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Accepting Credit Card Payments On Your Website

TConsult Web Dev has 15 years experience in building ECommerce Websites that accept credit cards. We are also Certified Authorize.NET Developers having implemented Authorize.NET's payment gateway in to many ECommerce Websites. Before you forgo the expense of real-time credit card processing, there are a few things you should consider.

Setting up your Website to receive and process credit cards in real-time is expensive. Those who already have offline processing capabilities (i.e. a terminal) should consider bypassing the expense of real-time processing (at least in the beginning) until your Website generates enough orders to warrant it. Others may find that establishing real-time credit card processing up-front is their best and only option. It all depends on your situation. Below is a general guideline of what is involved in real-time credit card processing and what the expenses are.

What does it cost?
Quite a bit. Online credit card processing requires two services that both incur fees of some sort - the processor and the merchant. Both of these services vary widely in price and options.

Processing a card goes as follows.

The Website
The user enters their credit card information. Your site will need an SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate so you can securely accept credit cards. You also will need a programmer to integrate the credit card processor in to your site. Both cost money and are discussed in greater detail below.

Credit Card Gateway Processor
A payment gateway processor allows you to collect credit card payments from your Web site and securely send them to the processing networks for verification and processing. Upon verification, the funds will be dumped in to your merchant account (usually in 3 - 5 days). You usually pay a processor set-up fee and a per transaction fee. There are several online based credit card processing companies with the most popular being Authorize.net. Always be aware of your per transaction fees and if/how much they increase as you process more cards.

Merchant Account
This is the bank account the funds will go in to when a card is processed on your Web site. Normally there is a set-up fee, monthly fee, and then a per transaction fee. You can get a merchant account from several places including banks and other merchant organizations. Merchant accounts range widely in price. Some processors will include a merchant account for free when you purchase the processing service but you pay a higher per transaction charge. You may find you save money in the long run paying the upfront set-up fee as opposed to getting one for free. Watch out for hidden costs and make sure you examine all the options before you choose. Also be aware that your merchant provider may only accept Visa/MasterCard payments. If you want to process Discover or American Express it costs extra. Make sure your merchant provider offers options for Discover and American Express if you also want to accept them. Be aware of monthly maintenance fees and penalties for not processing a minimum amount of cards in a given time slot. As with the processor, always be aware of your per transaction fees and if/how much they increase as you process more cards.

SSL (Secure Socket Layer) Certificate
Also known as "secure shopping". Don't forget about this. If you are going to collect credit card information online then you must protect the transfer of that information from a user's PC to your Web server. Such transfers can be intercepted by hackers. Therefore; the transfer of sensitive data must always be encrypted. Many organizations offer SSL certificates. An SSL certificate for your E-Commerce site with the above mentioned organizations will run you between $199.00 and $349.00 the first year and then slightly less for the renewal in each additional year.

Off Domain Processing
Several organizations offer credit card processing services. The biggest one being PayPal. This is a handy way to avoid the expense of online credit card processing. However; this services require users to leave your domain and go directly to their Web site to complete payment. This can cause confusion for the user. It may also interrupt the process of order placement and processing. Once you leave your site you have little, if any, control.

What if I already have a merchant account and processing terminal?
If you have a terminal then don't rule out offline processing. In your situation, real-time credit card processing should not be considered unless you really have to have it. If you are only processing a handful of orders each week then you can save yourself a considerable amount of money by processing those cards manually with your terminal. Here is how:
  1. An order is securely placed on your Website (under SSL) and the payment information is written to your database.
  2. An email notice comes to you stating that an order has been submitted.
  3. You login to a private secure password protected section of your Website where you can view the order details and card information.
  4. Take the card information from the order details page and enter the card information with the keypad on your terminal.
  5. Mark the order as processed by clicking a button on the Website which in turn will erase the card information from your database for that order.
This is how many small businesses process credit cards.

Are there any drawbacks to offline processing with a terminal?
The drawback is processing problems will not appear in real-time (i.e. the users card is no good) however; that rarely happens. Besides, the order is never sent in real-time anyway unless it is for some kind of registration system where access must be granted immediately. Then you may want to consider real-time processing. Even then it still may be more cost effective to manually process registrations through an admin section on your Website.

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