YourABA October 2011 Masthead

Get paid faster with credit cards

“In 2009, credit cards officially surpassed paper check transactions in the United States,” says Amy Porter, CEO of AffiniPay, a leading payment processing company for the legal industry. In her GP Solo Magazine article, “Get Paid Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: Accept Credit Cards,” she points out that credit and debit cards are becoming the payment of choice among consumers, and that lawyers can better control their cash flow by accepting such electronic payment methods.

Historically, lawyers have not set up credit card payment methods because they typically do not view their firms as traditional businesses, she says. However—in order to successfully practice law, lawyers must first run a successful business.

“In most cases, law firms do not have an ‘underwriting’ process to determine the credit worthiness of their clients and have little insight into their ability to pay fees. By allowing your firm to accept credit card payments, you can effectively shift your accounts receivables to the card-issuing banks,” writes Porter, further elaborating that these banks not only establish the credit-worthiness of clients, but also are effective at issuing credit, collecting debt and monitoring credit.

In order to successfully practice law, lawyers must first run a successful business.

Selecting a processing company that understands the needs of a law firm is imperative. “In order to stay in compliance with the guidelines of the American Bar Association and most state bars for accepting credit cards, a merchant account must correctly separate earned and unearned fees into operating and trust accounts to prevent the commingling of funds,” explains Porter. “In addition, a compliant merchant account should enable an attorney to designate which account should be used for withdrawals of all processing fees.”

The total cost of a credit card transaction averages between 2 percent and 3.5 percent of the payment amount, she notes.

Other special considerations for the law firm merchant:

Protect your trust and IOLTA accounts – “Do not allow your merchant provider access to your trust account,” advises Porter, advocating merchant services specific to law firms that correctly safeguard such accounts.

Avoid storing credit card information – Limit your liability by accepting credit cards through a secure web-based solution instead of a traditional credit card machine that sometimes requires paper storage of client card numbers.

Let your clients do the work – Web-based, credit-card payment options allow clients to run their own cards, freeing up the time you would otherwise spend on processing the payments. “This also allows you to avoid ever seeing credit card numbers, eliminating any responsibility to accept, store, shred or protect credit card numbers.”

Ensure PCI compliance – PCI-DSS is the credit card industry’s security guidelines for merchants. “Be sure your merchant solution is PCI compliant.”

GP Solo Magazine is a publication of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division.

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