Many customers love to pay with plastic, and accepting credit cards can sometimes be the difference between making or losing a sale.

Credit card services are competitive, so shop around for the best deal. Your search should turn up banks as well as independent sales organizations (ISOs) that provide merchant services for credit cards.

Once you narrow your search to a few providers, get copies of their merchant contracts. Look the contracts over carefully with a critical eye toward answering these questions:

1. What is the discount rate? 2. How much of a reserve is required to be maintained? 3. How quickly will your bank account be credited with credit card deposits? 4. How much are monthly fees? 5. How much are transaction fees? 6. What equipment is required, and what are the costs? 7. Can equipment be purchased rather than leased?

Avoid contracts with high monthly rates, low rates coupled with high up-front fees, or costly equipment leases. And as always, don’t sign any agreement until you understand every detail.

Gene Fairbrother ShopTalk 800® Business Consultant National Association for the Self-Employed Dallas

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