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Is It Actually Possible to Get a Merchant Account For Free?

Aug 17, 2007
No beating around the bush, here. There's no such thing as a free lunch, and that applies to the merchant industry as well...

Everything has a price, whether it's in cash, time, and/or effort. Common sense tells you that no one in business to make a profit truly gives a product or service away for free. So it is important to find out exactly how the so-called "free merchant account" companies get your money...

This article is meant to educate you about the fees that the "free merchant accounts" actually charge. I hope that this will help you make an informed decision that's right for your business.

The Basics:

All credit card transactions are governed by what are called the Interchange rates. These are the fees that companies like Visa, Master Card and others impose on payments processed by a merchant. There are a number of tiers or levels in the interchange rate and each credit card will be charged according to the tier or level it qualifies for.

For example:

1. Qualified rate - This is the rate charged when the card is present physically at the point of sale.

2. Mid-qualified rate - This is the rate charged when the card is not present at the point of sale; rather, the merchant takes an imprint of the card.

3. Non-qualified rate - This is the rate charged for "MOTO" transactions (mail, Internet or telephone order).

Furthermore, there are a number of fees that are attached to the merchant accounts upfront or as back-end fees.

The following are the most common fees you might encounter:

1. Transaction Fees - this is charged each time a transaction is completed. This is a flat rate, usually ranging from $0.10 to $0.25

2. Discount Rate - this is a flat-rate percentage that is taken out of each sale processed through the merchant account. Discount rates range from 0.95% to 7% or more, depending on the merchant service and its intended use.

3. Authorization Fees - this fee is charged as soon as the transaction is processed. Even if the transaction is denied, the fee is charged.

4. Statement Fees - this is a fee that is charged routinely for the generation of a monthly transaction record.

5. Monthly Minimum Fees - there is always a minimum fee charged when the total fees of that month for a given merchant account do not equal the minimum required business transaction level. For example, if the minimum fee is $15 and the fees incurred from using the service are only $10, then an additional $5 will be charged for that month.

6. Termination Fees - this is a penalty that can range from $150 - $275 if the merchant (potentially one like you) terminates their account before the term expires, which is usually around 2 or 3 years.

7. Free Equipment - the terminals, machines and other equipment that you're "given" practically always need to be returned to the merchant account provider at the end of the term in perfect condition. It costs approximately $295 - $475 to replace (or pay for) a damaged "free" terminal.

8. Batch Fees - when a merchant settles their terminal a fee is charged. This is usually a flat-rate charge each time the terminal is settled.

As you can see, there are a number of expenses that will be incurred for any standard merchant account. There is absolutely no way anyone can provide you with a free merchant account, because the fees set in place by the issuing card companies have to be paid by someone, and someone else will certainly not be willing to pay for you to use their service at their own cost.

The truth is, these fees would be extracted in another manner, most of which would be indirect and "hidden". And in that light, it's always better to choose a company that clearly discloses its fee structure up-front, instead of being "lured in" under the premise of getting something for "free" - only to find yourself the victim of an endless barrage of hidden charges...

Though they're hard to find, there are a few merchant services that provide a great pricing plan with a low-cost fee structure. You'll be far better off looking into those types of offers, instead of chasing after the "free offers".

Bottom Line: Free merchant accounts don't exist.

It will cost you money to process credit card payments, one way or another. Always read the fine print (the terms and conditions), and realize that most merchant service providers that advertise something as being "free" will make their money by locking you into a steep contract of some kind - most of which are enforced with a steep cancellation charge.

So do your due diligence, and look for reasonable, realistic merchant account fees that make sense for your business needs.

Because an unusually "cheap" merchant account will almost certainly end up being an incredibly expensive mistake...
About the Author
Chris Rempel highly recommends www.AcceptByPhone.com, which enables anyone to accept credit cards using any touch-tone phone (or cellular) for a FRACTION of the regular cost.

Additionally, click the link to discover how to find the best credit card processing rates for your business.
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