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 ~ Merchant Credit ~

Part One of Two

Editor's Alert

Fraud wears many hats.  Most of us have never experienced fraud at craft shows, but suddenly there's feedback about deliberate theft by giving wrong contact information and a stolen or 'maxed-out' credit card.

 When you process checks,  you should  ask to see their driver's license, and to take down the information, - including the ID number the state has assigned.  You also have the right to ask to see another credit card - look at it to see if it has the same name on it as the one you have been asked to use, - but you may not write down the account numbers. 

This is just to ensure the name and/or photo matches the driver's license. 

Visa/MasterCard and other credit cards now have in their contract that you are obligated to check identification for sales over a certain point, (floor limit).  It makes sense, and you should certainly take the few seconds to look at the drivers' license, photo ID, etc. to safeguard your sale!


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We've received lots of inquiries about merchant credit, via email and by phone. Although we are happy to answer individually, for every spoken query there are probably ten or more people who are wondering about being able to accept Visa or other credit cards for payment.

Typical of the questions we get are:

- "How do I find out about merchant credit? "

Don’t be surprised if your local banks and some advertisers don’t want to do business with home-based businesses . They can express this in many ways: they can simply say “We won’t do business with you because you’re a home-based business”, or they can hike up the fees.

Several years ago I researched the subject and found that it’s common for merchant credit arrangements to vary considerably in their fees and contracts. For instance, at times there used to be an application fee, which ran $100 - $300, and these same companies often charged extra for a check on your credit history, ($50.) They may also tack on a fee per-transaction, (.05 - .20, or more) and a batch-out fee (.50).  Things are more competitive now, I think you'll find it easier applying for merchant credit privileges.

This means if you have 3 charge slips, you are charged .05 to .20 each (.15 - .60 for 3 sales) plus your batch out fee (another 30 cents?) at the end of the day when you transmit these transactions in a 'batch.'  These charges are in addition to your discount rate, (the percentage of the transaction you pay, which ranges from 1.6% - 4.75% depending on the company and your contract, and whether you key-in the information, or whether you swipe the card, for the lowest rates.

Other possible fees:

· Monthly fees for the privilege of having merchant credit or for a statement.  How can you do business without an end-of-month statement of transactions?  This is a common industry-wide expense, varying from about $8 - $12.50 .  We'll call this one a 'necessary evil.'

· A monthly minimum: if you don’t process enough transactions to assure the credit company of $15-$30 in fees through the discount rate on the sales you process, they may charge a minimum fee between $15 and $30.

· Some contracts have a ‘reserve’ clause. They can withhold funds up to 6 months, -or more, because as a new account you’re considered a risk(?). I’ve heard of them withholding $1,000; if you don’t read the very fine print, - or ask the right questions, you won’t know until it happens. (Ask!)

· Some companies will close your account if you have no activity for two or three months. It’s a hassle to reopen it, and there may be extra fees.  Working as an artist or artisan is a seasonal business. There may be several months in which you have little or no business, without processing any charges in that time period. Go with a company that is used to working with home-based businesses and won’t penalize your business for being seasonal or for being small .

· Equipment:  Usually you need at least an imprint unit, (ballpark $25-$50+/-) and maybe a cell-phone to use on-site for authorizations. You may also need a modem if the credit company won’t accept paperwork and insists that you swipe or key in information (a P.O.S. unit has a modem in the unit, and uses cellular technology for transmissions. You may prefer to buy or lease to buy the equipment so that you’ll end up ahead, financially, over a period of time, as opposed to just renting it.  (Rarely, if ever, will you find a bank or a rep who will arrange to let you work with 'paper' transactions. )

Banks are trying to get away from paper:  they charge more for giving authorizations by phone instead of using a swipe unit/modem key pad and processing on their end with paperwork.  It makes sense: they have to pay someone to answer your phone calls.)  




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