Once you've developed a list of merchant account providers who might offer you an account, you need to compare the different MAP offerings. Be certain to ask detailed questions about each MAP's technical requirements and make sure your system can work with your MAP's gateways -- the software that actually submits your customers' credit card information for payment authorization.

Compare Fees and Rates
Workz.com requested MAPs to quote rates for a 3-month-old Internet business with excellent credit that expects 200 transactions per month, with an average of $100 per sale. Each MAP on the chart identifies its preferred discount rate and transaction fee, as well as the fees it would charge the hypothetical (case study) client.

Evaluate Technical Needs
In addition to comparing rates, you should also ask your MAP which gateway software it requires. You'll need to then contact the gateway provider -- CyberCash is a common one -- to learn about the technical requirements for implementation. Questions you'll want to ask include the following:

For nonautomated systems: These questions will help you determine how you can move your customers' credit card information from the e-mail message generated by a form on your Web site through your MAP's authorization process.

  • Do you have a Web page that allows me to key in my requests for credit card authorization?
  • If not, do you provide point-of-sale hardware for me to type in my request?

For companies with minimal technical resources: These questions will help you find integrated packages that can minimize your programming expenses. However, you'll pay more for this integration, either in monthly fees, up-front costs, or switching costs related to changing Internet service providers (ISPs), shopping cart software, or other technology investments you may have made.

  • Do you work with any ISPs, hosting providers, or other MAPs that provide an integrated solution that requires minimal programming skills?
  • Do you provide technical consulting or access to third-party developers whom I can pay to integrate your gateway with my current hosting and shopping cart software?

For companies with programming staff: These questions will help you determine whether the MAP's required gateway software is compatible with your existing software.

  • Do you have an API (a set of codes called an application programming interface that allows applications to pass data back and forth) for Perl, CGI, and ASP?
  • How do I get that API, and can I test it before I agree to purchase your gateway?
  • What kind of administrative interface will you provide to make it easy to monitor my account?
  • What kind of technical support do you provide?

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