There are several credit card processing solutions available. Find which business type best reflects yours to see what solutions are recommended.
In most cases, you'll want a real-time processing solution with secure payment gateway like Authorize.net. Real-time solutions allow you to process credit cards automatically without your intervention. This will free you up to focus your efforts in other key areas of your business. When looking for a shopping cart solution, find out from the vendor which secure payment gateway they support. It's important you get all your ducks in a row before purchasing a merchant account and shopping cart solution. Integrating the real-time solution into your website will require some basic HTML skills. Most secure payment gateways provide code that you can easily cut and paste into your website without too much modification. Lastly, you'll want to ensure your order form is completely secure so look into purchasing a SSL secure certificate. They range from $99 to over $1,000/year. Some companies to check out are GeoTrust, Verisign, and Thawte.
Another Internet processing solution is the virtual terminal. Virtual terminals allow you to process credit cards manually. You simply enter in the cardholder's payment information and click the submit button on the webpage to process the transaction. Virtual terminals are web-based solutions that do not require you to install software on your computer. You can access a it securely from any computer that connects to the Internet. They are almost always bundled with real-time credit card processing solutions. The processing fees are the same as with real-time processing. Virtual terminals are great for mobile processing (if you can access the Internet on your laptop) and mail and telephone order processing.
Mail Order/Telephone Order (MOTO)
PC software such as ICVerify and PC Charge Pro are good solutions for MOTO merchants. These software packages must be loaded onto your computer. Processing rates are the same for MOTO as they are for Internet businesses. Software solutions have great reporting features and can easily generate reports or even export data for viewing in accounting software like QuickBooks and others. Some of the software is network compatible which is great for medium to large sized corporations.
Virtual terminals are web-based (do not require installation) and are another great solution for MOTO merchants. Most merchant account companies will be able to offer detailed online reporting. You may even be allowed to export transaction data for viewing in your accounting software, this just depends on the company you choose. Since there is no software to install, should you have a computer crash, you can easily bring in another computer to process transactions. No worries of losing valuable reporting information since it's all based online.
Check out our article on reducing the chances of fraud and chargebacks.
If most of your orders are conducted face-to-face with customers it's best to use a credit card swipe terminal. Since cards will be swiped most of the time, your rates will be lower then Internet and MOTO processing fees. There are a number of different terminals available. Counter space is probably very valuable to you and if so you should look into a terminal with a built-in printer. Some of the newer terminals include built-in PIN pads which will allow you to process debit cards. In addition, most of the newer terminals use high-speed thermal printing technology which reduces downtime and cost since there are no ribbons to replace. While some terminals only support credit card processing, many of the newer ones offer, in addition to credit card processing, debit card processing, smart card acceptance, check guarantee, check conversion, loyalty card processing, age and identity verification.
If you want to completely free up counter space, consider purchasing PC software like ICVerify or PC Charge Pro. These applications allow you to add on a miniature card reader usually no longer then 3 1/2" long x 1 1/2" wide. These can easily be attached to the side of your computer case or monitor. With a card reader you will be able to take advantage of lower processing fees since cards will be swiped. Inquire with your merchant account company to see which card readers are available and supported.
Wireless credit card swipe terminals are good for mobile merchants who will process a high number of transactions. Wireless terminals tend to be quite expensive, but allow you to take advantage of lower processing fees since cards are swiped through the machine. Just like countertop swipe terminals, most wireless unit incorporate thermal printing and Internal PIN pads for debit card processing.
Touch-tone telephone processing is another good option for mobile merchants who process a low number of credit cards. You can easily use your cell phone keypad to manually type in credit card numbers and expiration dates. There is no additional equipment to purchase, all you need is a cell phone. Since cards are not swiped, processing fees will be higher then card swipe rates. Since these solutions do not have printers, it's a good idea to purchase a low cost manual imprinter to get an imprint of the cardholder's credit card. Once you process a transaction, you can easily write the approval code on the imprint slip and give the customer a copy and keep a copy for your own records.
If you have a laptop and Internet access you should consider a virtual terminal option. These solutions are web-based and allow you to manually enter in credit card information securely over the Internet. Since cards are not swiped, rates will be higher. Unless you have a portable printer, you should consider purchasing a low cost manual imprinter.
Check out our merchant account FAQ for answers to your other questions.