If a lack of a business track record is what keeps you from getting merchant status, consider signing up with Checks By Phone. This service allows you to accept payment directly from a customer's checking or savings account.
Checks By Phone clients simply e-mail, fax or send by modem the customer's name and address, the amount of the sale and all the numbers listed across the bottom of your customer's check. These numbers, says Checks By Phone founder and president Larry Schwartz, include the bank routing number and the customer's account number. Checks By Phone uses these numbers to draft the appropriate account and pay your business. As a Checks By Phone client, you can request that your payment be sent by overnight shipment, resulting in your getting paid even before the draft has been completed.
"You build up a track record for the bank while accepting payments electronically," Schwartz says. "It's convenient for the customer, too, because he or she can pay right away rather than having to write and mail a check."
Becoming a Checks By Phone client requires a $349.95 sign-up charge and a 2-percent fee for each transaction of more than $100. The charge is $2 for transactions of less than $100, and there's a 35-cent data-entry charge for fax transmissions.
If you suspect a check might be bad, you can have Checks By Phone check it against its computer database, which includes identification information on banks and their branches in both the United States and Canada. This additional screening costs 50 cents per transaction.