A arm with an apple watch paying on a mobile POS system.

How to accept virtual credit cards

Saturday, December 20, 2014
Tapping into the expansion of virtual payment options and digital wallets

What are virtual credit cards?

As technology expands, particularly for online shoppers, new payment options are emerging. One online payment or mobile app option gaining traction in the e-commerce space is virtual credit cards. Virtual credit cards are unique 16-digit numbers generated for a single transaction. The temporary card number is only valid for that particular monetary exchange. Virtual account numbers can mask sensitive card information (such as bank account numbers) and can be created for as many transactions as the cardholder would like.

Virtual credit cards are not typically used for brick and mortar purchases; instead, they are used for online transactions with added security. As more card companies offer this service (such as Citi, Capital One, and American Express) customers are benefiting from modernized payment methods, a reduction in fraud risk, and expedited transactions for retailers.

Why do people use virtual credit cards?

Security and fraud prevention

Virtual credit cards align well with shoppers who frequently make purchases online. is no downside to seeking a virtual credit card if you shop online, especially since it is available if you have an existing or physical credit card. Moreover, many virtual credit cards come with a $0 fraud liability, so if fraud occurs with your credit card, you won’t be liable for any charges.

People and customers use virtual credit cards more frequently because they are one of the most secure ways to complete an online purchase. One of the reasons that this payment method is so secure has to do with the tokenization process. When a transaction goes through a virtual credit card, the customer can generate a single-use credit card number. For some companies, the customer can decide how long this new card number is good for, or in other cases, an automatic expiration date will be applied.

The token used in the transaction process protects the account information or credit card information from being exposed to potential hackers. So, even if hackers gain access to the tokenized information, they won’t be able to access information from the actual credit card account or card provider. For businesses and retailers, this is a great way to support existing fraud prevention strategies.

Other benefits

For customers, there is the benefit of rebates and cashback from their virtual credit cards as well as a float period during the transaction. In this case, suppliers are paid, but buyers do not yet have to provide funds to the card issuer for payment. This helps businesses maintain a positive cash flow as the transaction moves towards completion.

For businesses, virtual credit cards support real-time automation without the need invoices and payments lag time. Payments are expedited, moving funds more quickly than other payment methods.

How do I accept virtual credit cards?

Most online vendors should not experience an issue in accepting virtual credit card payments. The credit card number simply needs to be entered in for payment, along with other account information generated for the transaction. Additionally, some online vendors may consider adding other digital wallet options for payment or integrating payment applications into their platform.

Ultimately, the pros of accepting virtual cards are quite significant for businesses. A virtual card program will automate transaction information, which is especially helpful for accounting departments. The accounting books will be updated automatically instead of waiting long periods to generate invoices, submit them to customers, and wait for payment.

Also, because virtual credit card numbers can only be used for a pre-set amount or include a spending limit, there is more accuracy in transaction processing for the customer and business alike. If your business already uses accounts payable software, then virtual credit cards will support integration of data and allow for additional remittance information that isn’t always available with ACH or wire transfers.

What fees are associated with virtual credit cards?

As with other transaction or payment services, there is usually a fee associated with accepting payments online and with virtual credit cards. The exact prices vary depending on the service provider you partner with. However, most businesses will pay a 3% transaction fee for every credit card transaction.

It is important to recognize that three parties are involved in any transaction that can charge a fee for the transaction to take place. These parties include the card issuer, the card network, and the payment processor. When setting up your payment system, it is important to budget extra fees ahead of time.

The card issuer is the financial institution that issues the card to the customer. The credit card network is a company that helps facilitate the transaction between the card issuer and the merchant. These companies typically include networks like Visa, Discover, or Mastercard. The payment processor is the company responsible for securing the transaction data and completing the entire payment process.

Interchange rate factors

Interchange rates exist to support a secure and reliable payment network environment. Interchange fees are the fees paid between banks to accept card transactions. The network, merchant code category, and data levels all impact the actual determined rate.

For card companies, the more benefits a card offers, the higher the interchange fee will be. Merchant code categories (MCCs) are four digit numbers that indicate the type of category a business is operating within. Cards, including virtual cards, can be restricted where their cards are used, thus impacting the interchange rate.

Data levels for transactions range from Level 1 to Level 3. Level 1 transactions have the least amount of information about the payment, while Level 3 has the most. Thus, cards that tend to have Level 2 or Level 3 transactions may have a lower interchange rate because the payment can be determined to be more legitimate and less likely to result in a loss of funds.

Understanding interchange rate factors and other transaction fees can help your business assess any additional costs that may come with adding virtual credit cards as an option for payment at your place of business.

How can I lower the cost of virtual credit cards at my business?

One option for reducing the cost of accepting virtual credit cards is researching interchange rates for different networks and the various processing fees offered by institutions. This way, your business can choose the option that will bring the lowest cost possible. When negotiating, it may be worth exploring a membership based model or annual fee payment to avoid a fees-per-transaction model. This may help reduce additional fees from the interchange factors already impacting virtual credit card fees.

Another way to lower possible interchange rates associated with virtual credit cards is to submit data related to the transaction types that your company issues. If you submit more data about the payment transaction and your company supplies Level 2 and Level 3 data, you will be eligible for lower interchange rates.

Lastly, integrating additional accounts payable technology and virtual credit card systems will reduce manual costs that often accompany accounting systems that review transactions on a one-by-one basis. Software systems that can automate these transactions will save your team time and by proxy, additional funds as well.

Modern business solutions

Virtual credit cards are just the beginning of many other payment options that will be introduced in the marketplace in the years to come. Financial spaces seek ways to expedite payments while also protecting customer and business information with these transactions. Whether security, cost savings, or modern technology is most desirable for your company, you can consider virtual credit cards as a way forward for your business in the future.

Next steps

Are you ready to expand payment options for your customers through secure technology? Are you ready to move away from the need of a physical card and support digital debit card or credit card solutions? Are you considering new options for your corporate card?

Heartland is ready to help.

Heartland helps nearly 1,000,000 entrepreneurs make and move money, manage employees and engage customers with human-centered technology solutions that allow them to rise above the daily grind and lead their businesses into a brighter future. Learn more at heartland.us