Merchant account vs. payment gateway: what’s the difference?

Editorial Team

3 min read
Hands exchanging credit card

A merchant account is a type of bank account that lets your business accept multiple forms of payment, including credit cards, debit cards, and ACH payments. Although you can’t actually access this account, it acts as a liaison between your business and the individual card-issuing banks to acquire the funds and settle them in your business bank account. Merchant accounts are provided by a merchant acquirer or acquiring bank, which may also be a credit card processor. 

A payment gateway is a crucial component to eCommerce. An online payment gateway works like a credit card machine in a sense: It allows your customers to submit payment information via the web. Nearly every type of business – from big box retailers to Etsy sellers, and from trade show vendors to antique dealers – needs to accept credit card payments to help grow their business. And more and more of those businesses are accepting payment online.

How does a payment gateway work?

If your business already accepts credit cards, you’re likely familiar with merchant accounts. But if you’re new to eCommerce, you’re probably learning about payment gateways.

With a payment gateway, the online transaction occurs through a secure hosted payment form on your website or through an integrated shopping cart. Once the customer submits his or her order:

  • The payment details go to the gateway.
  • The gateway encrypts cardholder data and sends it to the payment processor.
  • The payment processor routes the information through the card network to the customer’s card issuing bank for authorization. 
  • The payment processor communicates the approval or decline back to the gateway.
  • The gateway alerts the merchant and customer of the decision.

Advantages of merchant accounts and payment gateways

The primary purpose of a merchant account is to enable businesses to accept credit cards and other electronic payments. Setting up a merchant account can help you:

  • Improve cash flow
  • Increase sales
  • Remain competitive in a challenging market

Traditional payment gateways are ideal for eCommerce and mobile retailers, but can be used by merchants of all types to provide a frictionless purchasing experience across all channels including:

Which one is right for my business?

Maybe you’re a small business owner looking to finally sell to your customers online. Or, maybe you’re a mobile business that needs an on-the-go credit card processing solution. You might even be a large enterprise looking to streamline the payment process.

With our merchant account and payment gateway solutions, we can help you accept payments the way your business needs to.

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