Avoiding Merchant Account Disasters

Merchant accounts are an integral part of accepting and processing credit card payments through your web site, but failing to properly research your chosen merchant account provider can cost you – in a big way. By knowing how to spot merchant account problems before they happen, you can save yourself significant frustration as well as money.

“Too many Internet marketers don’t understand how merchant accounts work,” says Matt Bacak, a successful online marketer who trains speakers and authors. “When I first started out, I definitely didn’t understand them. First of all, I had no idea that your merchant account provider would freeze your account if you made what they considered to be too much money. I mean, I didn’t even know you could make too much money!”

But when it comes to many merchant accounts, it is possible to make too much money. Bacak had given his merchant account provider an estimate of what he expected to make each month. The holiday season brought in far more; in fact, within a few days Bacak had made more money than he’d expected to make in a year! Instead of reveling in his success, he soon found himself battling his merchant account provider for his earnings. “Apparently the amount was more than my merchant account could handle,” he says. “They froze my account and held my money until they could be sure that all of my customers had received their credit card statements in the mail. It ended up being six months before I got paid.”

With his merchant account frozen, Bacak was unable to continue selling his product online. With no way to process credit card payments, his business was quickly put on hold. “I went out and got another merchant account,” he says. “I now had two; I was under contract with the first one so I couldn’t just leave them. The new provider was happy to take me on, but not before charging me nearly 10% in fees on every sale I made. In the end they ended up just picking up and leaving, with $30,000 of my profits that I still have yet to recover.”

Armin Morin, an online marketer and entrepreneur who has made more than $15 million promoting and selling products online, is no stranger to merchant account problems. “My product brought in over $4 million over a very short period of time. My merchant account provider not only shut me down, but they went into my bank account and took more than $2 million from me! This was half my profits; money that was allocated to pay my affiliates. How can you run a business when half your profits are frozen? I hadn’t done anything wrong, and yet my money was gone.”

If your merchant account is frozen, your business will basically be dead in the water. You won’t be able to process credit card payments online any longer, putting your sales indefinitely on hold. Even worse, you may find that if you’ve had an account frozen in the past, other merchant account providers will be reluctant to take you on as a customer.

“Once they took my merchant account away no one else would take me on as a merchant,” says Morin. “After they took my money, my bank discontinued doing business with me as well. I had a check for over two million dollars in my pocket and no major bank would take me on because they didn’t want the hassle caused by my merchant account troubles.”

Aside from the potential for frozen accounts, online marketers need to be aware that merchant accounts often come with a host of fees. “One merchant account required that I pay $500 up front just to get started,” says Bacak. “That didn’t even include my Internet gateway.” Others will ask that you pay to lease their equipment in addition. If you buy the equipment on your own, it will only cost you a few hundred dollars; if you lease the equipment from your merchant provider monthly over the course of a three- or five-year contract, you’ll pay thousands.

Making Merchant Accounts Work For You

There are millions of online marketers successfully processing credit card payments through merchant accounts. Despite the worst-case scenarios described here, there are ways to avoid merchant account problems and maximize your online sales.

To avoid a frozen merchant account, seek out a provider that does not limit the amount of money you can accept over the course of each month. It will be difficult to anticipate the amount of money your web site will bring in, and if your provider asks you to estimate an amount, you could be setting yourself up for a problem down the line. Additionally, you need to be aware that many merchant accounts end up frozen not because of the amount of money coming in, but because the business in question veered from its original business plan.

“When you apply for a merchant account, you’re typically asked to present a business plan,” explains Morin. “If your original premise is too narrow, as in teddy bears, and then you decide to start selling Barbie dolls, your provider could shut you down because you’ve changed gears without their approval.”

Allowing yourself more flexibility in your business plan will give you the freedom to change your product line to better suit your customers. Instead of listening your premise as “jam,” list it as “food.” If you want to offer two products that are entirely different, you should have two merchant accounts, one for each product.

Additional merchant account problems crop up when your provider decides that you have reported too many charge backs. Charge backs occur when one of your customers refutes the credit card charge from your company and refuses to pay his or her bill. Morin says that this can be avoided entirely by offering outstanding customer service that includes quick and no-questions-asked refunds. “We refund people even if they don’t want to be refunded,” he says. “We contact every customer by phone or email to verify the sale. If we can’t contact them then we refund them. We don’t want to risk fraud, and we want our customers to know that we care about risk. I think it helps to build our credibility.”

You’re selling products online because you want to be successful. But when your merchant account is causing you frustration, your success can quickly translate into a very serious problem. By preparing in advance you will be able to quickly and easily process your customers’ payments while enjoying the financial success you so richly deserve.