How to accept payments for your small business

women using smartphone

At Azlo, we’re always thinking about an entrepreneur’s unique banking and financial needs. In addition to business banking (we have you covered there), every entrepreneur needs a way to get paid quickly, reliably, and securely — without being charged excessive fees.

There are many ways to receive payments, each with their own pros and cons. The best choice will depend on the amount of the payment, the person who’s paying you, your industry, how quickly you need the funds, and how much you’re willing to pay for extra speed and convenience.

Since there are so many variables, it’s important to get (and stay) informed about all the options. With that in mind, here’s an overview of the primary ways your customers, clients, and investors can give you money.

mosaic of payment icons

Cash

As a business owner, cash has a long list of significant pros and cons. On the plus side, cash is instant (there’s no processing time between when your customer makes the payment and when you have the funds), and there aren’t any fees to receive it. You also don’t have to worry about chargebacks.

Cash isn’t the easiest or safest option, though. First of all, it’s not even an option for online businesses. Cash is used increasingly rarely, which makes it inconvenient for many customers (which can lead to lost sales). Once you have the cash, you have to safely store it until you’re able to deposit it. If it’s stolen, damaged, counterfeit or lost, you’re usually liable. You’ll also need to find a bank with a convenient local branch to process the cash, and you can expect to incur cash processing fees.

Checks

The biggest advantage of checks is the lack of processing fees, as most banks don’t charge a fee for check deposits. They’re also generally easy for business owners to process, since many banks (including Azlo) offer the option of depositing checks with your mobile phone.

The downsides to checks include the fact that many customers don’t use checks or find them inconvenient, plus the possibility of holds and increased risk. After you deposit a check, it can take several days (or more) for your bank to collect the funds from the other bank and release them into your account. It’s also possible for a check to bounce, either before or after the funds become available. If a check bounces, you’ll have to try and collect payment again … and you risk losing the payment entirely. Your bank may also charge returned check fees or overdraft fees on top of the lost payment.

Credit or debit cards

The biggest advantage of credit or debit card payments is customer convenience. Many customers find this to be the easiest way to make purchases, and offering it as an option can boost your sales.

That said, card payments can be a hassle (you’ll have to find a payment processor), it can take several days before the funds are available in your bank account, and they’re very expensive for small businesses. For example — to process an online card transaction, PayPal charges 2.9% of the transaction total plus a $0.30 fee. If someone makes a $200 purchase, the merchant will pay $6.10. There’s also the risk of chargebacks and disputes, which can lead to more fees and lost revenue.

Bank-to-bank payments

This category includes both ACH (automated clearinghouse) and wire transfers. There’s a wide range in processing time (same-day to 4 business days or more) and potential fees (free to quite costly). In general, you’ll pay more for speed. You may also pay more for added convenience.

Wires: these are very quick and relatively expensive. It can cost up to $45 to send a wire, and many banks (though not Azlo) will charge a fee to receive them. They’re generally the method of choice for very large payments and international payments. There are some industries where wires are the standard form of payment because they’re fast, secure, and generally can’t be reversed. If you’re not in one of the industries where wires are common, however, you may find that your customers are reluctant to use them.

ACH transfers These are slower than wires (typically 2–4 business days), but they’re one of the lowest-cost, most reliable options. If you’d like to accept payments via ACH transfers, you’ll need to ask yourself this question: “Can my customers easily send the payment to me (as an ACH credit) or should I use a third-party ACH processor to debit the funds from their account (as an ACH debit)?

ACH credit payments: If your customer sends a transfer directly to your bank account (by sending it through their bank or a third-party transfer service) you should be able to accept payments entirely fee-free. The service your customer uses may charge them a fee, however. This kind of payment is also referred to as an ACH push transaction.

ACH debit payments: If you choose to process the payment for your customer, you’ll need to find a service that can pull the funds from your customer’s bank account. There are lots of options: Stripe offers ACH processing, as does Quickbooks Payments and dozens of other third-party services. Many of these services charge a low flat fee for each payment.

Services like Cash App, Venmo, Amazon Pay …

These are newer, digital payment services that can be used to send payments to friends (for example, sending $8 to a friend when splitting a pizza), or businesses.

These services each offer their own interface, processing the payments as debit/credit card transactions or as ACH transactions behind the scenes. They generally charge fees for retailers (even if they’re free for person-to-person payments).

If you’re looking into one of these services, it’s a good idea to shop around and check their policies and fees for business use.


Hi there! This post exists to offer you (hopefully) useful information but it cannot take the place of personalized professional advice. Please consult a qualified expert if you have questions about your business. Also, Azlo doesn’t endorse any third-party sites that are linked here.


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