The Ultimate Guide to Merchant Services for Businesses of All Sizes

merchant services

It may surprise you to learn that Americans pay approximately $120 billion in credit card fees and interest each year. This means there’s no shortage of people using this form of payment. When you run a business, it’s imperative to work with the right merchant services to get the best results.

This topic can be overwhelming for many entrepreneurs, and not everybody understands how to find the right provider. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide that outlines the key information you should know. Let’s dive in.

What Are Merchant Services?

This term applies to a broad range of financial services meant for businesses. They’re designed to make payments smoother, more secure, and more convenient.

Companies that don’t use merchant services are often at a significant disadvantage. Entrepreneurs should find a reputable service provider instead.

What Do These Services Include?

These consist of a handful of different services. Understanding them can help you decide if they’re right for you. Listed below are some of the most notable.

Payment Gateways

Companies that accept online payments need secure payment gateways. There’s no shortage of cybercriminals looking to procure sensitive information. Even a single incident can come with severe consequences.

The average data breach costs over $4 million, which is impossible for most businesses to overcome. There’s also a risk of tarnishing your company’s reputation. Payment gateways work together with your online store or website to facilitate payments.

Credit Card Processing

Most companies accept credit card payments. Although there are merchant-related fees for doing so, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Merchant services can facilitate these payments both online and in person.

They help provide your customers with a variety of payment options. This level of flexibility can dictate whether someone makes a purchase or not.

Credit Card Terminals

Credit card terminals are devices that can process credit card payments. They allow users to tap or swipe their card to make a purchase.

Most brick-and-mortar locations have credit card terminals. The best merchant services will have high-quality devices to choose from.

Online Transaction Processing

Processing payments online is more complicated than it seems. It requires a bit of work on the company’s backend to function appropriately.

Merchant services frequently provide online transaction processing. This comes in the form of database software that processes payments, manages customer orders, and updates stock levels.

It automates many menial tasks that would otherwise be inconvenient. Automation also minimizes the chance of human error.

Loyalty Programs

Most consumers are familiar with loyalty programs, but many people don’t understand how they work. After a customer satisfies certain criteria, they can receive loyalty rewards.

This could involve them hitting a threshold after spending a certain amount of money within a given period. For this to function appropriately, your service provider can configure the necessary components. A key part of this process involves connecting your loyalty program to your payment processor.

Check Services

This service isn’t as common as many of the others, but it’s still important to consider. Companies with customers who often pay via check need a system to process and cash these payments. Merchant service providers can help you achieve this.

Point of Sale (POS) Systems

POS systems use hardware to accept payments and use software to process them. Many of them allow you to track inventory.

These also make sales more convenient. Without them, your company could only accept cash.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with cash, but many customers not only prefer to pay with a card, but they tend to spend more when given the option. Most businesses can benefit from using a POS system, so keep this in mind when moving forward.

Are There Fees?

Due to the utility they provide, merchant services come at a cost. These costs can vary substantially between providers.

It’s in your best interest to shop around. Service providers also tend to have different payment options.

Some charge monthly, while others charge flat rates. Others mainly charge processing fees or provide tiered pricing packages.

For example, you might find a provider that requires a large upfront payment and then a small monthly fee. Other providers simply charge a percentage of card transactions.

How Do I Find the Right Service Provider?

At first, finding the right service provider can seem overwhelming. The good news is that it’s not nearly as difficult as people anticipate. Below are the most notable attributes to keep an eye out for.

Customer Service Policy

Never work with a service provider that doesn’t have a stellar customer service policy. The last thing you want is to deal with problems on your own.

Check their website to see the level of customer support they provide. It’s recommended to work with a provider that offers 24/7 support.

Issues sometimes arise outside of business hours, and you’ll need to get in touch with a representative as soon as possible. This goes a long way toward minimizing downtime.

Overall Cost

The best choice will depend on your individual needs. Some companies have the capital to make large upfront payments.

Others prefer to pay as they go. Determine your requirements and then look for providers that meet them.

It’s important to know that you often get what you pay for. Choosing the cheapest options will likely fall short of your goals.

This doesn’t mean you have to spend as much money as possible though. A provider with services in the middle of the price range is often best. Some providers offer additional services, such as helping businesses implement cash discounts.

Past Reputation

What do other people have to say about the service provider? Were they satisfied with their results? Take a deep dive into their past reputation before making your decision.

You shouldn’t hire a service provider who doesn’t have stellar customer feedback. Consider how they respond to criticism, as well. If they get defensive when faced with negative feedback, you should look elsewhere.

Payment Processing Time

It can be frustrating to be left in the dark regarding payment processing times. Ideally, your credit card merchant services provider will process all payments shortly after they occur.

This provides peace of mind that the transaction was successful. It also helps you document the payment sooner.

Since this attribute is so important, you’ll likely find customer reviews about it. Reputable businesses will proudly display fast processing times on their website.

So, this information shouldn’t be difficult to locate. A bit of research can help you avoid providers who can’t meet your processing time needs.


You should have no issue integrating merchant services with other software or hardware. This includes transaction processing and bookkeeping applications. No matter how good your provider is, you won’t make full use of their services if you can’t integrate them.

Search for providers that help their clients get started. Integration is often complicated for those who’ve never done it before. Having access to a written guide or account representative can streamline this process.

The more assistance they provide, the better. Integrating merchant services on your own can be time-consuming. If it takes longer than it should, you risk falling short of your target metrics.

System Reliability

System reliability is a critical attribute to consider when looking for providers. Maximizing processing uptime ensures customers have a great experience.

It also allows you to maintain your sales volume. Never choose merchant services for small business owners that don’t have solid system reliability.

They should have a proven track record of their performance. Check that the provider has measures in place to deal with outages. Even a brief period of downtime can be overwhelmingly expensive.

Not only will you miss out on potential sales, but your customers might choose a competitor instead. In these situations, they’re unlikely to return to your business.

Consider how outages will affect your company, as well. This will help you prepare for the off chance you deal with downtime.

Security Programs

Payment data is one of the most valuable data types to hackers. They have no problem working for hours to breach security systems since the payoff is so high.

There’s only so much protection you can implement on your own. Your merchant services provider will need to handle the rest.

They should have comprehensive security programs that defend against common threats. Countermeasures to take action against problems that slip through the cracks are also essential.

One of the best attributes of working with a service provider is their assistance with payment card industry (PCI) compliance. This can be difficult to navigate on your own, and noncompliance fees can be costly.

Search for a provider that implements active security monitoring. They can identify issues and control them before they evolve. Reputable providers typically offer monetary breach assistance.

This helps cover costs if your customers’ data is compromised. It’s best to find someone that offers training and education on security issues.

Note that it’s impossible to future-proof payment security. Criminals work tirelessly to overcome contemporary methods. Hire a provider that aims to improve their security’s robustness over time.

Agreement Terms

Before you sign an agreement, look at the specifics. To clarify, consider the length of the contract, miscellaneous fees, and the cancellation policy.

The agreement should be easy to understand and have minimal industry jargon. If the contract seems too complex, ask the provider for a simplified version.

If they insist on explaining everything themselves, there’s a chance they’re misleading you. If you’re worried about your potential experience, see if they have short contract options. Some providers even allow you to forego a contract.

Instead, they’ll offer a trial period so you can assess how effective they are. Many contracts include value-added services (VAS).

Common ones are online reputation monitoring, competitor reporting, and loyalty programs. Your provider may bundle some or all of these services in your agreement. The services they offer might also come in different tiers.

Ask them about value-added services to gain insight into what you’ll pay for. In some cases, providers allow you to opt out of these. This can help your company save money by eliminating services you don’t need.

Industry Experience

Industry experience separates good providers from great ones. New companies won’t always fail to meet your goals. However, they’ll be less likely to exceed your expectations.

Prioritize those that have been around for years and resolved countless issues for their clients. They’ll have a better understanding of industry nuances that newer companies might not grasp.

Companies with an extensive history have also proven they’re reliable. If they hadn’t met expectations, they would have gone out of business.

What Role Does My Company’s Size Play?

Payment processing isn’t a universal solution. The size of your company plays a large role in what you should look for in a service provider.

The term “business size” is often misconstrued in this context. It doesn’t necessarily refer to how many employees you have or how large your office is.

It mainly considers your credit card processing volume. As the name implies, this is how much money your business generates through credit card payments. A company with thousands of employees and millions of dollars in revenue could have low card processing volume.

In contrast, a small business with only a few employees can have a substantial credit card processing volume. However, the number of your company’s locations also plays a large role.

Companies with many locations can serve a larger number of customers. If every location can process credit card payments, that company will likely have a substantial credit card processing volume.

To clarify, business size has a direct impact on the merchant service providers you should work with. Your business might also be larger or smaller than you initially thought. Assessing your credit payment volume can help you determine what service level you need from your professional.

Take Action Today

Working with the right merchant services provider can take your company’s performance to the next level. Not only will you streamline the transaction process, but you’ll also keep your payments secure. This creates a better overall customer experience.

Ready to get started? Speak with a representative at Trinity Payments today. Our professional team can guide you through the process and help you reach your goals.

Interested in offering Cash Discounts to your customerds?  Ask us how you can qualify for our free terminal program. 

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