You’ve opened your business, set up your local office, ordered all your office supplies, found vendors for your products, hired a great team to help you succeed, and are about to launch the best e-commerce site you’ve ever seen…it’s okay, you’re allowed to be biased. With your newly minted operation just steps away from being a full-fledged operational business, the only piece to the puzzle you’re missing, is how to get paid.

Everyone accepts cash, but not every consumer pays with cash. The majority of retail transactions across the United States are done with debit/credit cards. This means that you MUST offer credit card processing if you want to attract and maintain your client base.

Now that ecommerce has become commonplace online, it’s not as expensive or difficult to get set up as it once was. With all the inexpensive and easy solutions being offered, it’s important that, as a business owner, you’re knowledgeable about what you’re agreeing to when you sign the dotted line (or type your name in the signature bar). Here are three questions you should ask potential credit card processors BEFORE you sign a contract:

What Are the Rates/Fees?

For the majority of business owners, the deciding factor in selecting a credit card company boils down to the cost. Being a start-up, cash flow doesn’t always flow right away and while you know that you need to spend money to make money, every penny matters to your bottom line. As with every industry, the jargon used by merchant services and credit card processing companies might as well be a foreign language to the business owners who have no experience in that field. For example, the rates and fees that you should expect to pay for your credit card transactions are largely influenced by something called interchange. Before you find yourself speaking with the sales department of any merchant services company, do some research about how the interchange works and what it means to your business. Armed with a bit of knowledge, you’ll be able to have a better understanding of the fees that you’re committing to.

Do You Have a Volume Commitment?

Something that might not be brought to your attention during the sales process is that some merchant services companies have minimum volume commitments in their contracts. This means that you are agreeing to processes X amount of sales each month through their services, and if you fail to do so, this could easily result in a higher transaction fee. Be sure to be clear about any commitments you would be making by signing the contract.

Are There Any Early Cancellation Penalties?

Much like signing a contract with your cell phone carrier, landlord, or cable company, the majority of the contracts offered by merchant services companies will have provisions for early cancellation fees. Should you decide that this company isn’t a perfect fit for your needs, or no longer need to process credit card transactions, you could find yourself with a hefty debt to pay. Read through the terms of your contract and make sure you’re comfortable with the time commitment you’ll be making.

Take the time to educate yourself on the credit card processors industry and make sure that you fully understand the terms, conditions, fees, and regulations that you’re agreeing to follow when contracting with each particular company.

Once you’ve selected a company that best fits your needs, it’s time to launch your shiny new ecommerce site or open up your store!