|It seems that banks are constantly coming up with new ways for us to pay bills and withdraw money. First there were paper checks, then credit cards, then ATM cards, then debit cards linked to bank accounts, and now ACH electronic funds transfers. Of course, with each new payment method comes a new set of fees passed on to account holders and merchants. The smart merchant will weigh the pros and cons of each method with regards to safety, accountability, and processing cost, and then design her business practices to maximize profits without compromising customer service.
This article will help merchants do this by comparing two very similar payment methods—debit card charges and bank account ACH direct-debits. It will explain how switching customers who pay with debit-cards to direct-debit transactions can significantly reduce merchant processing costs.
What is a Debit Card?
A debit card is a bank issued card that allows its user to access the funds in his account to pay for merchandise or services. A debit card acts like a credit card, and is often associated with a credit card brand such as VISA or MasterCard, with the difference being that funds are immediately deducted from the cardholders checking or savings accounts when a purchase is made.
What is Direct-Debit?
Direct debit is an easy way to deduct a payment directly from a customer’s bank account. It uses the premise of a paper check but takes it to the next level with electronic funds transfer. With direct debit, the need to write paper checks is completely eliminated. Your customer simply gives you permission to take funds directly out of his checking or savings account and transfer them to yours. Direct-debit is typically used for auto-recurring billing of regular transactions, such as a monthly rent payment, so that written permission to transfer funds is needed only once and customers no longer need to write checks every month. But, it can also be used with an Online Payment Gateway to enable your customers to purchase your products or pay their bills directly from a checking or savings account instead of with a credit card or debit card.
What are the differences between a Debit Card transaction and a Direct-Debit transaction?
Debit card transactions and direct debit transactions are at their core the same—each authorizes a transfer of money directly from the cardholder’s account to the merchant’s account. And, from the consumer’s standpoint they are exactly the same.
From the merchant’s standpoint however, they are very different. The transactions are processed through different networks, and the payment processing charges differ significantly.
Debit card transactions require the merchant to obtain a credit card merchant account and often to sign a long-term contract and pay a fee to open the account. Debit card transactions are processed through the same network as credit card transactions, and funds are deposited, less a commission (known as the “discount rate”), into a merchant account. The discount rate for debit-card purchases is typically lower than for credit card purchases (This is because the bank is taking less of a risk with a debit-card that deducts funds immediately from a bank account than with a credit card.), however there are some merchant processors that do not extend this discount to their clients. Typically, 2-3% of the transaction plus a 30 cent inquiry fee will be deducted from a debit-card payment and the balance will be deposited into the merchant’s account.
Direct-debit transactions use the Automated Clearing House (ACH) network to move funds from one bank account to another. Thus, you can use your regular business checking account for Direct-Debit transactions. You will need to sign a contract with a company authorized to manage these ACH transactions, but there is typically no long-term commitment. You will pay a fee for each direct-debit transaction you process—but it is typically a flat-fee that is not dependant upon the size of the transaction. (There are some companies that do charge a percentage based fee for direct-debit transactions—you should avoid these processors!). This fee is typically less than $1 per transaction.
How much can merchants save with Direct-Debit transactions?
Accepting direct-debit instead of debit-card transactions can generate significant savings for most transactions; with the rule of thumb being the larger the transaction amount the more the merchant saves. The following is a simple example using the PaySimple pricing structure:
Transaction Amount: $500
Cost to process via Debit Card (MOTO rate): $10.24 ($0.29 inquiry + 1.99% discount rate)
Cost to process via Direct-Debit: $0.55 flat
Total Savings per Transaction: $9.69
Total Monthly Savings (based on 250 transactions/month): $2,422.50
Are there drawbacks to Direct-Debit transactions?
The largest drawback for merchants accepting direct-debit payments is that unlike debit-card payments, you will not immediately know if there are sufficient funds in the customer’s account to cover the charge. With a direct-debit, you will get NSF notification in 24 hours (far better than the weeks it typically takes for a paper check processed by the bank). This can be a significant concern for merchants who are providing goods or one-time services at the time of payment. But, in the majority of cases, 24 hour notification is sufficient.
Another concern is that customers will not be comfortable with giving a merchant direct access to their bank accounts. However, that is essentially what they are doing with a debit card transaction. The problem truly is one of education not of security or of process. Fortunately, that is an easy problem to solve. ElectronicPayments.org is a fantastic website that provides a wealth of customer education materials. Your payment processing company may also offer free marketing and educational literature that can be distributed to your customers.
The Bottom Line
Direct-debit transactions are just as safe as or safer than debit card transactions. Direct-debit and debit card funds are deducted immediately from customer accounts. Direct-debit transactions are just as simple to perform as debit card transactions, and both can be used for auto recurring payments, online payments, phone payments, and point-of-purchase payments. But, processing direct-debit transactions is significantly less costly for merchants than processing debit card transactions.
PaySimple provides a complete suite of electronic payment processing via a simple web-based interface used to perform auto recurring billing, electronic check processing, direct-debit and credit / debit card merchant processing.
For more information on Debit/Credit Card Processing see: http://www.paysimple.com/credit_card_processing.html
For more information on ACH Direct Debits/Direct Payment see: http://www.paysimple.com/direct_debit.html
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