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5 Signs You Need A High Risk Merchant Account

by Kimberly Baylies on December 1, 2021

Do you know if you need a High-Risk merchant account to accept payments?Businesses rely on the ability to accept payments from their customers to sell their goods and services. If they want to be able to accept credit and debit cards in addition to cash, they must have a merchant account to do so. But merchant accounts are not all created equal. And a standard merchant account won't work for all business types. Some businesses find themselves needing a special high risk merchant account to accept payments in their business.

Financial institutions assume a certain level of risk when backing payment processing transactions. While it is the merchant who must refund customers for fraud or chargebacks, the liability ultimately lies with the processor. In the event that the merchant did not have the funds to reimburse the transactions, the processor would be responsible for paying it. For this reason, most standard financial institutions place limits on the types of businesses and industries they're willing to serve.

So what are those business types to do? If your business model is one of the cases where a standard merchant account doesn't work, you will need to opt for a specialized high-risk merchant account. Institutions that specialize in high-risk merchant accounts formulated their business model to withstand the risks.  And because of their strategic partnerships, they're prepared to work with riskier merchant profiles. This allows them to offset the risk without leaving the merchant in constant fear of merchant account closure. 

But how are business owners supposed to know if they need a high-risk merchant account? Fortunately, there are some telltale signs that your business fits into a high-risk category that will require a high-risk merchant account to accept payments.

Let’s dive into some of the most common scenarios requiring a high-risk merchant account.

Signs you need a high-risk merchant account:

1. The industry you work in is considered “risky”

While banks, payment processors and payment service providers do create their own standards, there are some commonalities. There are certain business types that are simply “well known” to be a risk. And those businesses, then, tend to fall on most bank’s list of restricted businesses or categories.  Some of the “risky” business types seem obvious, like bail bonds, firearms sales, tobacco, or adult products. Others may come as a surprise, such as accounting, software sales, furniture, or tech support.

Other “red-flags” that can deem a business too risky to onboard include high average transaction sizes and high sales volumes.

Here are a few examples of industries that are considered to be high risk for merchant services. While  this is certainly not an exhaustive list some of these business types may surprise you. It is always best to check with your Merchant Service Provider.

Accounting and tax preparation.

Adult products or services, dating services.

Automotive parts and accessories.

Bail bonds.

Cigarettes, tobacco, E-cigs, and Vape products

Collection Agencies 

Software sales.

Credit repair and/or Debt consolidation

Digital downloads.

Electronics Sales

Fantasy sports, online gaming and casinos.

Firearms, ammo and accessories.


Highly regulated industries such as CBD

Hunting and outdoor equipment.

Legal services.

ECommerce, MOTO

Multi Level marketing.

Nonprofit Businesses

Nutraceuticals and supplements (free trials)

Self storage

Software as a service, or SaaS, companies.

Tech support.

Travel Agencies

Web design.

  • 2. You have a high incidence of chargebacks filed against you

Standard merchant accounts set the maximum allowable chargebacks an account is given before action is taken. For instance, Visa allows a chargeback ratio of 0.9% and/or 100 chargebacks/month. However, merchants will get an Early Warning issued when they hit 0.65% and 75 in a month. If a merchant regularly experiences ratios in excess of the allowable amount, it will result in merchant account shut down. 

High-risk merchant account providers understand, and are prepared for, businesses that have a higher rate of chargebacks. High-risk merchant accounts may offset this risk by charging higher per chargeback fees. They will also often require the merchant to establish a reserved account. Funds are held in the reserve account to cover potential costs involved with refunding excessive chargebacks. 

But at the same time, you will not need to worry that your ability to accept payments could be halted at any minute.  

3. Your business model attracts fraud at a greater level than most

In general, e-commerce merchants attract more fraud than brick and mortar retail merchants. But some industries tend to attract fraudsters more than others, usually due to the ease of hiding within high transaction numbers or lack of adequate security. For example, “mom and pop” type small businesses are known to think they won't be a target, so they tend to slack on security measures. Financial services are particularly desirable because of the amount of money being transferred regularly and increased access to credentials. Additionally, the travel industry experienced the second-highest level of fraud attempts of the year, up 25% globally.

High-risk merchant account providers will require an increased level of fraud monitoring in an effort to combat the inevitable fraud. We know these merchants have a higher incidence of fraudulent transactions. Because of this, additional security measures are applied to authenticate both the payment card information and the transaction.

These stronger security measures not only help to protect them from liability, but also better protect the merchant and its loyal customers.

4. Your business engages in international sales

If you sell internationally, you must be able to accept payments from numerous countries and in multiple currencies. Then those currencies must be converted to the local currency. This is something standard payment processors shy away from. Payment Systems and payment methods vary greatly from one country to another. In addition, so do the security levels. High-risk payment processors, again, are equipped to handle the risks involved with interacting with varying payment systems.

5. You operate within a recurring billing or subscription model

Subscriptions, free trial periods, and recurring billing models all come with several potential issues that standard merchant account providers would like to avoid. They tend to have a high incidence of chargebacks because consumers “forget” they signed up. In the past, companies offering free trials would engage in unscrupulous practices. On top of that, all transactions are card-not-present transactions, which we also know are at risk for greater fraud attempts. High-risk payment processors will have the solutions and payment gateway needed to securely handle subscriptions and recurring billing. 

High-risk merchant services are nothing to be worried aboutGet approved for your high-risk merchant account and start accepting payments now.

High-risk payment processing is nothing to be worried about as long as you partner with an experienced high risk merchant service provider. They will not only understand the challenges, but they will help you navigate the application process. And that is important since high-risk merchant accounts differ from traditional merchant accounts in many ways.

For example, merchants will endure a bit stricter underwriting with a more detailed application process. Fees are also higher for high risk merchant accounts than standard merchant accounts due to risk. The payment processor may require cash reserves or a reserve account with capped or rolling reserves. The type depends on the processor. The processor may also impose a volume cap on your merchant account. This means that they will only let you process transaction amounts below a certain volume.

But these limitations also mean that as a merchant you have a method to accept payments that you can count on. You don't have to worry about losing your privileges to accept payments at any given moment, crippling your business.

high risk merchant accounts require more partnership between the merchant and merchant account provider than most business experience. The payment processor needs to have a deep understanding of your business to provide you with the most fitting solution. And you are likely to need more customer service than most low-risk businesses. So it's a good idea to think of it as a long-term relationship. 

Your terms are going to differ from a standard merchant account. But the advantages of a properly written high-risk merchant account will greatly outweigh any inconveniences.

At Bankcard International Group, we know how important it is for you to have a payment processing solution that supports your business. As a merchant account provider that specializes in high-risk payment processing, we have the experience and the partnerships needed to handle the challenges high risk businesses bring. The relationships that we have forged with our partner banks allow us to curate a solution to your particular business’s needs. And it ensures that we maximize your chance of being approved for your merchant account.

In our next article, we’ll dive into the benefits and features of a proper high-risk payment gateway. But if you need to know more right now, call us today. One of our ETA-Certified Payment Professionals would be happy to go over it with you. Just click the link below for more information.


Topics: High Risk Merchant Account, MATCH LIST