Square Review, Rates & Fees
Update -- 10/28/2015: During Square's IPO, information came out that Square lost millions of dollars by processing transactions for Starbucks. You may also be able to process for free, just like Starbucks.
Update -- 11/11/2013: Square discontinues $275 monthly flat rate pricing as of November 8, 2013. Square Up credit card processing isn't a good fit for every business. Square is best suited for individuals, or for businesses with low or sporadic sales volume or a low average sale amount. And even then, Square's poor customer service and tendency to hold funds and impose reserves makes it a gamble for any person or business. Choosing the right credit card processing solution can make or break your business, and it's recommended that you read this entire Square review before using the service for your business. Square has oversimplified credit card processing. This has allowed the company to grow rapidly, but at the expense and frustration of many of its users in form of deposit limits, frozen funds, and poor customer service.
- Square is an aggregator
- Rates, Fees & Pricing Model
- Funding & Deposits
- Holds & Reserves
- Swiper & Compatible Devices
- Customer Service
- Sign Up
- Is Square Up Right for You?
Square is an Aggregator
Square Up is not a credit card processor; it's an aggregator. Paymentech is the company that processes transactions for Square, and JP Morgan Chase is the company's acquiring bank (also called a member bank). Square's application collects credit card information and routes it to Paymentech where it is then routed through Visa or MasterCard's network to the customer's issuing bank.
Update - 12/16/2014: Square now offers an offline (store and forward) mode for merchants to accept payments even without an available internet connection. Square uses processors and banks just like any other merchant service provider, and it's not exempt from the interchange fees that banks charge, or the assessments that Visa, MasterCard and Discover charge. Square Up pays interchange and assessment costs behind the scenes and passes these costs to its users via a bundled pricing model.
Rates, Fees & Pricing Model
The pricing model a processor uses has a greater impact on cost than the rates and fees it charges.
Rate & Fee Pricing
Square uses a bundled pricing model to bill its customers for credit card processing. This means it combines the three components of credit card processing costs into one single rate. For example, banks charge businesses an interchange rate and transaction fee of 1.51% and $0.10 each time a business swipes a Visa consumer credit card. Visa makes money by charging an assessment of 0.11% and $0.0185 on the same transaction. Adding these costs gives us the "wholesale" rate of 1.62% with a $0.1185 transaction fee. Square combines these first two components of cost with its own markup, and then bills its customers a single rate of 2.75%. As I'll explain a little later in the review, Square's pricing is cost-effective for some businesses, and very expensive for others.
Swiped Rate (Retail) Square charges a flat, fixed rate of 2.75% of volume for all Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express credit and debit card transactions. For example, a $100 transaction would incur a fee of $2.75.
Keyed Fees (Card Not Present) Transactions that are keyed instead of swiped are charged a higher rate of 3.50% of volume plus a $0.15 per item fee. For example, a $100 transaction would incur a fee of $3.65.
Flat Rate Pricing -- Discontinued November 8, 2013
Prior to November 8, 2013 Square offered flat rate pricing of $275 per month with several very limiting restrictions. Under this pricing model a business did not pay a percentage fee. Instead, it paid $275 per month to process up to $250,000 a year in swiped transactions. Any volume in excess of the $250,000 limit was billed at Square's typical 2.75%. Square's flat rate credit card processing only applied to swiped transactions less than $400. Transactions of $400 or more were billed at Square's swiped rate of 2.75%, which was a charge in addition to the $275 flat rate. It's also important to understand that Square's flat rate of $275 did not cover keyed transactions. Keyed transactions were billed at Square's typical rate of 3.50% plus $0.15, and these charges were in addition to the $275 flat fee. The restrictions that Square has imposed on its flat rate pricing caused many businesses to pay more than $275 a month. For example, keying in even as little as 10% of transaction volume resulted in a business paying a hefty 3.50% plus $0.15 surcharge in addition to the $275 for all keyed volume.
Funding & Deposits
Square doesn't get very high marks for the way it handles funding and deposits. The company deducts fees prior to deposits, which hinders cash flow, and it caps deposits for card-not-present businesses.
Update - 12/16/2014: Square now offers merchants the ability to choose their own close of day time. Square will group and send payments based on the chosen time.
Users generally register deposits in their bank account in one or two business days if sales are greater than $10. If sales are less than $10, Square will not deposit funds until sales surpass the $10 minimum. Below is the funding schedule from Square's Web site that outlines when deposits will show in a user's bank account.
|PAYMENT TAKEN||IN BANK ACCOUNT|
|Sunday 5 p.m. PDT – Monday 5 p.m. PDT||Tuesday morning|
|Monday 5 p.m. PDT – Tuesday 5 p.m. PDT||Wednesday morning|
|Tuesday 5 p.m. PDT – Wednesday 5 p.m. PDT||Thursday morning|
|Wednesday 5 p.m. PDT – Thursday 5 p.m. PDT||Friday morning|
|Thursday 5 p.m. PDT – Friday 3 p.m. PDT||Monday morning|
|Friday 3 p.m. PDT – Sunday 5 p.m. PDT||Monday morning|
Daily Discounting Square deposits funds into users' banks accounts using the daily discount method. This means that processing fees are deducted prior to deposit.
For example, if a user key-enters a $100 sale, she will receive a deposit of $96.35, which is the gross sale amount less Square's 3.50% plus $0.15 fee for key-entered transactions. Unlike Square, many processors utilize the more business-friendly monthly discounting method. With monthly discounting, the processor makes gross deposits throughout the month and deducts fees in one lump-sum at the end of the month. Monthly discounting provides better cash flow than daily discounting, and also makes reporting and reconciliation easier. Unfortunately, Square does not offer monthly discounting as an option. Check out CardFellow's article about daily vs monthly discounting to learn more.
Auto-Batching Square automatically sends transactions to the processor for settlement at the end of each day. This is known in the credit card processing industry as auto-batching.
Update - 12/16/2014: Square eliminates deposit limits for all existing and prospective accounts. In addition to eliminating the deposit limit, Square has removed related holds. Previously, Square's virtual lack of an underwriting process left the company exposed to higher levels of fraud and misuse. For that reason, Square had limited deposits of higher risk card-not-present volume to just $2,002 every thirty days. Any amount beyond $2,002 was held until the following 30-day period. Any amount beyond $2,002 will be held until the following 30-day period. Square's high rate and fee of 3.50% plus $0.15 combined with its deposit cap of $2,002 a month makes it a very processing solution for businesses that key-enter the majority of transactions. If your business does key-enter most sales, and you're dead set on using Square, you should request an "accelerated payment schedule" via Square's email support.
Holds & Reserves
Credit card processors combat fraud and misuse by utilizing a thorough underwriting process before allowing a business or individual to accept credit cards. Square has bypassed this underwriting process in order to grow its user base as quickly as possible. Unfortunately for its users, this approach leaves Square very vulnerable to fraud which requires the company to take a "shoot first apologize second" approach to suspicious activity. The result is many businesses having funds held without notice for prolonged periods of time or reserves placed on deposits.
Reserves A reserve (often called rolling reserve or hold back) is when a credit card processor routes all or a portion of funds from a merchant's sales to a non-interest bearing account until funds in the account meet a certain balance. For example, if a processor requires a $10,000, 5% rolling reserve on a business's account, the processor will withhold 5% from each deposit until the balance of the reserve account reaches $10,000. It's then up to the processor to decide at which point to release the reserve account, if ever. A traditional credit card processor will typically notify a business if a reserve is necessary when the business applies for a merchant account. However, since Square does not have an application process, a reserve may be imposed, increased, reduced or removed at any time at Square's sole discretion. If your business operates on thin margins, a sudden reserve or more will likely be devastating. There's no one at Square you can contact to inquire whether your business is likely to incur a reserve, so consider this carefully as you determine whether Square is right for your business.
Swiper & Compatible Devices
One of the benefits of Square's service is that it's completely free to get started. Square's application runs on a user's existing iPhone, iPad or Android device, and there is no charge for the magnetic stripe card reader (swiper) that plugs into the headphone jack. As of spring 2015, Square is accepting pre-orders for EMV-capable swipers to allow you to securely accept EMV chip cards. The EMV swiper is currently priced at $29. In June 2015, Square also announced combination contactless/EMV readers will be available beginning in the fall. The swiper is free to merchants who qualify, or will otherwise cost $49 but include reimbursement of $49 of processing fees.
Swipers and ReadersSquare's magnetic stripe swiper is about an inch tall by an inch wide, and plugs into the headphone jack of compatible devices to collect information from the magnetic strip of a customer's card. Once a card is read, the information is encrypted and then passed to Square application for transmission. Square's EMV swiper is also a small-profile reader that plugs into a headphone jack. The swiper can be used for both chip cards and magnetic-stripe cards, providing a wider range of card acceptance possibilities. Square's EMV swiper is expected to be available prior to the October EMV liability shift.
The combination NFC/EMV reader is approximately 2.5" x 2.5" square, and can be charged and then connected wirelessly, or plugged in to the Square Stand using a USB hub. The NFC/EMV combo reader also comes with a traditional magnetic stripe reader to allow you to accept older magnetic stripe credit cards. Compatible Devices Square's service is compatible with iPhone, iPad and Android devices. Apple iPhones must be running iOS version 4.1 or newer, which includes the 3G, 4 and 4S versions of the phone. Apple iPads must have iOS 5.0 or newer. Android devices must be running operating system version 2.1 or newer.
Square excels at some things, but customer service is not one of them. The company goes out of its way to avoid verbal contact with prospective customers, and contacting Square customer service is not an easy task. Customer service is expensive, and Square is putting its investors' dollars toward growing its user base, not toward servicing existing users. Please tell us about your experience with Square's customer service using the comment form at the end of this article.
Square Phone Number
Square only offers customer service by phone to merchants with existing Square accounts. Before calling, merchants will need to go to square.com/code to receive a "customer code." The customer code is required when calling in order to reach a live customer service member through the automated recording system. Prospective customers and customers who have had accounts cancelled or frozen may be directed to email support where responses to questions and issues can take as long as week. You can give Square customer service a call at the phone number below.
Square phone number: (855) 700-6000 Square Email Square strongly prefers email support over phone support. The company claims to answer emails within 24 hours, but the basic consensus from existing users is that Square takes anywhere from three to seven days to respond, and some people never receive a response at all. The Square email for support is listed below.
Square email: firstname.lastname@example.org Alternatively, you can contact Square via this form on the company's Web site.
Square's goal is to acquire as many new users as quickly as possible, so signing up is quick and easy. Square does not require a credit check on individual user accounts, but does require a credit check for commercial entity accounts. For typical user accounts, Square's underwriting process is limited to a quick electronic verification of identity. However, the company does reserve the right to investigate a user more closely, and also to share user information with Paymentech (its processor).
Is Square Right for You?
Square is a great processing solution for individuals and businesses that fit a certain profile, but Square is by no means right for everyone. It's very important to educate yourself about how credit card processing fees work before you decide to use Square or any other processing service. Do some reading about interchange plus and tiered pricing, and take a stroll through CardFellow's credit card processing tips.
Square hasn't invented anything new; for better or worse, it has simply made credit card processing more accessible to the masses, largely through oversimplified pricing. Square pays interchange fees to issuing banks and assessments to card brands just like any other processor. If you don't know what these fees are, you should really take a moment to learn. Interchange is credit card processing's version of wholesale, and the vast majority of interchange rates are significantly less than the 2.75% and 3.50% rates that Square charges.
Business that May Benefit From Square
Certain businesses may benefit from the flat rate pricing, mobility, and lack of monthly charges that Square offers.
Low or Sporadic Processing Volume Square's lack of monthly charges makes it a perfect solution for individuals and businesses that don't process many credit cards or that only process cards every now and then. Traditional credit card processors have monthly charges and usually a monthly minimum fee that makes them less competitive than Square for this merchant segment.
Low Individual Sale Amount Square's flat rate and no transaction fee pricing actually causes the company to lose money when it processes very small transactions. Businesses that have an average sale of $5 will find Square to be very cost-effective; here's why. Square has to pay banks' interchange charges just like any other merchant service provider, and interchange fees consist of a rate and a transaction fee. For example, a large bank charges an interchange fee of .05% plus a $0.22 transaction fee each time a business accepts a card it issued. Visa charges an assessment of another 0.11% and $0.02 in addition to the interchange fee. This makes Square's wholesale cost to process a debit card issued by a large bank 0.16% with a $0.24 transaction fee, or $0.25 (.0016 * 5 + .24 = .248) to process a $5 transaction. Square's fee of 2.75% to process the transaction results in a charge to the business of only $0.14 (.0275 * 5 = .1375). Square actually loses $0.10 on the transaction. This is the real reason why Starbucks is so interested in working with Square. Business with Low Volume that Require Mobility Square is a great fit for businesses that require mobility and also have low or sporadic processing volume. Businesses with monthly processing volume of about $4,000 or more will find other mobile processing service to be more cost-effective.
Fraudulent & Illegal Businesses Sad but true — Square's simple sign up process gives virtually anyone the ability to accept credit cards. People that can't obtain processing services through traditional channels can now accept payment for products and service using Square — no matter the products or servicing they're selling.
Businesses that Should Avoid Square
Businesses that have medium to high sales volume, key in most transactions, have fluctuations in volume or ticket size, that enjoy any level of customer service, or that can't afford to have funds frozen without notice should opt for a traditional processor in place of Square.
Average Sales Volume and Up Square's 2.75% rate is nice and simple, but it's not really that competitive when compared with a traditional processor offering interchange plus pricing. Sign up for free at CardFellow to receive instant quotes from multiple processors to see for yourself.
Card-Not-Present Businesses Businesses that key-in transactions instead of swiping cards should stay far away from Square. 3.50% plus a $0.15 isn't even close to competitive for card-not-present transactions.
Fluctuations in Volume or Sale Amount Abnormal processing behavior triggers a risk flag that may lead to frozen deposits and account holds. Square has to manage risk like any other processor, but its streamlined sign up process leaves it more exposed than traditional providers, so it tends to have a hair trigger when it comes to holding deposits and freezing accounts. Businesses that have fluctuations in sales volume or average sale amounts should not use Square.
Customer Service is Required Square does not provide customer service. Even the company's processing agreement directs user questions to an email address. If you place any value whatsoever on customer service, Square is not the processing solution for you.