The Basics of Money Management

Accepting Cash, Checks and Debit Cards

In today's super-competitive business environment, you must provide customers with many ways to pay, including cash, debit card, credit card and electronic cash. There is a cost to provide these payment options--account fees, transaction fees, equipment rental and merchant fees based on a percentage of the total sales value. But these expenses must be viewed as a cost of doing business in the 21st century. You can, however, reduce fees by shopping for the best service with the best prices. Not all banks, merchant accounts and payment processing services are the same, and fees vary widely. You can also check with small business associations such as the chamber of commerce to see if they offer member discounts; it's not uncommon to save as much as 2 percent on credit card merchant fees. Just remember, consumers expect choices when it comes time to pay for their purchases, and if you elect not to provide these choices, expect fewer sales.

Cash is the first way to get paid, which is great because it's liquid and there's no processing time required. As fast as the cash comes in, you can use it to pay bills and invest in business-building activities to increase revenues and profits. The major downside is that cash is risky because you could get robbed or lose it. In cases like that, collecting from your insurance company could prove difficult if there's no paper transaction as proof. Even if you prefer not to receive cash, there are people who will pay in cash, so get in the habit of making daily bank deposits during daylight hours. Also invest in a good-quality safe for cash storage for times when you cannot get to the bank.

If you're running a service business, one the most popular way people still pay for services is with a check. You have to take a few precautions to ensure you don't get left holding a rubber check, especially when dealing with new clients. Ask to see a photo ID and write the customer's driver's license number on the check. If the amount of the check exceeds a few hundred dollars, ask the buyer to get the check certified or pay with a bank draft instead, especially if the client is new to your business. Also get in the habit of checking dates and dollar amounts to make sure they are right. I have been caught a few times with wrong dates and dollar amounts and it can be time-consuming to have to get a new check because of a simple error.

Debit cards are another option, but to accept them, you will need to buy or rent a debit card terminal. Most banks and credit unions offer business clients debit card equipment and services. The processing equipment will set you back about $40 per month for a terminal connected to a conventional telephone line and about $100 per month for a cellular terminal, plus the cost of the telephone line or cellular service. There is also a transaction fee charged by the bank and payable by you every time there is a debit card transaction, which ranges from 10 cents to 50 cents per transaction, based on variables such as dollar value and frequency of use.

Opening a Credit Card Merchant Account

Many consumers have replaced paper money altogether in favor of plastic for buying goods and services. In fact, giving your customers the option to pay for purchases with a credit card is often crucial to success. This is especially true if you plan to do business on the web because credit cards and electronic cash are used to complete almost all web sales and financial transactions. To offer customers credit card payment options, you will need to open a credit card merchant account. Get started by visiting your bank or credit union or by contacting a merchant account broker such as 1st American Card Service , Cardservice International or Merchant Account Express to inquire about opening an account. Providing your credit is sound, you will run into few obstacles. If your credit is poor, you may have difficulties opening a merchant account or have to provide a substantial security deposit. If you are still unsuccessful, the next best option is to open an account with an online payment service provider, which is discussed in the next section.

The advantages of opening a credit card merchant account enabling you to accept credit card payments are numerous. In fact, studies have proven that merchants who accept credit cards can increase sales by up to 50 percent. Not to mention that you can accept credit card payments online, over the telephone, by mail and in person, as well as sell services on an installment basis by obtaining permission to charge your customer's credit card monthly or per agreement. Of course, all these benefits come at a cost, especially when you consider that you'll have to pay an application fee, setup fee, purchase or rent processing equipment and software, pay administration and statement fees, and pay processing and transaction fees ranging from 2 to 8 percent on total sales volume. Once again, these fees must be viewed as the cost of doing business.

Online Payment Services

Online payment services allow people and businesses to exchange currency electronically over the internet. These services are very popular with consumers and merchants. PayPal is one of the more popular online payment services with more than 40 million members in 45 countries, offering personal and business account services. Both types of accounts allow funds to be transferred electronically among members, but only the business account enables merchants to accept credit card payments for goods and services. The advantages of online payment services are that they're quick, easy and cheap to open, regardless of your credit rating or anticipated sales volumes, and you can receive payment from any customer with an e-mail account. You can have the funds deposited directly into your account, have a check issued and mailed, or leave funds in your account to draw on using your debit card. The only real disadvantage is that most services redirect your customers to their website to complete the transaction. This can confuse people who in some cases will abandon the purchase. Nonetheless, the advantages of online payment services far outweigh any disadvantages.

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