merchant, at the very least, pays the retail price for the product which causes any future sale to be unprofitable, and if the goods were stolen, there’s a chance that the police show up looking for the product. It’s also common that the person stole the product from the same store they are trying to return it to.

But, even in cases where goods aren’t stolen, merchants can suffer substantial loses from customers returning used or broken items, old items put in the box of a newer one, or items outside of a reasonable return window. Return fraud is one form of fraud that is frequently aided by employees who relax return policies or in more nefarious cases steal products themselves and have an acquaintance return them for a split of the cash refund.

Thieves are smart enough to target businesses during the busiest times of the year for returns which is typically immediately after the holidays when stores are extremely busy and often overlook or do not have the capacity to properly vet every return they are receiving. The NRF estimated that in 2015 alone, US retailers would lose over $2 billion dollars due to return fraud.

Combating return fraud can be difficult. Clear return and refund policies should be posted and strictly adhered to. Refunds should only be issued in the same form the payment was received, and in the case of electronic cards, should only be returned to the same card as the sale. Merchants should outright refuse refunds they are unable to determine are legitimate, refunds unaccompanied by a receipt, and refunds that contain obviously used or replaced products, unless they cover refunds on those products. Merchant’s can employ proprietary or hidden tagging methods so that they can determine if a returned item actually originated from their store. In any case, if employees are helping defraud the business, it can be nearly impossible to prevent, so controls over who can accept returns and process refunds should be in place.

Also, it is worth noting that someone trying to defraud a business isn’t going to look obviously like a thief, they’re going to look just like a normal customer, and will usually have a believable story as to why they don’t have a receipt with their item. At the end of the day, a business will still lose the same amount of money regardless of whether it’s to someone who looks like a stereotypical cartoon thief or your favorite aunt, which is why policy adherence is so important.

General Good Practices

  • Require a positive AVS match and CVV match on all non-present transactions
  • Ship only to a customer’s billing address unless you feel comfortable shipping to another address, but know you will likely not be able to win a chargeback no matter what other verification you require
  • Restrict access to your terminal or POS system
  • Require owner or manager approval for all refunds and credits
  • Inspect all refunds for condition and verify the product is correct to the packaging
  • Do not issue a credit to any card other than the one used to make a purchase
  • Have and adhere to a refund policy without exception

Call us at (866) 937-5973 or check out our website to learn more about The Merchant Store’s services, POS systems, and processing equipment.

Have a happy holiday!

November 16th, 2016 by MSI Newsletters

25 things your bank doesn’t want you to know about your merchant account

Filed in: Monthly Newsletters |

Your qualified discount rate means nothing:

Don’t be fooled by a 1% lead in offer. This rate is your qualified debit card rate. Most likely less than 30% of your transactions will qualify for this rate. What really matters is what your overall effective rate comes out to which is the total cost of your processing fees divided but the total sum of the transactions you accept per that billing period.

You personal bank is probably the most expensive place to get a merchant account:

They already have your trust and they use it to offer services at a significantly higher price than what you can find in a competitive environment. Banks are notorious for high fees, egregiously aggressive contracts and leases, and most of the time they actually use an independent company to actually handle their client’s credit card processing.

Your processor loves you when you key in your transactions:

Your processor makes more money every time you key in your transaction. Often times an additional 1 to 2 % surcharge is added to the cost of this transaction.

Address verification (AVS) and CVV2 is important:

In addition to providing some security, missing CVV and/or AVS information for non-swiped transactions will cause your transactions to downgrade costing you more money.

Ditto for rewards Card and business Cards:

Good excuse to add 1 1/2% to a transaction that may only cost the processor an additional .20%.

Your processor has a conflict of interest with your chargebacks:

That’s right, your processor can shut your account down if you have too many chargebacks meanwhile they are making $10 to $25 on every chargeback you receive.

Your bank has an even bigger one:

Issuing banks are the party who actually controls the chargeback process and who rules on the outcome. They account for the majority of the fees you pay to accept credit cards while collecting an even larger premium from their credit card holders in the form of an APR on their credit cards.

Processing EMV cards properly is important:

Besides protecting from fraud from duplicated cards, some banks are issuing automatic chargebacks for transactions not using the chip reader.

Your rates are going to go up twice a year after you sign up:

Sadly, each year, officially in October and April, the card brands (MasterCard, Visa, Discover) adjust their rates and there is usually an upward hike on everyone’s cost. While it may only be a few basis points each time, it will add up after a number of years. That’s why it’s always a good idea to do a rate review on your account every couple of years.

A PINpad can save you money:

Especially if you have a high ticket or a large number of customers who prefer to pay using their debit card and PIN number. The average the cost of a transaction could be the difference between 65 cents vs $1.00 for just a $50 transaction. Saving will be even more for higher transactions. PIN debit is also virtually impossible to dispute, so there is some protection from chargebacks for PIN debit transactions.

A PINpad can lose you money:

Since the Durbin debit regulations, PIN debit is often more expensive to accept than signature debit for small transactions, and the debit networks such as Star, Pulse, etc., can now charge a monthly fee. If you do not routinely accept transactions using a PINpad, or have a low ticket size, you may be better off just running debit cards like you would a credit card without having your customer enter their PIN number.

PCI compliance is important:

Not only is becoming PCI compliant important for security sake but most likely your processor is charging you a fee if you are not compliant. This non compliant fee has become a huge source of income for the processing industry.

If you process less than a $1,000 a month, you should probably just use Square:

It’s not hard to beat the Square processing rate (2.75%), and they are all but non-existent on customer service, but because of zero monthly fees, Square is often the best deal for low volume merchants. This may change in the future if Square moves away from their no monthly fee model or increases their rate because they aren’t profitable, but it doesn’t appear to be under any immediate threat of being withdrawn.

Leasing Equipment is not a smart decision:

Normally the machine you leased can be purchased for a 1/4 of the price of most 36 month leases, often even less. There are many companies, including us, that will steeply discount or give you a terminal to use for free.

Leasing is often bad but watch out for Free Equipment Deals as well:

Many times free equipment deals comes with strings attached such as higher fees or a very onerous contract. We’ve seen contracts with $5,000 or more termination fees and 3 – 5 year contract terms tied to free equipment programs. Some contracts even try to only give a 2 week window to terminate the contract or it automatically renews. In the case of anything, if it’s free, be conscious that they may be making up the money somewhere else or they may be aggressively locking you into a processing contract.

Termination Fee is Optional:

Most processors can waive the termination fee any time they want. This becomes less of a possibility when signing up with free equipment programs and complex setups such as POS systems or processing involving multiple independent parties.

At the same time, termination fees aren’t the end of the world:

Despite what many people think, gaining a merchant account customer and setting up an account isn’t cheap and takes a lot of work. It’s tough to see another company, often falsely, lure a customer away often only offering pennies of savings. Companies that charge reasonable termination fees can be the ones with the most honest rates and best customer service. Don’t assume a termination fee in itself is a measurement of the quality of company but watch out for excessively long contracts, expensive termination fees or liquidated damages clauses, or extremely narrow closure windows.

Next Day Funding is an Option:

Most companies can provide next day funding but the default is always for an extra day delay. There is almost always a cutoff time in the afternoon or evening for next day funding to work which can make the benefit negligible for bars, restaurants, and businesses that stay open late.

There is a special way to set up accounts for Large ticket Business to Business and Government transactions:

It’s called Level 3 Processing and it can lower your interchange cost up to 40%.

Small ticket merchants have special rates also:

If your average ticket is below $15, there is special pricing to lower your transaction fee.

Under some circumstances you can now charge your customers a surcharge or convenience fee to cover your credit card costs:

Some states prohibit this but in most states a merchants may charge extra for a credit card purchase.

You don’t have to accept all brands of credit cards:

That’s right, if you don’t want to accept Visa Debit, you don’t have to.

There is also a special set up for Emerging Markets:

If your business qualifies for one of the following business types/sic codes, there are special interchange rates for you. Government (MCC 9399, 9211, 9222), Schools (MCC 8220, 8211, 8299), Insurance Companies (MCC 6300, 5960), Fuel Dealers (MCC 5983), Child Care Services (MCC 8351), and Direct Marketing Subscription Merchants (MCC 5968). MCCs 5960 and 5968, Telecommunication Services (MCC 4814), Real Estate Agents and Managers-Rentals (MCC 6513), Charitable Organizations (MCC 8398), and Cable, Satellite, and Other Pay Television & Radio Services (MCC 4899).

A bank cannot require you to have a merchant account as a condition for a loan or other service:

This is called bank tying and was specifically prohibited by Congress in 1970 yet it remains a frequently used condition when business open business accounts or apply for credit or financing for their business through their bank.

Nobody is really going to save you a ton of money if you have a decent setup:

The merchant account industry has fixed costs across the board, whether you process with a small company like ours or a billion dollar bank. So, unless you are truly getting a bad deal, or you are an extremely large business where the smallest of changes in rates results in a large different in cost over time, nobody is going to be able to save you a ton of money. A .10% rate change in processing fees is only $1 for every thousand dollars processed. Obviously this can add up over time, but haggling over tenths of a percent in processing fees is unlikely to yield worthwhile gains for most businesses.

However, there are huge differences in the quality of support and customer service between companies. This is an industry revolving around your business’s money, and really your business’s ability to thrive and exist, don’t just trust it to anyone without figuring out what kind of a company you’re dealing with or by chasing the lowest offer out there.

Concluding thoughts

Many of these issues can be addressed and prevented by always insisting on cost plus fee structures with your merchant account. While it may make a processing statement more complicated, it’s the most transparent way to process as industry costs are passed transparently to merchant account holders. As always please feel free to contact us if you are interested in processing services from the merchant store or would like additional information about any of the above.

Call us at: (866) 937-5973, visit our website, or stop by our South Austin Showroom.

October 16th, 2016 by MSI Newsletters

Clover vs Square Register

Filed in: Monthly Newsletters |

If you’re in the market for a point of sale (POS) system odds are you have run across both Square’s Register and the Clover POS System. There is a lot of information out there to go through, so we wanted to compile an easy to read comparison of two of the Clover offerings, the Mini, the Mobile, and Square’s Stand. All of these are POS systems are designed to be low cost tables based systems aimed at small businesses.

Hardware Capabilities

As far as what you get out of the box, both Clovers have unique advantages over the Square Stand. Where the Stand is nothing more than an iPad stand with a built in card reader the Clover options are both purpose built POS devices based on tablet computers. The Stand lacks current payment technologies like EMV and NFC (think ApplePay), and most of its accessories cost more than the equivalents from Clover. Another thing I like about the Clover options is that the Mini comes with a built in printer and the mobile a built in bar code scanner, which are usually quite expensive if you have to buy them separately.

Before we get into price please take a look at the table below to see how each system is configured out of the box.

Printer Cash Drawer Kitchen Printer Bar code Scanner EMV/NFC Connectivity
Square Stand Optional Optional Optional Optional Optional Depends on Ipad model
Clover Mini Built in Optional Optional Optional EMV & NFC Ethernet / WiFi
Clover Mobile Optional Optional Optional Built In EMV & NFC WiFi / 4G

App Markets

Both offerings have their own app markets where you can add just about any features you can imagine. Both Clover and Square have worked hard to build an app ecosystem to enhance small businesses and I highly recommend looking at both Square’s App Marketplace and Clovers App Market.

Unfortunately I found you have to register with Square to get much information about the cost of their apps, and of the ones I could find costs on it seems most were variable rate based on different metrics. With Clover on the other hand their App Market is open for anyone to view without registration, and while some of the apps use variable pricing based on usage, many, if not most are either free, or have a flat rate regardless of usage.

I really like the use of App Markets, as it doesn’t lock you in to paying for features you will never use and its give you the ability to change aspects of your Point of Sale without having to buy an entirely new system. This is a huge improvement to what merchants using legacy POS systems are used to.

Purchase Price

Let me preface by stating the Square Stand is $99, however you have to have an iPad to go in it. Whether you already have the iPad or you’re having to buy one, at some point that device cost a minimum of $399 new, so I included as part of the Square Stand unit cost. Depending on the actual iPad being used, it’s possible that the initial cost is more than $498, and using a refurbished iPad may lower the initial cost.

Looking at the table below you can see right out of the gate that Square’s Stand with the cost of the iPad included actually costs slightly more than the Clover Mini, even though it’s missing a printer and the ability to accept current EMV payment types. Alternatively the Clover Mobile is almost $125 cheaper than the Square Stand, including the IPad cost, and includes a bar code scanner which will set you back $119 from Square.

Let’s say you have a retail store front and you need a point of sale, a printer, cash drawer, bar code scanner, and the ability to accept payments based on current EMV technology, the Square Stand and accessories would cost you $1,194. By contrast, the Clover Mini would run you $718, and the Clover Mobile at just $624. This was surprising to me, when I started researching this article as I thought the costs would be exactly the opposite. What’s most surprising is even if you didn’t have to buy an iPad, it’s still cheaper to go with either of the Clover options, we also put together a Clover configuration builder to see what a system costs with only the accessories you need.

Unit Price Printer Cash Drawer Kitchen Printer Bar code Scanner EMV/NFC Total (POS, Printer, Cash Drawer)
Square Stand $498 $299 $229 $299 $119 Starts @ $49 $1075
Clover Mini $490 Included $99 $349 $129 Included $589
Clover Mobile $375 $150 $99 $349 Included Included $624

Monthly Costs

I was thinking this is where Square would have an overwhelming advantage, but it’s not nearly as wide a margin as I thought. Square and its associated accessories do not carry a monthly fee for the basic setup, where either Clovers cost about $40 per month when you have the POS software activated. A note on this, both Clovers can operate without full functionality for no monthly fee. This is actually sufficient for many merchants, but to gain full access to the features and app market, a merchant needs to pay the $40 monthly fee. That being said Clover comes with a ton a benefits and many of the apps in their App Market are free, or have free trials you can use to test out the app. If you’re just looking for a basic register capabilities you don’t have to activate the POS function in Clover, you can just use it as a very advanced cash register. When the POS functionality is turned off, many of the apps in the Clover Market won’t function, but there are still many available apps that will work when not using the full POS mode.

Once you start adding apps to the Square register, the costs really start to add up. For example if you want employee management capabilities and your using Square, your going to pay $5 per month per employee. Clover has some very basic employee management built in, but you can add an employee management app, like Homebase. Homebase has a free subscription level which is more than adequate for most businesses, but if you are in need of some of their premium services they charge a flat monthly price instead of basing it on the number of employees.

A couple other examples: Inventory management, while Clover includes a solid base inventory system you’re going to spend at minimum $10 per month to get similar functionality out of a Square setup. Or if you’re a restaurant, on Square you can add the TouchBistro app for $69 per month, where restaurant and retail functionalities are built into Clover from the start.

When you start adding up software add-ons from both Clover and Square their costs become fairly equal for basic usage, and while Square’s monthly fees come out a little better in some scenarios the same can be said for Clover. When the amount of apps and usage increase substantially, Clover often has a significant advantage in cost.

These monthly costs often come as a surprise to merchants who have not used legacy POS systems, but in our experience the cost of these tablet based POS system is an incredible discount. Some of the monthly or annual licensing fees for POS systems are almost unbelievable when you look at it all on paper. We routinely see single station POS systems costing upwards of $200 per month, and often there are 4 digit fees to make any changes to the system. Tables based POS systems remove this blatant gouging and complicated licensing almost entirely.

Merchant Account Costs

Most people know Square offers a two tier pricing structure without any monthly or annual fees on their merchant accounts. We have already written extensively about when using a full service merchant account with monthly and annual fees become more cost effective than Square. So in this section I’m just going to give you a quick summary. If you would like to read the previous article you can find it here.

If you’re processing less than $2,000 per month in card sales, then a Square is probably the cheapest option for you. Once you consistently exceed $2,000 per month in total card sales, a full service merchant account starts to become the lower cost option. In any case with Square, you need to deal with the absence of quality customer support. Additionally, because Square’s pricing is setup so they actually lose money on small ticket transactions, we do not anticipate Square or their investors to stomach this pricing model indefinitely. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see Square add a transaction fee or increase their processing rate to compensate for the rate they are losing on small transactions. Time will tell how they finally address it though.

We also have a Clover builder where you can build and price a Clover system with additional stations or peripherals. We’re currently offering a discount which gives a free Clover Mini or Mobile to new merchant account customers. Call us at: (888) 528-0058, visit our website, or if you’re in Austin, TX, stop by our showroom and check out a Clover in person.

No matter how you are processing card payments today, if you’re wondering if it would be more cost effective to process card payments a different way we would be happy to help. You can contact one of our specialists at (888) 528-0058, or by email at and we will build you a custom report specific to your business comparing your current setup to alternatives and give you a recommendation.