According to a survey by Intuit, more than half (55 percent) of small businesses in the U.S. don’t accept credit cards. At the same time, the Federal Reserve reports that 60 percent of consumers prefer to pay with a card rather than cash. Clearly there is a disconnect in these numbers.
As a business owner, it’s important to meet the needs of your customers — not only in terms of the service you provide, but in how you allow customers to pay for that service. And the trend toward people preferring credit cards is accelerating: A 2016 Gallup poll found that only 24 percent of people make all/most of their purchases with cash, down from 36 percent just five years earlier. The Federal Reserve found that while checks were used for 40 billion transactions in 2000, there were fewer than half that many checks written by 2014. In short, plastic — in the form of credit and debit cards — has taken over.
While the main benefit of accepting these cards is to make payment easier for customers, accepting credit cards may also lead to increased sales. Numerous studies have shown that consumers will spend more when paying with a credit card. That may be more relevant to spontaneous or impulse purchases made in the check-out line at a store than it is to paying for tree services, but it could result in the customer deciding to add on a service that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to write a check for.
The National Federation of Independent Business points out that accepting credit cards offers additional benefits, as well. Namely setting yourself apart from the competition: companies that accept credit cards are seen as more legitimate than those that don’t. Conversely, if yours is the only tree care business in town that doesn’t accept credit cards, you may be at a competitive disadvantage.
Of course, there are costs to accepting credit cards. The most notable is the 2 to 4 percent fee charged by most credit card companies for processing and transactions. (Sometimes this comes in the form of a flat fee per charge, plus a percentage; debit card fees may be slightly lower than when a credit card is used.) On a $1,000 job, that means $20 to $40 or hard-earned money going out the door rather than into your pocket, or the fuel tank of the chipper. In the grand scheme of things, that may not seem like a lot, but if your profit margin is only 10 or even 20 percent, a 3 percent fee takes away a significant chunk of that profit. Currently, merchants in 42 states are allowed to pass on these fees to customers. And a federal court in California recently struck down a state law prohibiting businesses there from doing so. There are certain procedures that must be followed when adding a surcharge to customers’ bills when they pay with a credit card, so check with your credit card processor.
When you accept credit cards, you’ll need to either select a third-party processor or set up a merchant account with your bank, which can reduce ongoing fees but may cost up to $200 to get started. If you go the merchant account route, you’ll also be responsible for ensuring the security of charging your customers’ credit cards.
There may also be costs for point of sale hardware if you want to accept credit cards out in the field, though some processing companies provide free or low-cost solutions for accepting mobile payments on your smartphone or tablet. You can take credit cards in the office over the phone, but oftentimes the fee charged is higher in these “card not present” situations.
While there are certainly expenses involved, in addition to the benefits mentioned earlier (possibly higher revenue, increased legitimacy among customers, a competitive advantage in a world that has grown accustomed to paying with plastic), there are some additional, less tangible pluses. It may be easier for you to track your tree care company’s payments when credit cards are used, and you may be able to integrate these payments so they flow directly into QuickBooks or some other bookkeeping software. You’ll likely have the money in your account faster than mailing a bill and waiting for a check to arrive and be deposited, which improves cash flow and cuts down on trips to the bank. And it’s easier to set customers up for recurring charges — say for monthly plant health care treatments. Finally, there’s less chance of fraud with a credit card than there may be when accepting a check. Seems like there is an obvious choice in payment methods, no?