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Setting up a Merchant Account

Credit Card Processing Buyers' Guide

If you intend to accept credit card payments, you'll need to set up a dedicated merchant account. This usually takes between one and four weeks to arrange.

A merchant account is a bank account that accepts credit and debit card payments. In the UK there are nine acquiring banks - mainly offshoots of the high street banks - that can offer you such an account. Note that you do not need to use the acquiring bank to process the card payments. Instead, you can choose from a range of specialist merchant account providers.

Getting a Merchant Account

When you approach a merchant account provider - be it an acquiring bank or indepndent company - be prepared to face a lot of questions about your business. These include:

  • What are you selling?
  • What are your credit card sales forecasts?
  • How has your business performed to date?
  • How do you sell your products?
  • Who are your suppliers?
  • What are your delivery arrangements?

If you're starting a new business, you'll probably need to submit a business plan that covers the above.

Bear in mind that you may require different merchant accounts for your various sales methods. Your online sales will go to one merchant account, for example, and your high street sales to another.

Once the merchant account provider has spoken to you about your business and your needs, it will check your credit rating. It will then consider all the information it has gathered and let you know the outcome.

Remember to ask the acquiring bank about its charges, and whether these change according to the type of sale. Online sales, for instance, are not backed by chip and PIN and may cost you more than a shop transaction.

Internet Merchant Accounts

You don't necessarily need a merchant account to take credit and debit card payments over the internet. Instead you can use a service offered by companies such as PayPal - though you'll probably pay higher rates than for a conventional merchant account and you may have problems with certain credit card transactions. An internet merchant account provider will often supply both the account and the payment gateway through which payments are processed. Otherwise the process is essentially the same.

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