Is Square The Answer For Credit/Debit Card Payments?

squareOne of the problems plaguing photographers is how to go about collecting payments, especially if your clients want to use credit cards or debit cards. Let’s face it, we live in an almost completely cashless society and very few people carry checkbooks around with them. Even if you don’t have a credit card, I don’t know anyone without at least a debit card. However, when dealing with clients whether its accepting deposits or payments for events, selling prints, services, or products, many people want to pay with plastic. Recently a new service called Square has tried to solve this problem. On a recent multi-city tour, I decided to try out the service for myself and see it solved the issue of taking payments on the road.

Solution In Search Of A Problem?

As I discussed Square with photographers across the country, many thought they already had the payment problem licked. Some had credit card terminals, some used PayPal’s Virtual Terminal, and others, including myself, simply sent PayPal invoices which can then be paid via a credit/debit card. The problem with most of these is the cost. Having an actual terminal or PayPal’s virtual terminal usually involved some monthly fee with PayPal being $30/month ($360/year). Sending PayPal invoices has no monthly fee and is simply a 5% charge.

Square initially started off pretty similar to these other services but has continued to improve both the services and the pricing. As of the time of this writing there is no setup charge, no monthly fee and the charge is 2.75% – 3.75% (see sidenote). So right off the bat, using Square can really add up in savings by not having to pay monthly charges and being able to keep more of your money.

Square’s Service Rates

With Card Swipe 2.75%
Without Card Swipe 3.75% + 15 cents

How Square Works

square_readerThe Square app is available for Android and iOS devices (iPhone, iPod, iPad) and the app is available for free via the Android Market and iTunes Store. With just the app itself (and registering on the http://squareup.com website) you can start taking credit card payments by keying in the credit card number, expiration date, dollar amount, and zip code. The next step asks for the buyers signature which they do with their finger on your device. The final step is to send the buyer either an SMS or email receipt. The entire process only takes a few seconds. The interesting thing here is that even if you are accepting cash/check payments, you can enter the information into the Square app, it can calculate how much change to give, and still send the buyer an email receipt.  For service related companies (like photographers), you can go into the settings and enable “Tips”. This way to buyer has to opportunity to add a tip to the amount just like you can do in a restaurant. As your client is filling out their information, the fact that the tip option is there may encourage them to use it. The Squareup.com website allows easy access to all of your transactions and deposits with the ability to download as a spreadsheet. Hopefully some future options might include an easy way to import into QuickBooks.

To make the data entry process faster, as well as saving you 1% and 15 cents off the transaction, Square provides a credit card reader in the form of a small gadget that plugs into your smart phone. From a technical point of view, this is where things get interesting. The device plugs into the headset port on your phone and not the USB port. There are actually several really good reasons for this technical decision. First off, smart phones don’t generally support USB Host Mode (I said this was technical) so a phone cannot connect to USB devices such as USB cameras or hard drives. Secondly, Square would have to write a handful of different drivers and maintain them across different operating system updates. A headphone jack is completely universal and doesn’t require any drivers to use it. All the app has to do is listen on the audio port and the Square Reader simply “plays” what it finds on the card for the app to deal with. This means that Square can come out with support for virtually any smart phone including Palm and Blackberry devices without any additional hardware considerations.

The reason why there are lower charges when using the card reader is that swiping the card means the buyer physically had the card present and the seller can verify the ID of the buyer, this greatly reduces the chance of fraud and chargebacks.

What About Payments?

First off, you do not need any special merchant account, any checking or savings account will do, you simply verify your bank account and routing number with Square so they can make direct deposits to your account. There are also no limits on how many transactions or value of transactions you can do.

This isn’t to say there isn’t a caveat here because there is, and it can be an important one to some people. Square will deposit the first $1,000 per 7 day cycle to your account within 24-36 hours of the transaction. For many people, this is going to be just fine. However, if you do more than $1,000 per week, Square will hold anything over that initial $1,000 for 30 days in case of chargebacks. If this is going to present a problem for you in terms of cash flow, you can contact Square and they will ask you for some typical business related information to help prove you are a legitimate business and can adjust that restriction for you.

Does it Work As Promised

This week I was on the road at WPPI in Las Vegas and the Northern Light Convention in Minnesota. At both of these events I had some of the products I sell and wanted to be able to accept credit cards from the show floors. Throughout these events, Square worked flawlessly allowing me to close sales I might not have otherwise got because people could easily user their credit/debit cards.

An interesting side note to this is that I signed up for the service just prior to leaving on the trip and did not have time to receive my free card reader so initially I had to key in the transaction manually. The app worked great and only took a few moments per transaction. I also noticed several other people using Square around the show such as Scott Robert Lim.

When I got to Minnesota for the Northern Light Convention, Square had send enough of the Square readers to the convention for every attendee to get one in their shwag bag. The upside to this is that now I will have two readers so I can have two transactions going (assuming I have a second smart phone) at the same time.

Should You Go Square?

If you want to easily take credit/debit cards I am struggling with a reason why you wouldn’t want to use Square. It’s easy, simple, and cheaper than any other service I know of. Even if you aren’t sure if any client will ever pay you with a credit card, you still might as well sign up and get your card reader just in case. Since it costs you nothing to sign up, and there is no monthly fee, simply throw the reader in your camera bag, purse, or laptop case so you always have it available. Convinced? Go sign up for free at http://squareup.com.

Update: I have been using Square for over a year and a half and deposits have always been within two business days and I have never had them hold any money back even when I have done several thousand dollars in transactions in a single day.

Disclosure: I did not accept any compensation of any kind for this endorsement. My opinion is based entirely on my own experience using the service.

KerryG

Kerry Garrison is a wedding, portrait, and product photographer living in southern California. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 3 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms. Kerry's work can be found at http://kerrygarrison.com and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/KerryGarrison

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