YourABA May 2013 Masthead

Accepting credit cards on the go

Law firms are now taking advantage of smartphone and tablet technology to accept payments on the go, according to Amy Porter, CEO of AffiniPay, a full-service bankcard processing company specializing in the legal industry. Advantages include the use of existing phones and devices already in your pocket. “Even better, you can collect payment at the time of service anywhere you are meeting with your client — from the coffee shop to the courthouse — in particularly time-sensitive situations,” Porter said.

Of course, with any new technology, there are limitations, said Porter in a GPSolo magazine article. As an attorney, it is critical to choose a mobile application or service that fits your needs. Mobile payment options are best used if you actually meet clients in person and are able to capture the credit card information by swiping the card through the credit card-reading device. If you normally do not see clients when you bill them, then mobile payments do not offer you much advantage.

If you decide to collect payments on the go, take time to understand the options available for mobile payments, Porter said. There are two main payment services available to process credit cards: traditional merchant accounts and the newer “aggregator” programs. Both allow you to use a mobile card reader in conjunction with an iPhone, Android phone or tablet, but the method for processing the payment is drastically different, with advantages and disadvantages to both.

Best mobile options for law firms

There are several considerations if you are thinking of using a mobile payment option, Porter said. First, where are you in the overall process of accepting credit cards in your firm? Are you already accepting credit cards? If so, you most likely already have a merchant account in place; check with your provider to see what mobile options are available.

If you don’t accept credit cards, think about whether you want just a mobile solution or if you need additional options for accepting payments, Porter said. “Your decision may depend on how often you plan to accept payments,” she said. “If you plan to accept sporadic payments throughout the year, an account with no monthly fees but higher rates may be a better fit. If you plan to accept payments more frequently but still not so often that a traditional merchant account makes sense for you, look for a mobile payment solution with lower rates to reduce your overall cost.”

Various mobile account solutions have different rates, so consider this when choosing a provider. Other factors to consider include the stability of the provider, its history and the security measures it employs, Porter said.

If you plan to take payments frequently, a true merchant account is probably a better fit, she said. Key benefits include the ability to accommodate higher volumes and larger dollar amounts, as well as separating earned and unearned fees, if needed.

An aggregator account, she added, is a good option if you take infrequent credit card charges for small dollar amounts, do not plan to use the service for advance fee payments and are not sensitive to deposit time frames. Attorneys tend not to fit the typical user profile of an aggregator service. However, this may be a great place to start if you have never accepted credit cards before and want to test out credit card processing for your clients before opening a real merchant account.

“The bottom line is that the flexibility of accepting mobile payments may allow you to do more — hold meetings outside the office, meet clients on their own ground or collect payment in time-sensitive situations,” Porter said. “The issue then becomes the long-term goal. If you plan only to process a few payments per year, then an aggregator may indeed by the solution for you. However, if credit card processing is an integral part of your firm’s future, then you’ll most likely want to go with a company that tailors its merchant solutions to your specific needs.”

GPSolo magazine is a publication of the Solo, Small Firm & General Practice Division.

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