Every Business Owner’s Worst Nightmare
Have Your Funds Been Held?
Nothing brings your business to a screeching halt like finding out that your merchant account has been frozen, deactivated, or placed under review. It’s a shockingly common event in the credit card processing industry, and it can happen to anyone at any time. If you’ve experienced a fund hold before, then you know how frustrating it can be to get a straight answer from your processor. If this is your first time, then you probably have a lot of questions without any satisfying answers.
Why They’re Holding Your Money
Processors almost always hold your funds to protect themselves from risk. You may not know this, but your provider usually pays you before it officially receives your customer’s money from your customer’s bank. If it suspects that the customer’s bank will not process the transaction for some reason, then it will hold off on giving you your money to avoid eating the cost of the failed transaction. On very rare occasions, a processor might also experience a temporary interruption in its own banking relationships and freeze all payments until this interruption is sorted out. For a full breakdown of reasons why your processor might hold your money, see our article on Why Credit Card Processors Hold Funds.
How to Make Them Hand It Over
Your Contract Is the Culprit
Your processor probably never warned you that they could lock your account like this. That’s because you would have thought twice about getting a merchant account if you understood the risk involved. The unfortunate truth about fund holding is that whether or not you knew about it, you have already agreed to it.
We may withhold funds by temporarily suspending or delaying payouts of Proceeds to you and/or designate an amount of funds that you must maintain in your Square Accounts or in a separate reserve account (a “Reserve”) to secure the performance of your obligations under any agreement between you and Square. We may require a Reserve for any reason related to your use of the Services. The Reserve will be in an amount as reasonably determined by us to cover potential losses to Square. The Reserve may be raised, reduced or removed at any time by Square, in its sole discretion, based on your payment history, a credit review, the amount of any arbitration award or court judgment against you in Square’s favor, or otherwise as Square or its processor may determine or require. If you do not have sufficient funds in your Reserve, we may fund the Reserve from any funding source associated with your Square Accounts, including any funds (a) deposited by you, (b) due to you, or (c) available in your bank account, or other payment instrument registered with us.
We may place a hold on payments sent to your PayPal account if, in our sole discretion, we believe that there may be a high level of risk associated with you, your PayPal account, or your transactions or that placing such a hold is necessary to comply with state or federal regulatory requirements. We make decisions about whether to place a payment hold based on a number of factors, including information available to us from both internal sources and third parties. When we place a hold on a payment, the funds will appear in your PayPal account with an indication that they are unavailable or pending. We’ll notify you, either through your PayPal account or directly by phone or email, whenever we place a hold.
And this from First Data‘s standard Program Guide:
You expressly authorize us to establish a Reserve Account pursuant to the terms and conditions set forth in this Section 25. The amount of such Reserve Account shall be set by us, in our sole discretion, based upon your processing history and the potential risk of loss to us as we may determine from time to time.
If you check your merchant account contract, you’ll probably discover that only one side’s discretion is taken into account in this situation, and it isn’t yours.
That doesn’t mean you’re powerless. The first thing you need to do is find out why the hold occurred and then do what it takes to fix the issue as soon as possible.
Reverse Any Chargebacks
It is very likely that a chargeback is the reason why your money was held up. A chargeback occurs when one of your customers notifies their bank that they did not consent to a transaction. The chargeback resolution process is heavily weighted in favor of customers because credit card fraud is extremely prevalent, but you can overturn chargebacks if you respond to them quickly. Follow the rules for successfully disputing a chargeback through Visa and MasterCard and be sure to submit all paperwork in a timely fashion. If you can challenge the chargeback and win the dispute, your processor might be willing to release the rest of your money.
Identify Any Possible Rules Violations
If a chargeback didn’t prompt the hold, then it’s possible that you have violated your processor’s terms and conditions. Common violations include selling or advertising unauthorized products, misrepresenting your business type, or processing a transaction amount in excess of your account’s limits. You may be in violation of your contract without even knowing it, which is why it’s important to get in touch with your provider so that you can correct the issue as soon as possible. The longer you wait to bring yourself into compliance, the less trustworthy you will appear to be.
The last thing you probably want to do is have a polite chat with the people who have confiscated your money. However, calm communication and immediate compliance will go a long way toward convincing them to release your funds. Be sure to complete and submit all requested paperwork on time. Go out of your way to ask if you can provide more documentation to support your claim. In general, be as transparent and open as possible. You can report your provider and cancel your contract after you get your money back. Until then, you need to win their trust, no matter how annoying it might seem.
If Necessary, Be Aggressive
Let’s be realistic: even if you follow all of the rules and provide total transparency, your processor still might not play ball. And as your contract clearly indicates, they aren’t required to work on your timetable. That’s when your last resort might come into play: legal action. Hiring a lawyer is a long shot, and it can be a very expensive undertaking, but it might be your only option left.
Two Can Play the Contract Game
Contracts are designed to protect both parties in a business relationship. If you can prove that your provider has not held up its end of the deal, then you may be able to invalidate the agreement that gives it the right to control your funds. Look for anything that might constitute a breach of contract, such as rate increases, altered contract language, and written offers that were not upheld. Get company representatives to acknowledge your evidence in an email if possible. Remember, you don’t need to have an ironclad case that is sure to win. You just need to have a strong enough case that your provider would rather release your money than deal with arbitration or a possible lawsuit.
Be Prepared to Follow Through
Your processor has its own legal department and will likely not flinch if you threaten a lawsuit. That’s why you need to be ready to put your money where your mouth is. Before you mention anything to your processor about legal action, be sure that you’ve found a lawyer who is willing to represent you for a reasonable rate. Ultimately, a good lawyer may cost you more than the full amount of your withheld funds, so this path may not be worth it. This is true regardless of whether you are forced into arbitration or you file a lawsuit. If it doesn’t make financial sense to get a lawyer involved, then you might as well wait the 180 days for your money to be released and then move on.
Sometimes the Underdog Wins
Make no mistake: you do not have the upper hand in this situation. However, you can force your payment processor to release your money if you play your cards right. By taking proactive measures and diligently documenting your efforts, you will remove any cause for the hold on their end. If they continue to hold your funds without justification, you can take a more hostile approach. It’s not impossible. You can win this. You just need to be patient, persistent, and a little bit lucky.
Have you recovered your held funds from a payment processor? Tell us how in the comment section below: