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How to Research, Vet, and Choose a Payment Processor

Lori Stafford Thomas

As a small-business owner, is there anything more gratifying than completing a sale? Whatever it is you've chosen to solicit publicly, you're making some type of impact on the surrounding community, and for that, you should be thrilled.

Selling to your customers is a great feat in and of itself, but you wouldn't be able to do so without a trusted payment processing partner. Finding the best business partner for your company isn't as easy as it may seem, though. Your payment processor partner needs to make sure it can serve all of your needs, which is why it's critical to take your time and select the provider best suited to help your business grow.

Keeping that in mind, here's how to research, vet and choose a payment processor:

Thanks in part to the digital age, you have most of the answers to your questions right at your fingertips. You're a quick Google search away from finding whatever it is you're looking for. Regardless of the size of your business, there are a few things you'll want to look for in a payment processing partner. These include:

  • What type of support do they provide? 
  • Do they prioritize security?
  • Are they PCI compliant?
  • Are their solutions scalable and compatible with other software?
  • Do they offer mobile solutions?
  • Do they provide back-end analytics and reporting?

Besides the obvious Google search, another great way to get information about payment processors is to speak with other small-business owners in your surrounding area. Most companies in your town or city likely work with other merchant providers and could point you in the right direction. They may be able to shed light onto these areas for you and provide helpful insight into what the payment processor partnership is like.

The vetting process
Once you've narrowed your options down to just a few providers, it's in your best interest to determine the fees each partner charges for individual transactions. There are a lot of providers on the market today, but a great way to vet a pool of payment processors is to see how much they charge for each transaction. While these fees may not vary drastically from provider to provider, it's important to find out exactly what you're paying for. 

Some payment processors will offer new merchant partners a packaged rate and call it a "qualified" or "standard" deal, but oftentimes these rates don't account for additional fees. For instance, these pre-packaged deals don't account for fees that come with rewards cards or certain credit cards. Processing these transactions can end up costing a bit more and you may not even know it up front. When vetting a payment processor, it's critical to know what fees you're paying. 

Choosing the right partner
Based on your background research and thorough vetting process, the final selection hopefully shouldn't be overly challenging. If there's a final shortlist of potential vendors, there are a few final steps you should take as a small-business owner. For example, getting the contract in writing is a great way to see what exactly you're paying and responsible for.* 

There are a number of other considerations to keep in mind when finally choosing a payment processing partner:

  • Support: Merchants should be concerned that the card-processing environment is well-protected. The payment processing life cycle has a series of steps and involves different parties, which is why merchants need to make sure their partner offers consistent and quality service at all hours of the day.
  • Flexibility: To quickly and effectively meet fluid consumer needs, merchants need to partner with a processor that can integrate with existing systems. In doing so, businesses don't have to shut their doors and can ensure the transition is as seamless as possible.
  • Scalability: As a business grows, it needs to expand or evolve to keep pace with market demand. To effectively mature, a company needs technological infrastructure that will allow for upward mobility. Local merchants can effectively grow their business through the point of sale if they partner with a processor that allows them to do so.
  • Security: Securing customer information at the point of sale should be a primary concern for businesses these days, especially in wake of the recent high-profile breaches at major domestic retailers. Even with the upcoming liability shift, merchants need to make sure they're partnered with a processor that values security as high as they do. 

Asking the right questions is critical to saving money in the long run. Investing in your business at the point of sale is a simple and scalable way to grow it. Knowing what to look for, vetting and then choosing the right payment processor can save you a significant amount of money, which is just one way to add to your bottom line. Processing partners should explain their fees clearly and honestly and offer round-the-clock support. As a small-business owner, growing your business at the point of sale is possible, you just need to do your homework and eliminate potentially bad partner options.

*The foregoing is provided for information purposes only, and is not legal advice.  You should review your compliance obligations with your own legal or other advisors.


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