A merchant account is a type of bank account that allows businesses to accept payments by payment cards, typically debit or credit cards. A merchant account is established under an agreement between an acceptor and a merchant acquiring bank for the settlement of payment card transactions. In some cases a payment processor, independent sales organization (ISO), or merchant service provider (MSP) is also a party to the merchant agreement. Whether a merchant enters into a merchant agreement directly with an acquiring bank or through an aggregator such as PayPal, the agreement contractually binds the merchant to obey the operating regulations established by the card associations.
Merchant Account Marketing
Merchant accounts are marketed to merchants by two basic methods: either directly by the processor or sponsoring bank, or by an authorized agent for the bank and additionally directly registered with both Visa and MasterCard as an ISO/MSP (Independent Selling Organization / Member Service Provider). Marketing details are by card issuers like Visa and MasterCard, and are enforced by various rules and fines. A few of the largest processors also partner with warehouse clubs to promote merchant accounts to their business members.
Marketing by Banks
A bank that has a merchant processing relationship with Visa and Mastercard, also known as a member bank, can issue merchant accounts directly to merchants. To reduce risk, some banks limit approval to merchants in its geographical area, those with a physical retail storefront, or those that have been in business for 2 years or more.
Marketing by Independent Sales Organization (ISO)/MSPs
To market merchant accounts, an ISO/MSP must be sponsored by a member bank. This sponsorship requires that the bank verify the financial stability and suitability of the company that will be marketing on its behalf. The ISO/MSP must also pay a fee to be registered with Visa and Mastercard and must comply with regulations in how they may market merchant accounts and the use of copyrights of Visa and Mastercard. One way to verify if an ISO/MSP is in compliance is to check a website or any other marketing material for a disclosure “company is a registered ISO/MSP of bank, town, state. FDIC insured”. This disclosure is required by both Visa and Mastercard and will cause a fine of up to $25,000 if it is not clearly visible. In almost all cases, if there is no disclosure, the company is likely to be an uninformed 4th party or worse. In many cases unregistered operators have been responsible for some of the worst horror stories from merchants.
Rates and fees
A Merchant Account has a variety of fees, some periodic, others charged on a per-item or percentage basis. Some fees are set by the merchant account provider, but the majority of the per-item and percentage fees are passed through the merchant account provider to the credit card issuing bank according to a schedule of rates called interchange fees, which are set by Visa, Discover, and Mastercard. Interchange fees vary depending on card type and the circumstances of the transaction. For example, if a transaction is made by swiping a card through a credit card terminal it will be in a different category than if it were keyed in manually.
The discount rate comprises a number of dues, fees, assessments, network charges and mark-ups merchants are required to pay for accepting credit and debit cards, the largest of which by far is the Interchange fee. Each bank or ISO/MSP has real costs in addition to the wholesale interchange fees, and creates profit by adding a mark-up to all the fees mentioned above. There are a number of price models banks and ISOs/MSPs use to bill merchants for the services rendered. Here are the more popular price models: