Taking orders on the Web involves more than just creating a form or installing shoppingcart software on your site. You also need to consider several crucial questions as youdecide on an online payment system.

" The payment processing arena is like an onion. You just keep peeling back thelayers and find that there is more," says Colleene Isaacs, vice president of businessservices for Signio, a leading providerof credit card clearing services. " The biggest thing is understanding thatthere' s more than one party involved, and allow yourself time." Here are somekey layers of the onion, and questions to consider for each of them to avoid having youronline payment system make you cry.

Internet Merchant Accounts
An Internet merchant account is one of the absolute essentials in accepting payment foronline transactions. The most important thing to remember about an Internet merchantaccount is that it is separate from a regular merchant credit card account. The reason forthis is twofold, according to David Lippe, vice president of marketing for the First Bank of Beverly Hills, a provider of Internet merchant accounts.

First, there is the cost factor. For a typical merchant account, the standard fee rateis 1.5%, while for an Internet merchant account, the rate is 2.5%. This extra percentage point adds up quickly. This increased rate reflects the risk a bank takes on Internet merchant accounts. In a typical retail setting, the credit card is physically present 95% of the time,while for Internet transactions, the card is never physically present. Keeping the twomerchant accounts separate reduces the risks associated with doing business virtually.

Not all banks offer Internet merchant accounts, and those that do have different levels of experience.

Transaction Processing / Clearing Services
Before you can begin accepting online transactions, you must select an online servicethat will connect your Web site with your Internet merchant account. This type of serviceis alternately called a transaction processing service, credit card clearing service, or acommerce engine. Regardless of what you call it, the service will serve oneprimary purpose: enabling real-time credit card authorization for online transactions.

Don' t make the mistake of assuming that this service is included in your Internetmerchant account with a bank. It is a separate -- but necessary -- service." When we talk to merchants, they think our fee is part of the bank fee, but we' re separate from the bank," says Isaacs.