The Small Business Owner’s Guide to Credit Cards

If you’re a cash-only business, chances are you hear the question “do you accept cards?” multiple times a week. Whatever your reasons are for not getting in the game — processing fees, the hassle, aversion to change — you might want to start reconsidering your position.

Cash isn’t necessarily going anywhere, but we’re using it less and less. Some data here: A recent Nilson Report projects that cash and check payment volume will decline by 24 percent and 46 percent (respectively) in the United States by 2018. At the same time, card payment volume is set to grow by over 50 percent in the same period. So it’s worth making sure your business is set up to accept all forms of payment. You want to be able to make every sale.

The good news is that it’s now really easy to accept credit cards — whether you’re a roadside fruit vendor or a multilocation coffee shop. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

Know your cards.

If this is your first foray into credit card processing, spend some time getting the lay of the land. This is especially true now, as the payments landscape is changing quickly. The United States is phasing out the magstripe cards we currently carry and replacing them with chip cards (aka EMV cards), which are much more secure (read: harder to counterfeit). Within the next year or so, the majority of people will have chip cards. So, if you’re looking to start accepting credit cards, make sure you go with a solution that can accept chip cards, too.

Get a mobile reader.

Accepting credit cards no longer means lugging around a huge, clunky processor. It also no longer means an expensive, complicated installation process. Nowadays, anyone can turn a phone into a full-blown payments device with an affordable mobile credit card reader. The device usually plugs right into your phone’s headset jack. Then when a customer hands over a magstripe card, just swipe it through the reader, and the mobile payments app on your phone or tablet does the rest. You can also get a lightweight device that accepts EMV (chip cards) and NFC transactions (like Apple Pay) so you can take all the new forms of payment.

Understand the investment.

Before deciding on a payments solution, do your research. You’ll want to understand any underlying software and hardware investments that might be involved, and also see if there are any monthly fees, batching fees, or contracts with the solutions you’re considering. Rule of thumb: look for solutions with low setup costs and no complicated monthly fees.

Learn best practices for accepting credit cards.

Before you start accepting credit cards, familiarize yourself with best practices to protect your business. If you’re processing a large payment, you’ll want to have your customers sign the receipt or invoice. When your customer signs, make sure the signature matches the one on the back of the card. It’s also a good idea to make sure your receipt information is recognizable (on both the paper and digital receipt) — with your business name, contact information, refund policy, and description of items sold all right there. Having all of that information at the ready for you and your customers will decrease the likelihood of chargebacks (never fun).

Keep records.

And then comes recordkeeping. Make sure you keep all your receipts and invoices organized. Luckily, the software that comes along with your mobile payments reader makes this easy. You’ll be able to access your sales information — including past receipts and invoices — from within your account.

So if you’ve been dragging your feet on accepting credit cards, it’s time to seize the day. With affordable, lightweight tools for businesses of all sizes, it’s now easier than ever to make sure you can accept every sale.

More Resources:

[How Small Businesses Can Protect and Secure Customer Information]( (Small Business Association)

Small Businesses Should Prepare for EMV Credit Cards (Michigan State University)

What Records Should Small Businesses Keep? (Internal Revenue Service)

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