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NerdWallet’s Best Business Software for 2022

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The right business software for your company can minimize manual data entry, generate more insightful reports and ensure your books stay up to date. Before choosing a product, verify that it integrates with the rest of your system.

Here are NerdWallet’s top picks for the best small-business software.

QuickBooks Online: Overall best accounting software

QuickBooks Online

 

 

 

Cost: $25 per month and up. Promotions are available.

  • Strong reporting capabilities.

  • Transaction tracking tools for analyzing how money is being spent.

  • Reputation as an industry standard means accountants should be familiar with it.

  • Unlimited invoices.

  • In-house payroll, time tracking and payment solutions available.

  • Inventory tracking isn’t included in all plans.

  • Limited users allowed.

  • Higher-tier plans are expensive.

Why we like it: With over 5 million users globally, QuickBooks Online is an accounting industry leader with scalable plans and hundreds of available integrations. The Plus and Advanced plans include job costing capabilities, inventory management, and class and location tracking for monitoring different segments of a business.

Wave Accounting: Best free accounting software

Cost: Free.

  • No monthly fees.

  • Unlimited users.

  • Unlimited invoices.

  • In-house payroll and payment solutions available.

  • No in-house inventory tracking.

  • No job costing features.

  • No in-house time tracking.

Why we like it: Wave Accounting is a reliable solution for small businesses and freelancers who don’t require job costing features or advanced reporting. The web-based software is easy to use and includes a mobile app for invoicing. Businesses that are looking for a scalable solution, however, should opt for a product like QuickBooks Online.

QuickBooks Payroll: Best payroll software integration

QuickBooks Payroll

 

QuickBooks

 

Cost: $45 per month plus $4 per employee per month and up. Promotions are available.

  • Strong QuickBooks Online integration.

  • Next-day or same-day direct deposit.

  • Extra tax penalty protection with the Elite plan.

  • Multiple state filing fees in Core and Premium plans.

  • Limited integrations without QuickBooks Online.

QuickBooks demo. (Screenshot by NerdWallet)

Why we like it: QuickBooks Payroll is hands-down the most convenient option for business owners who already use QuickBooks Online for accounting. The software is best for companies with up to 50 employees. It lets clients add 401(k) options and employee health benefits to any plan.

 

Gusto: Best HR and payroll platform

Cost: $39 per month plus $6 per person per month and up.

  • No multiple-state filing fees.

  • Wide selection of employee perks, such as commuter benefits and college savings accounts.

  • Hiring, onboarding and team management tools, like employee surveys and customizable onboarding checklists.

  • No same-day direct deposit.

  • No app for employers.

(Screenshot courtesy of Gusto)

Why we like it: Unlike QuickBooks Payroll, Gusto integrates with other accounting software products outside of the QuickBooks suite. While it doesn’t have an app that lets employers run payroll on the go, its Gusto Wallet app for employees lets them set savings goals, open a spending account, transfer money to a savings account and access funds in between paychecks.

 

Square: Best all-around point-of-sale system

Square Payments

 

Square

 

Software cost: Free and up.

Hardware cost: Free card reader; Square Stand Kit starts at $639 and includes an iPad stand, cash drawer, receipt printer and receipt paper. (iPad can be bought separately or through Square.)

Payment processing cost: 2.6% plus 10 cents per tapped, dipped or swiped transaction; 2.9% plus 30 cents per online transaction.

  • Free plan available.

  • Offers separate plans for retail stores and restaurants.

  • In-house payroll and payment solutions available.

  • Can pay for hardware in installments.

  • Free online store, unlimited invoicing and time tracking.

  • Loyalty program costs extra in all plans.

  • May not have tools that are advanced enough for larger businesses.

Square Stand. (Photo courtesy of Square)

Why we like it: With free POS software and affordable hardware, newer businesses strapped for cash should add the Square all-in-one POS system to their list of options. As they grow, retail stores and restaurants can upgrade to the Plus plan, giving them access to more reports and team management features.

 

Toast: Best POS system for restaurants

Make payments make sense

Find the right payment provider to meet your unique business needs.

Software cost: Free and up.

Hardware cost: $799 for the Starter Kit, which includes a Toast Flex POS terminal, Toast tap payment device and router.

Payment processing cost: 2.99% plus 15 cents per transaction if you don’t pay for the Starter Kit upfront; 2.49% plus 15 cents per card-present transaction and 3.5% plus 15 cents per card-not-present transaction if you pay for the Starter Kit upfront.

  • Offers in-house payroll and payments solutions.

  • Free plan available.

  • Can pay for the Starter Kit as a percentage of sales instead of upfront.

  • Built solely for restaurants.

  • Offers in-house delivery services.

  • Two-year software contract required.

Toast hardware lineup. (Image courtesy of Toast)

Why we like it: Made specifically for restaurants, Toast sells hardware that’s built to resist heat, spills and grease. In addition to having an offline mode for placing orders and taking payments during an outage, the POS system also offers 24/7 customer support. Separately, Toast’s delivery service could be a huge asset for restaurants trying to expand their sales channels beyond in-house dining.

 

Helcim: Best stand-alone payment solution

Make payments make sense

Find the right payment provider to meet your unique business needs.

Cost: Interchange plus 0.3% and 8 cents per in-person transaction; interchange plus 0.5% and 25 cents per keyed or online transaction (for businesses with a monthly credit card volume of $25,000 or less).

  • Offers volume discounts.

  • Interchange-plus pricing structure is transparent.

  • No monthly subscription costs, contracts, PCI fees or setup fees.

  • No 24/7 support.

  • Will not work with high-risk merchants.

Why we like it: Businesses looking for a merchant account provider instead of a payment service provider should consider Helcim for its transparency and volume discounts. Payment solutions aside, merchants can use its e-commerce platform to build an online store and access POS capabilities through its app.

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Accion Business Loans: 2022 Review

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Our Take

The bottom line: Accion loans are a good option for borrowers who’ve been in business for three months or more and have been turned down by other lenders.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A broad range of loan amounts from $5,000 to $100,000.

  • Loans are available to businesses in operation for as little as three months.

  • Expanded credit guidelines for borrowers.

  • Customized loan terms.

  • No prepayment penalty.

Cons

  • It can’t be used to get a business off the ground.

  • Shorter loan repayment periods of one to five years.

  • Slow processing speed compared to online lenders.

  • Not available in all U.S. states.

Full Review

Accion Opportunity Fund is a nonprofit community lender offering customized loans to small business owners throughout most of the U.S.

Over 80% of Accion clients identify as women, people of color or immigrants. In addition to small business loans, educational resources and coaching support in English and Spanish are also provided.

Accion is best for borrowers who:

  • Prefer customized options. Loan terms are structured based on your business needs.

  • Don’t have perfect credit. Factors other than your credit score can be used to determine qualification.

  • Have new businesses and can’t get funding elsewhere. Businesses only need to be in operation for three months to apply.

Accion loan features

Loan amount

From $5,000 to $100,000.

Interest rates

5.99% to 14.99% for Small Business Progress loans.

4% subsidized rate for Southern Opportunity And Resilience, or SOAR, loans for businesses located in certain southern states.

Origination fees

3.99% to 6.99%.

12, 24, 36 or 60 months.
(No penalty for repaying early.)

Repayment schedule

Funding speed

5-7 days for loan application to be processed.

Where Accion stands out

Expanded credit guidelines for borrowers

Accion says that most of its borrowers have not been able to get loans with traditional lenders because they have poor credit, no credit history or require a small loan amount. Accion can use more than a borrower’s credit score to determine qualification for a business loan.

Customized loan terms

Accion can structure a loan to meet your specific business needs. After submitting an application, you may be able to choose from several loan options with different term lengths, interest rates and payment amounts. In addition, if Accion can’t provide a loan, it will refer you to one of its partners or provide other financing options for you to explore.

Additional services offered

Accion does more to help small businesses than just offering loans. Business coaching and mentoring are also available. You can set up an appointment for one-on-one assistance provided by a business expert. Your coach can also help you enroll in training programs to enhance your leadership skills. In addition, its resource center offers videos, articles, and interactive learning materials.

Where Accion falls short

Funds can’t be used to start a business

Accion loans are designed to support existing small business owners. But, again, your business must be in operation for a minimum of three months to qualify for an Accion loan. That means you won’t be able to use loan funds to start a business.

Loan programs aren’t available in all U.S. states

Accion loans are available in most U.S. states, but you won’t be eligible if your business is located in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee or Vermont. Also, Southern Opportunity and Resilience (SOAR) funding is limited to businesses located in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, or Washington, D.C.

Accion loan requirements

  • Credit score: No minimum required.

  • Time in business: Minimum of 3 months in business.

  • Annual revenue: Varies depending on the loan program.

How to apply for a loan from Accion

After completing an application online, you’ll receive a quote. Accion says that the quote won’t affect your credit score. You will need to provide some basic information about your business, including revenue and expenses. Accion will then review your loan options with you, including interest rates, repayment amounts and the repayment period. If there are no options that work for you, Accion can refer you to other resources.

If you decide to move forward with the loan offer, you’ll be asked to provide documents that Accion can use to verify the information you provided on your application. After that, your loan will be finalized; you’ll sign loan documents and then receive funds.

Alternatives to Accion

SBA loan

An SBA loan is another option to consider. These loans are offered through banks but partially guaranteed by the Small Business Administration. This can make it easier to qualify because the lender takes on less risk. In addition, funds from an SBA loan can be used to start a business. This differs from an Accion loan, which requires your business to operate for a minimum of three months to qualify. SBA loans also offer flexibility when a borrower has less-than-perfect credit.

Kiva U.S.

Kiva is another nonprofit that is an option to ponder. You can get up to $15,000 at 0% interest if you qualify. Kiva loans don’t require a minimum credit score or collateral. Still, there are other eligibility requirements, such as the business must be based in the U.S. and you can’t currently be in foreclosure, bankruptcy or under any liens. One unique Kiva provision is that borrowers are asked to demonstrate their strength of character by having friends and family make loans to them.

Compare business loans

If you’d like to compare loan options, NerdWallet has a list of best small-business loans. All of our recommendations are based on the lender’s market scope and track record, the needs of business owners, rates, and other factors so that you can make the right financing decision.

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13 Best Credit Card Readers for Small Businesses

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A credit card reader is essential to many small businesses, and choosing the right card reader can help your company operate more smoothly.

The best choice depends on your budget, features needed and whether you’re accepting payments at a counter or on the go. Some card readers — such as those that work with iPhones — are portable, while others are attached to a countertop register. A basic card reader without a screen is the cheapest option, and sometimes free. A comprehensive POS system, on the other hand, comes with sophisticated features and can cost over a thousand dollars.

Below is a list of the best credit card readers for small businesses and what they can do for your business.

Quick comparison: Take a quick side-by-side look at our top picks in this table.

Accept payments without worry

See our payment provider recommendations that fit your business.

 

Square Contactless and Chip reader

Best free option with basic functions

A man holds the contactless and chip reader by Square while running a credit card

Image courtesy of Square

Style: Connects to compatible phone or tablet via Bluetooth.
Price: $49 for reader and $29 for optional dock.
Fees: 2.6% plus 10 cents for most in-person transactions; no monthly fees.

Square’s contactless and chip card reader enables you to accept credit cards with chips and digital wallets, such as tap-and-pay credit cards and smartphone apps, including Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay. It uses Bluetooth technology instead of connecting directly to a device, which means you don’t have to keep your cell phone or tablet out with you all the time.

The reader must be charged, but the charging dock can double as a support for the reader for a counter or table. You can also charge it with a USB charger.

   

Has a compact design.

Doesn’t swipe credit cards.

Reads chip cards, digital wallets and contactless cards.

Takes up to two hours to charge.

 

Best for on-the-go payments for all card types

A white square Clover Go card reader

Courtesy of Clover

Style: Connects to compatible phone or tablet via Bluetooth.
Price: $99 for reader.
Fees: Varies from 2.3% plus 10 cents up to 3.5% plus 10 cents depending on method.

This credit card reader by Clover works with phones and tablets via Bluetooth. It also processes every type of credit card payment your customers could want: magstripe-only cards, chip cards and contactless payments. It costs $99 and requires users to purchase a monthly plan.

Features depend on the plan you choose. The Essentials Plan for $9.95 per month provides basic payment processing, inventory management, taxes, reporting and employee management with 24/7 support.

   

Includes interest-free installment plans.

Takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes to charge.

Charges via standard USB charger.

Requires a monthly fee for advanced POS features.

Uses passcodes for employees.

 

PayPal Zettle

The PayPal Zettle card reader sits on a coffee shop counter

Image courtesy of PayPal

Best for PayPal and Venmo payment options

Style: Connects to compatible phone or tablet via Bluetooth.
Price: $79 for reader; new customers can get their first one for $29.
Fees: Varies by method, starting at 1.9% plus 10 cents for PayPal and Venmo QR code transactions over $10.

PayPal’s Zettle accepts chip and contactless payments, but it doesn’t read magstripes. It does, however, let customers pay with QR codes on PayPal and Venmo platforms. Its POS software offers invoice creation, inventory management, tracking sales performance and more.

Transaction fees generally fall in line with competitors with lower rates available for transactions made by QR code. All funds go into your PayPal account rather than a bank account. You’ll need to request a transfer to move the funds to your business bank account before you can use them outside of PayPal.

   

Has lower rates for PayPal and Venmo platforms.

Deposits funds into your PayPal account, not a bank account.

Includes new customer discount for first reader purchase.

 

Has a screen to show transaction details.

 
 

SumUp Plus

A customer holds a credit card up to the SumUp Plus reader

Image courtesy of SumUp

Best for a low-cost do-it-all reader 

Style: Connects to compatible phone or tablet via Bluetooth.
Price: $19 for reader.
Fees: Varies from 2.75% and up depending on method.

Powerful and compact, the SumUp Plus credit card reader works through Bluetooth with Apple and Android devices and promises more than 500 transactions on one charge. In addition to having a screen to show transaction details, the reader comes with a few helpful POS software features, like inventory management and permissions for employee access, as well as customizable invoicing. However, you might find that the overall POS is lacking when compared with the more robust options on the market.

SumUp charges only for transactions and doesn’t require a monthly fee. You can order the reader for $19 and start accepting card transactions in a matter of minutes once it’s connected to the SumUp app.

   

Accepts swiped, inserted and contactless payments.

Has less robust POS software features.

Has a screen that displays transaction details.

 
 

Clover Flex

A hand holds a white Clover Flex credit card reader

Image courtesy of Clover

Best for an all-in-one handheld system

Style: Standalone handheld reader.
Price: $499 for reader; monthly contract required.
Fees: Varies from 2.3% plus 10 cents up to 3.5% plus 10 cents depending on monthly plan.

The Clover Flex is a small but powerful handheld credit card reader. It can process all three credit card payment types, scan bar codes and even print receipts. It’s one of the few options in this category that has its own screen, removing your personal device from the equation and allowing customers a bit more of a professional experience when checking out on the spot.

Depending on your monthly plan, the Clover Flex can help you manage inventory, view sales data and set up individual logins for employees. It costs $499, but the company offers payment plans to break up the cost. Payment processing rates depend on your pricing plan.

   

Works without connecting to a personal device.

Requires an initial investment.

Has payment plans available.

Requires monthly plan for advanced features.

Has a free monthly plan for basic features.

 
 

Helcim Card Reader

Best for low-cost transaction fees with volume-based discounts

Style: Connects via Bluetooth.
Price: $109 for the reader.
Fees: Varies by card type and monthly average transaction total.

Helcim’s card reader processes all three types of payments and connects via Bluetooth, meaning it needs to be charged. It also provides POS software with well-developed features, including customer management and inventory tracking that notifies you when your supply gets low. A standout feature is its self-service portal, which allows customers to log in to see their payment information and purchase history.

Helcim’s processing fees can be difficult to calculate because it bases its fees on the type of card and interchange fees, which are set by card networks. It also offers volume-based discounts based on transaction tiers. The more you average in transactions per month, the higher your discount. The processor doesn’t require you to sign a contract, choose a monthly fee or pay to cancel your service.

   

Has volume discounts available.

Might change processing rate if monthly transaction average drops.

Has robust POS software features.

Might be difficult to calculate monthly cost in advance.

 

Toast Go 2

The handheld Toast Go 2 swiping a credit card.

Image courtesy of Toast

Best for tableside payments at restaurants

Style: Standalone handheld reader.
Price: $389 plus $50 per month.
Fees: Typically quote-based; lowest listed price is 2.49% plus 15 cents per in-person transaction in Standard Starter plan.

The Toast Go 2 allows you to submit orders at tables and accept all three styles of payment. It’s also spill proof, will hold a charge for 24 hours and has a 6.4-inch touchscreen for quick checkout. The free version of Toast’s POS software comes with basic features, including point-of-sale and payment processing, but advanced features are available with paid plans.

The free pay-as-you-go monthly plan with basic features has a processing rate of 2.99% plus 15 cents for every in-person transaction. That rate drops to 2.49% plus 15 cents if you pay for your hardware upfront. Other plans come with quote-based pricing. One downside: The company requires contracts with a standard term of two years.

   

Is designed specifically for restaurants.

Requires quotes for advanced monthly plans.

Offers 24/7 customer support.

Requires a contract.

Is versatile and durable.

 
 

Square Terminal

A woman inserts a credit card into the Square terminal

Image courtesy of Square

Best compact countertop reader

Style: Standalone countertop reader.
Price: $299 for the reader.
Fees: Varies from 2.6% plus 10 cents up to 3.5% plus 15 cents depending on method; no monthly fees.

Square Terminal allows you to accept all three methods of credit card payments: chip, contactless and magstripe. And priced at $299, it comes in on the lower end of the all-inclusive card readers.

The company’s standard flat-rate processing fees apply and depend on whether you run the card in person or enter it manually. There’s no monthly contract.

   

Doesn’t require a separate device.

Can take over four hours to charge.

Shows transaction details.

 

Is compact and easy to use.

 
 

Square Stand

A customer signs on a Square Stand card reader in a bike shop

Image courtesy of Square

Best iPad-compatible register

Style: Register that connects to compatible iPad.
Price: $169 for the reader.
Fees: Varies from 2.6% plus 10 cents up to 3.5% plus 15 cents depending on method; no monthly fees.

The Square Stand is designed specifically for a single smart device: the iPad. Snap an iPad into the Square Stand, and use it as a desktop point-of-sale. The configuration allows you to provide a larger screen for transaction details, and the swivel feature allows customers to sign on the iPad without having to pass the device around. It can process magstripe, chip and contactless payments and connect with a receipt printer. However, it works only with certain iPad models.

The company’s standard fees of 2.6% plus 10 cents apply for credit cards and can raise up to 3.5% plus 15 cents for methods outside a swipe, chip or contactless payment.

   

Swivels for customers to use.

Only works with certain iPad models.

Can be mounted to a countertop.

 
 

Clover Mini

A Clover Mini card reader

Image courtesy of Clover

Best all-in-one register

Style: Standalone countertop register.
Price: $749.
Fees: Varies from 2.3% plus 10 cents up to 3.5% plus 10 cents, depending on monthly plan.

The Clover Mini is a countertop setup that doesn’t require a tablet. It allows your business to accept all types of payments, print receipts and scan barcodes. You also get some nifty POS features, including inventory, customer and employee management functions with paid monthly plans.

This product is $749. Payment processing rates depend on your Clover pricing plan.

   

Can be mounted to a countertop.

Requires paid monthly plan for advanced features.

Works without an iPad.

 

Has free monthly plan available.

 

Has payment plans available.

 

Clover Station Solo

A Clover Station with a screen faces the reader with a chip reader beside it

Image courtesy of Clover

Best full register with a single screen

Style: Standalone countertop register.
Price: $1,349.
Fees: Varies from 2.3% plus 10 cents up to 3.5% plus 10 cents, depending on monthly plan.

The Clover Station Solo is a register-style system that offers merchants a 14-inch high-definition screen and a receipt printer for the full checkout experience. The system works with Clover’s POS for retail, offering payment processing, inventory and staff management, reporting and more. For restaurants, the Station Solo fits nicely with customizing and tracking orders, managing table mapping and much more for streamlined service.

   

Has fingerprint login.

Requires one of the larger upfront investments.

Uses fast processing speeds.

Doesn’t have a free monthly plan option.

Has robust POS software options.

 
 

Square Register

A customer pays with their cell phone on the Square Register in a bakery

Image courtesy of Square

Best full register setup with a customer-facing screen

Style: Standalone countertop register.
Price: $799 for reader.
Fees: Varies from 2.6% plus 10 cents up to 3.5% plus 15 cents depending on method; no monthly fees.

The Square Register is the first fully integrated credit card scanner system from Square and is a complete countertop POS system that can accept magstripe, chip card and contactless forms of payment. It boasts two screens — one for the employee and one for the customer to show transaction details — for a seamless experience. It also offers an extra-long cable that allows businesses to separate the Register and customer’s screen to encourage social distancing. Its software provides merchants inventory, employee and customer relationship management functions, plus a reporting suite where you can view sales data.

This small-business credit card reader option will cost your business $799, but there are payment plan options available. It processes transactions at the standard Square rates.

   

Has two screens.

Must be plugged in at all times.

Can be mounted to a countertop.

 

Has advanced apps and software options.

 

Clover Station Duo

Clover's Station Duo with a screen on top of a cash drawer, a receipt printer beside it and a customer screen facing the reader.

Image courtesy of Clover

Best system for full checkout experience

Style: Standalone countertop register with dual screens.
Price: $1,649.
Fees: Varies from 2.3% plus 10 cents up to 3.5% plus 10 cents, depending on monthly plan.

The Clover Station Duo ups the game with a combination of a 14-inch screen for you and a 7-inch screen for your customers. This makes it easier for customers to confirm orders and pay however they want — credit card, debit card, and contactless payment methods. Designed for retail and restaurant environments, the Station Duo offers the same features of the Station Solo with more power.

While this option tops the list for the most expensive system, the Station Duo is currently sold with a cash drawer and a receipt printer, giving you the gamut of checkout features.

   

Has fingerprint login.

Requires one of the larger upfront investments.

Uses fast processing speeds.

Doesn’t have a free monthly plan option.

Has robust POS software options.

 

Has two screens.

 
 

Make payments make sense

Find the right payment provider to meet your unique business needs.

Credit card readers comparison table

     

Payments accepted

 

Additional device required

Square Contactless & Chip Reader

Bluetooth.

$49 (reader); $29 (dock).

Chip and contactless.

2.6% plus 10 cents and up.

Compatible smartphone or tablet.

 

Bluetooth.

 

Chip, contactless and magstripe.

2.3% plus 10 cents and up.

Compatible smartphone or tablet.

PayPal Zettle

Bluetooth.

 

Chip and contactless.

1.9% plus 10 cents and up.

Compatible smartphone or tablet.

SumUp Plus

Bluetooth.

 

Chip, contactless and magstripe.

2.75% and up.

Compatible smartphone or tablet.

Clover Flex

   

Chip, contactless and magstripe.

2.3% plus 10 cents and up.

 

Helcim Card Reader

Bluetooth.

 

Chip, contactless and magstripe.

Varies by card type and monthly transaction average.

Compatible smartphone or tablet.

Toast Go 2

   

Chip, contactless and magstripe.

2.49% plus 15 cents and up.

 

Square Terminal

   

Chip, contactless and magstripe.

2.6% plus 10 cents and up.

 

Square Stand

   

Chip, contactless and magstripe.

2.6% plus 10 cents and up.

Compatible iPad.

Clover Mini

   

Chip, contactless and magstripe.

2.3% plus 10 cents and up.

 

Clover Station Solo

   

Chip, contactless and magstripe.

2.3% plus 10 cents and up.

 

Square Register

   

Chip, contactless and magstripe.

2.6% plus 10 cents and up.

 

Clover Station Duo

   

Chip, contactless and mapstripe.

2.3% plus 10 cents and up.

 
 

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Your Payment Processor Froze Your Account — Now What?

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It’s a small business’s worst nightmare: You’ve been notified by your payment processor that your transactions are being investigated for potentially fraudulent activities. Your account has been frozen, you’re not allowed to process any transactions until further notice and what funds were being processed aren’t going to be deposited. Your entire revenue stream is stalled.

But there are a few things you can do to work with your payment processor to try to speed up the release of funds and reinstatement of your account. Here’s what you need to know about processing account freezes and how to respond.

Account freeze vs. account hold

An account freeze differs from an account hold. When a payment processor puts a hold on a merchant account, usually only certain transactions are held by the processor. It doesn’t stop all transactions, so you still have access to some funds. If a payment processor puts a hold on certain transactions because it requires a minimum reserve to cover the potential costs of chargebacks and fraudulent transactions, it will keep these funds indefinitely while allowing you to continue to process payments from customers. Think of it as a deposit that you’ll get back if you ever close your account in good standing.

When a payment processor freezes a merchant account, however, it halts all activity and holds funds until it can investigate suspected fraud or agreement violations. During an account freeze, a merchant is unable to process any transactions and cannot have any pending funds transferred to their bank account. Essentially, a business’s ability to accept cards can be stalled until an investigation proves the transactions are legitimate.

How long will your account be frozen?

Payment processors generally stipulate in their contracts that they can freeze accounts and investigate merchant activity for up to 120 days. But that doesn’t mean that your account will be frozen for that long. If you work with the payment processor to resolve the issue quickly, the freeze might be lifted sooner. Two businesses can raise the same red flag and have different results: The one that provides the right information immediately can have its account unfrozen within a week, while the business that drags its feet could wait a month or more to have access to funds.

Regardless of how cooperative you are, it’s smart to think about what you’ll do financially if your account is frozen for the full 120 days.

Most payment processors outline in their terms of use what actions they can take in certain situations, like suspected fraud, and what they are legally allowed to do to combat potential payment fraud. While it is frustrating to have your account frozen without warning, learning why it happened can help you avoid similar situations in the future.

What to do next

Talk with your processor

You need to understand what caused the account freeze and what you can do to resolve the issue quickly. The processor might not be able to give you a full explanation of what it’s looking at to ensure it can carry out an investigation, but it should be able to tell you why your account has been frozen and what you can do to assist the investigation.

Provide information

If your processor requests information or documentation relating to specific transactions, provide it as quickly and transparently as possible. The more quickly you offer up details, the more quickly your payment processor is likely to resolve the issue.

How to accept other payment methods

To keep up some revenue while your account is being reviewed, you can accept other payment methods. Consider how the following payment methods might work for your business:

  • Cash. This is a great option for in-person transactions because there are no processing fees attached to the payment. Be sure to alert customers in advance so they know to stop by the ATM.

  • Checks. With customers you know well and trust, checks can be a credit card alternative. But be wary of accepting checks from everyone: Having several bad checks bounce won’t help your situation.

  • Peer-to-peer apps. Apps like PayPal, Venmo, Zelle and Cash App offer business accounts that allow customers to send you money directly, which is deposited into your app account. This can be a good backup for accepting card payments — but note that these transactions are still subject to terms and conditions and, as with other processors, your account could be frozen for suspicious activity.

  • Backup payment processor. This is an option if you absolutely have to process credit cards while your account is being investigated, although don’t rush into a new contract that could put you on the hook for more fees. However, this is not an option for businesses that are labeled high risk because of consistent fraudulent behavior and that have been added to the Member Alert to Control High-Risk Merchants — or MATCH — list, which is shared among payment processors while reviewing new merchant applications.

Prioritize your business-critical expenses

After speaking with the processor and providing its team with information, your next step is to make a plan for how to mitigate any harm to your business finances. You’ll need to think about how you’re going to handle:

  • Paying employees.

  • Pausing subscriptions that you won’t be able to afford, such as automatic inventory purchase.

  • Paying for overhead that can’t be paused, like rent.

  • Alerting customers about changes in payment processing.

  • Disabling e-commerce payment options on your website.

If you don’t have a savings fund to fall back on, consider looking for someone to help you address financial concerns and research how to find assistance in the meantime. 

 

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