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If you’re interested in expanding your brick-and-mortar business online, or you want to open an ecommerce shop, you’ll need to figure out how to accept payments online. It can seem overwhelming at first if you haven’t done a lot of research: you need a secure solution that minimizes fraud, provides a secure experience for customers, and has the flexibility to grow with your business.  There are plenty of nitty-gritty details that can make the process seem hopelessly confusing — but it’s not as complex as you might fear! Here’s a quick, straight answer for how to accept payments online.

The way merchants typically accept online payments is with a merchant account and a payment gateway. The first half of this — the merchant account — is pretty straightforward. It’s simply a special bank account that’s designated for businesses accepting credit card payments. After a sale, the profits land in the merchant account before being transferred to your normal business account. The money is usually held in the merchant account for a certain period before it’s transferred out. Merchant accounts are essential part of how to accept payments online, otherwise the money from your sales will have nowhere to go.

The merchant account will link to a payment gateway, which is how your customers will input the information they need to pay you. Think of the payment gateway as the online equivalent of a card swipe machine you can find in just about any physical store. The payment gateway is what connects all the different parties in the transaction and facilitates the delivery of funds. Using a payment gateway usually means that you’ll have more personalized customer service, since these providers are generally associated with large companies. That means if you have troubles, you can usually get a real person on the phone to help you out. This personalization also means that there are more control over security customization and rules — a great fit for bigger businesses who want a solution tailored to their needs.

With both merchant accounts and payment gateways, you should expect some fees, though some providers will be more competitive than others. Depending on who you choose, your transaction fees could be lower than average, or you might not need to pay setup fees.

In order to get a merchant account or a payment gateway so you can start accepting payments online, you’ll need to apply to both separately. The application process shouldn’t take very long: you’ll generally be asked for some financial and business information. Once you submit everything, it’ll usually take a few days for everything to get processed. After you’re approved, you’ll set everything up by connecting the account to the gateway, and then the gateway to your store. Once you’ve completed the setup process, you’ll be ready to begin processing payments.

There are some provider that offer a combined account and gateway as an all-in-one solution. These include services like PayPal and let merchants to accept major credit cards at good transaction rates. Many of these all-in-one solutions don’t charge monthly or setup fees, but you may have to pay up if you want features beyond the basics. Because this combo streamlines the transaction process, all-in-one solutions are a little quicker to set up, which is one answer for how to accept payments online a little faster. Though PayPal and other similar services are becoming increasingly popular, it’s probably be a good idea to combine these solutions with at least one other payment processor so customers can choose the way they prefer to pay.

Some simplified payment processors don’t need a merchant service account or payment gateway. This typically means fewer fees for merchants. Their rates are competitive, and many don’t have setup or monthly fees. These payment processors integrate with your checkout pages, so your customers never have to leave the shop. Like combined accounts, they’re easy to set up. This simplicity is another solution for how to accept payments online quickly. However, many of these processors don’t offer the same level of support as traditional processors.

There are a few other things to keep in mind when searching for the right payment processor. Check what kind of security they provide — PCI compliance is essential, and you should also require the Card Verification Value (CVV) code in your checkout processes.  You should also ask what tools they have in place to prevent chargeback fraud, and what kinds of chargeback fees they have. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Figuring out how to accept payments online isn’t a process that you should rush through, but you won’t be sorry if you do your research. Remember that there’s not one-size-fits-all payment processing solution — only the best option for your business. Good luck!