What is a Virtual Terminal? And Why You Need One

Do you want to accept credit card payments in person or over the phone but would prefer to do so without hardware? Virtual terminals make this possible. Once you learn what they are and how they work, you will be able to determine if getting a virtual terminal is the right decision for your business.

VIRTUAL TERMINALS DEFINED

A virtual terminal is a web-based software that enables you to manually enter a customer’s credit card data on your computer without the need for a card reader. Because the terminal is linked to your merchant account, the payment can be processed in a matter of seconds.

WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM VIRTUAL TERMINALS?

Incorporating this transaction method into your business model can provide unique advantages, particularly for certain kinds of companies that frequently do business over the phone. Some examples include the following:

• Caterers and other food delivery enterprises that accept pre-payments before preparing and sending out an order;

• Freelance writers, web designers and tax preparers who often prefer to take payments for services rendered over the phone;

• Contractors who choose not to bring card readers with them on the job, opting to accept payments later from their home or office;

• Merchants who do not have sufficient counter space for a physical terminal.

WHAT ABOUT SECURITY?

In this era of fraud and data breaches, payment security must be at the forefront of every entrepreneur’s mind. The good news is that transactions processed via virtual terminals are PCI compliant and secure. This is because they are conducted using a payment gateway that either encrypts or tokenizes the data during transmission. Your processor could also add extra safeguards by performing an address verification or asking for the CVV number on the back of the card.

RISKS OF VIRTUAL TERMINALS

The biggest danger inherent in this way of accepting payments is the temptation to jot down or store the card numbers that people provide to you. While this strategy might seem like a good way to protect yourself or even to make future payments easier for the customer, it places your business in jeopardy should an unscrupulous person gain access to the sensitive information. Another added risk of virtual terminals is that the payments are not conducted in person and are thus considered to be “card-not-present.” As a result, you might pay higher fees and penalties, particularly if the customer requests a reversal of funds from their card issuer.

If your company conducts a very low volume of sales or does most of its business over the phone, using a virtual terminal can be a very safe and efficient way to take payments. Although fees tend to be higher than you would be charged for a card reader, you may also elect to take ACH payments from your customer that enable you to seamlessly debit funds between accounts, often at a lower cost. In general, virtual terminals can provide you with additional flexibility without sacrificing efficiency and security. Investing in one just might be a great idea for your business.