Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals
Well maybe not entirely but I would like to relate an experience that I had with my credit card merchant account. A few years ago I decided that it was probably in my best interest, and in the interest and convenience for people that wanted to purchase my work, to finally break down and sign up for a credit card merchant account. Up till then I was doing no more than 5 and maybe up to 10 shows a year. I didn't have any problems with sales not involving a credit card as people came to the shows either with cash or a handy checkbook and an ATM, at least at the shows I was doing then, was always nearby. It wasn't an inconvenience as people understood when I explained why I didn't take credit cards; not enough shows to warrant it at the time.
Fast forward a few years and I felt it would be in my best interest to up my game and begin to accept credit cards. I did what I felt was thorough, though not exhaustive, research on the different companies that were willing to support a weekend warrior/artist. The costs just for monthly statements ranged from $7 on up. The discount rates, as we all know, varied greatly as well. I called 1st National Processing and was given what I felt at the time was a reasonable program. They sent me a Nurit 8000 set up with a "store-and-forward" program. My statements were only $7 at the time and the discount rates were among the lowest as well.
November of that same year rolls by and I'm hit with $129 for a PCI fee! What the heck is that!? I call 1st National and am told that it is the annual indemnity fee for my account. Didn't know about that one! Basically, if someone gets hold of my account and finds credit card numbers stored on my machine, which it was set to delete anyway, I would be liable for any problems associated with it. I didn't want that! Water under the bridge, life goes on, lesson learned, I suck it up.
Soon I noticed that my $7 a month Merchant Account Statement had grown another fee. An additional $4 "Regulatory Fee" was being appropriated from my check book per month. "Enough of this", I thought. Besides which I was beginning to experiment with Square and was thinking of migrating over to them anyway. The "Store-and-Forward" system was beginning to make me nervous. What if something went wrong and I lost an entire days receipts? Before I tossed the whole previous system out however I saw the ad (like the one blinking at me now from the sidebar) for "FREE" Credit Card Processing. I called them up and was satisfied with what I was told. Indeed, they said, there would be no fees accept those associated with the cards that I processed. Seemed like a good idea, that way I could migrate over to Square and have this other system as a back up if it were ever needed (By-the-way, don't leave your iPhone in the sun!). They canceled my old account and gave me a new account with a new number (and a new account provider). Given the caveat as previously described I did use the "back-up" and was charged for the transactions as described in the plan. No problem.
The end of the year rolls around, no other fees as yet as advertised, yet now I'm seeing $16.95 being charged against this account for PCI fees again. Wait a minute, if you look long enough at the flashing ad, it says "NO PCI fees"! (or upfront fees or recurring fees, etc.) I call up 1st National explain the situation and indeed they concur, no fees. The money goes back into the bank account.
January of this year rolls around and I receive a letter which states that "due to escalating costs" I would be "assessed an incremental fee based upon the difference between $10 and (my) transaction processing fees." They also reminded me about the PCI fee (again!) What's this all about, I thought my account was "FREE". I called mid January and was told by Jason that he would have to research this (stalling tactic?). What? The bank representative doesn't even know what's going on? He dutifully took down my phone number and assured me that he would get back to me. I didn't hear from him so out-of-sight, out-of-mind.
March 1st rolls around and much to my chagrin I receive a "Merchant Statement" (I haven't seen one of these since the problem with the second round of PCI fees being charged). I call Merchant Services and Jared apologizes profusely for Jason not having gotten back to me and explains there is nothing he can do to reverse the charge. I will have to call the sales office at 1st National Processing. It is a few days before I can call 1st National. When I do I am greeted by what at first I thought might have been "Dog The Bounty Hunter" or at least someone who just finished charm school at a collection agency. He was gruff, as though I had just taken him away from an episode of Storage Wars and didn't appreciate it. I was, to say the least, taken aback by his attitude for, in their defense, any time I had contacted them previously they have always been pleasant, patient and attentive to my questions or concerns. I explained the situation one more time to him and he basically told me that due to the fact that they (the bank) had "escalating costs" they had to charge the $10 a month fee and that they (1st National) couldn't do any thing about it because the banks could do whatever they wanted to and that if I wanted he could cancel the account effective the same afternoon. I did!
What kind of "escalating" costs could they possibly have? From my perspective a "FREE" account is a win-win for both the bank and the vendor. The bank wins because they can charge their "discount" rates for swiped or keyed cards, they continue to make money. The vendor wins because they (were) not charged unless they actually used the machine. So basically they are telling me that if I'm not using the thing it is going to cost me $10 a month no matter what. So much for "FREE". If I were using the machine on a regular basis however, and my processing fees were $10 or more, than it would be "FREE" but there are times I'm not doing shows at all and don't want to be assessed the $10 per month! I guess they just can't stuff it into their pockets fast enough!
This past year I've been pretty much using Square exclusively anyway without a hitch, except maybe for the incident described above. Their on-line statements are much more useful to me with a breakdown of fees charged, tax paid, etc. then the other merchant statements ever were. (By the way Square charges their 2.75% on the tax as well! Can't figure a work-around for that one) All that glitters is not gold, so do your own due diligence when shopping credit card vendors.