Taking Credit Card Payment

Good morning.

It is still a little early and I am supposed to keep this is secret from Brendan, but today he is receiving the President’s Education Award.  And on top of that, this is officially his last week of the 5th grade and is moving onto middle school next school year.  I am extremely proud of Brendan for his accomplishments at school and at home as he is just a super-awesome young man to hang around with.  Congratulations Brendan, I love you!

I have updated this post for a picture of Brendan after receiving his award.  He also received recognition for his hard work in band and in their Pride Group.  You are awesome Brendan!

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Small Business and Selling on Terms

One of the more challenging choices a growing small business faces is how and when to sell on terms.  The fact is, the simplest way to run your business is on cash – that is, getting paid with cash or possibly a check when you do something or sell something.  Any other sale is on terms; this includes taking credit cards (as I will explain in a moment).

The closer you are to selling to the end-using person, Business-to-Consumer (B2c) sales, the closer you can get to collecting cash on delivery.  There are 2 key parts to a  cash-based B2C transaction – 1) relatively low unit price and 2) ability to take ownership of the goods/service at the time of sale.  If you are a Food Truck in a downtown area, I would encourage you to stick to a “Cash Only” policy.

“What about accepting credit cards?”, you ask.  “Isn’t that the same as cash?”

No, accepting credit cards is not the same as cash, no matter how much the credit card industry wants you to believe otherwise.  But it can be very beneficial to your small business to accept credit cards from customers.  Now, I am going to apologize because this might get a little confusing but bear with me.

When someone wants to buy from you but doesn’t have the right amount of money on-hand, they have to ask to pay for it later. (Think Whimpy from Popeye’s cartoons where – he will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today) You are taking them on faith that the payment will be coming when they promised.

From an accounting standpoint, you have created an Account Receivable (A/R) from Whimpy.  The sale of the burger happens today and you collect Tuesday (unfortunately you never seem to sell on a Tuesday so you can collect same day).  Now, the sooner you collect that A/R, the better your cash flow will be.  But what to do when you have other bills to pay and the money won’t be in for some period of time?

You Sell your Receivable

A few years ago, there was a very large industry which specialized in buying – or loaning against – A/R.  This is known as factoring.  These company’s would give you money for your A/R and then collect the face value from the Customer.  You would receive a little less than face value but you had cash today to pay your bills.

This is exactly how taking credit card payments works.  Let’s walk through the Whimpy hamburger sale.

Whimpy buys $50.00 worth of hamburgers a week.  He always pays on Tuesday for the hamburgers bought Wednesday to Sunday.  You still have other bills to pay, so you are wondering what you can do about this.

  • Does it make sense to deny Whimpy his $50.00 of hamburgers if he can’t pay for them daily?  That could be a good percentage of your weekly sales so that might not be a great idea.
  • If you could find someone willing to give you $45.00 every Friday who would then collect the $50.00 from Whimpy on Tuesday, would this help your cash flow?
  • Or, if Whimpy has a credit card, he can buy his $7.00 hamburger every day and we can pay the Credit Card Company $0.25 per transaction (hamburger) and they can worry about collecting from Whimpy on their terms.  Over the course of a week, your this $50.00 of sales costs you $1.75 so you actually net $48.25.  Would this be even more helpful to your cash flow?

For today’s small business selling B2C, selling on Credit Card terms can offer a substantial boost to revenues and profits.  The truth is, most people are not running around with lots of cash in their pockets so your ability to sell to them can be limited on a cash-only basis.  Accepting their ability to essentially “Pay you tomorrow for the hamburger today” may beat “Sorry I would buy from you but I don’t have any cash”.

Now, I am not suggesting that the fees charged by credit card companies are fair or reasonable, or even that they are not as it depends on what you want and need. I honestly believe though, your first consideration as a small business owner is what you can do to increase sales.  Offering a new term to current and potential customers might be an easy solution to get you access to new business.  But remember there is a cost.

Every credit card offered has different fees they charge a merchant and it can be confusing.  You will need to have a conversation with several different merchant services providers and even your bank.  It might also be helpful to bring your accounting professional into that conversation so you get an unbiased, independent evaluation of your credit card acceptance options.  If you do not have an accounting professional or would like a second opinion, contact us at Currie & McLain and we would be happy to have a free no obligation conversation with you about your business and if offering to accept credit cards (or other terms) is right for you.

Have a great Tuesday.

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