Cash may be king when it comes the health of a business, but it’s credit that really pays the bills. If you run a business, you probably need to accept credit and debit card payments.

That means getting a merchant account and a payment gateway. But a merchant service provider should do more than just help you collect money. If you’re searching for a merchant service provider, first figure out what you want and need from a provider. Have you had problems with fraud and want help with security and risk management? Do you need to accept multiple foreign currencies? Think about both the needs you have today and what you might need to grow your business in the future.

Merchant service providers are the middle men between your customers, the credit card companies and your business. You want to make sure you’re dealing with a provider who can protect your money, your customers’ information, and your reputation. Payment processing should be secure, quick and easy so your customers keep coming back.

Here is how to tell if a merchant service provider is offering all the right stuff.

Authorization The authorization process is meant to protect you from the use of fraudulent cards, and to prevent transactions by customers who are over their credit limit or haven’t paid their bills. Your merchant service provider also should be able to provide you with all the equipment and software you’ll need to accept payments ranging from credit and debit cards to checks. That includes credit card terminals, point-of-sale systems, mobile payment systems, virtual terminals, echeck processing and online shopping carts. What you need will depend on how you sell your products, but having everything provided through one outlet can be very convenient. If you need physical equipment to process payments, make sure the machine is up-to-date (can read chip credit cards). Sometimes it can be cheaper to buy the equipment rather than lease, and watch out for equipment leases that lock you in for longer than you’d like.

Payment Gateways —  If you’re selling online, you’ll need a payment gateway, which is software that allows you to accept online payments. Gateways should support recurring billing (necessary for a subscription business), have a customer information management database and offer security features like encryption or tokenization to protect your customers’ data. These security measures are especially important for smaller businesses in competitive markets.

Multi-currency  Do you rely on overseas customers for your business? Or do you see that as being an option in the future? Then you’ll want to make sure your merchant service provider allows you to accept multiple currencies.

Fraud prevention —  This year, in-person credit card payment fraud is down 28 percent from three years ago. But fraudulent card-not-present transactions (mostly online) are up 106 percent for the same period. Data security is more important now than ever. It can help save you from costly chargebacks and keep your customers happy. Look for a merchant service provider that makes fraud prevention a priority or even one that specializes in fraud detection if you’re a high-volume merchant.

Security features can include asking for verification codes from customers, limiting how much money can be approved for one transaction, real-time transaction monitoring or tokenization, which allows card information to be removed entirely from the transaction. If you want to accept checks, you’ll probably want eCheck (ACH) processing, a feature that lets you scan a paper check and instantly know if funds are available to cover the purchase. Don’t do business with a provider unless they’re Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliant. That means they’re meeting certain requirements like protecting cardholder data and regularly updating antivirus software.

Risk Management — Taking money from strangers, especially online, comes with inherent risks. Some of those risks you can reduce yourself. Make sure you have clear policies on shipping and returns; prominently display your business contact information on your website; and provide accurate descriptions of your products or services to avoid confusion and chargebacks. But if coming up with, and enacting, a risk management plan is something you need help with, you’ll want a provider who offers the service.

Reducing churn — Churn rate is the percentage of customers who stop using your business or service during a certain period. Merchant service providers can help with churn by providing an easy and secure checkout experience for your customers. The checkout process shouldn’t be so onerous that a customer decides the hassle of buying an item isn’t worth it.

Customer service — If your credit card terminal stops working or strange charges show up on your bill, you’ll want to be able to get help from your merchant service provider. Ideally, they should offer 24/7, year-round customer service. Along with phone and email assistance, many providers offer online chat customer service, too.

Depending on your business, you might not need all the bells and whistles a merchant service provider can offer, but don’t make decisions solely based on cost. At the very least, your merchant service provider should be clued in on payment, customer service and fraud prevention best practices. That will save you from losing money, customers and maybe some sleep.

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