Efficient payment processing is a top priority for any company selling online, regardless of what you’re selling. When your customer goes to check out, their payment must be error free, friction free, and a pleasant experience. 

Any unnecessary barriers between your customer and a complete payment subtracts from their experience with your brand and reduces the likelihood they’ll either complete the transaction or return again next time. 

Optimizing this payment experience on the front end (customers) and back end (you) can be challenging for business owners simply for all the variables involved. There are out-of-the-box payment systems and custom solutions alike to help you accommodate the sheer number of payment transaction types and determine how they affect your business. 

Before you make a decision on what payment solution is right for you, it’s well worth getting familiar with the seven core payment transaction types that may affect your decision. Let’s explore. 

The Charge/Sale

Once a customer lands on your e-commerce site (for example), browses your products or services, makes their selection, and adds it to their cart, it’s time to check out. In contrast to a cash payment, an all digital transaction process like this requires a few more pieces of information from your customer to initiate and validate the sale: 

  • billing information
  • card number
  • expiration date
  • security code (CVV)

With all their information provided, the charge/sale transaction has been initiated. In most cases, your payment gateway validates and captures your customer’s funds and payments in a single call. 

It’s worth noting there are payment processors, gateways, and solutions that do both. In this case, your gateway “calls” the processor to transfer various payment data and confirm the validity of the payment with your customer’s card issuer. 

payment transaction types charge and sale blog image

Assuming a successful call, the card issuer will transfer the secured funds once the settlement process occurs. In a charge/sale, authorization and capture occurs in one call, however the settlement tends to occur later behind the scenes. As the merchant, you will receive a transaction ID from the gateway or processor for potential future requirements, like issuing a refund.

Pre-Authorization and Authorization (“Pre-auth/Auth”)

In certain situations, credit and debit card transactions have to pass through authorization (auth) or pre-authorization (pre-auth) to validate the information attached to a card and place a hold on your customer’s funds. Auth involves more steps than your standard charge/sale transaction above and requires two calls to the processor, which increases the complexity of the transaction as the auth must then be captured or voided. 

Let’s say your customer wants to buy an item for $30, with $3 in tax, and $10 in shipping, the auth amount would be $43. When they run their card, the gateway/processor puts a hold on those funds to reserve them for this purchase, while making them unavailable for other uses. Depending on the processing system, this hold can last up to three days. 

In some cases, the processor/gateway may authorize a higher amount than the transaction total as a safeguard against undercharging. This is common with gas stations where the final sale amount won’t be known until the fuel has been dispensed. 

payment transaction types authorization and capture blog image

Another pre-auth or auth use case is for recurring transactions, like if you sell a subscription service. As the merchant, you might process $1.00 to validate your customer’s card is good for future payments and store it. The upside is you get to confirm the payment method, but the downside is the $1.00 will linger until the hold period expires or you issue a reversal (see Payment Reversal below). 

Another factor to consider is that the auth transaction may show up as an unexpected alert on the customer’s account, making them wary of what’s going on with their funds that they may not have intentionally approved.

Required: An auth typically just requires your customer’s full card number, CVV, and cardholder information, as well as the purchase amount.

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Payment Capture

“Capturing” is a payment transaction type referring to securing funds previously authorized for transfer. Once the capture is final, your payment processor can transfer the funds during the standard settlement process. In nearly all circumstances, the capture will be for the amount previously authorized, although certain types of transactions (such as buying gas above) will often capture less than the authorized amount. There is also a risk that the capture will fail, but the previous authorization and validation of cardholder information make this very rare.

Required: A capture call only requires the original auth ID or transaction ID, as well as the purchase amount. 

Payment Reversal

A reversal is precisely what it sounds like – a reversal of a successful auth or pre-auth transaction where your customer’s funds have been put on hold but not deposited into your account yet. This is different than a refund, which we’ll cover further down. 

A reversal typically removes the hold placed on your customer’s funds, but can also be used in cases where there’s a smaller charge for validation purposes only. 

payment transaction types payment reversal process blog image

Required: In most instances, reversals only require the original authorization ID or transaction ID and will not require the customer’s personal information, card number, or CVV.

Void Payments

Customers can often change their minds, and sometimes you’re in the middle of processing a customer’s purchase when this happens. Thankfully, a void transaction can help prevent funds from being transferred instead of issuing a refund later – which comes at additional cost to you. A “void” is simply a canceled transaction before funds are moved or settled, and if done at the right time, you can avoid transaction fees that come with refunds. 

payment transaction types void payments blog image

Required: To void a sale, merchants only need the original transaction ID.

Payment Refunds

No merchant likes issuing refunds, but they happen for a wide range of reasons and are to be expected in the world of online payment processing. It’s standard practice to take the item back and credit the customer’s card within your refund policy. 

In a refund, your customer’s money has already been authorized, captured and settled – meaning you have to completely undo the payment you just processed and return the full funds. A few things to note about payment refunds:

  • Refunds always return the money to the original card, so your customers cannot move money from one card to another. 
  • Refunds come at a cost to you, the merchant. 
  • You may also be at the mercy of the payment processor or gateway in terms of how long you can issue refunds, such as 14 days from the date of purchase.
payment transaction types refund process blog image

In addition to a full refund, merchants can also issue a partial refund. For instance, maybe a customer ordered five items, loves three, and wants to return the other two. This is where a partial refund would be useful as it allows merchants to refund money up to the full amount of the original purchase. 

Required: To issue a refund, you’ll need the original charge transaction ID from the processor.


Last on our list of payment types is the credit. Credits are useful if your customer is outside the time limit specified by the processor/gateway for a refund, or if there’s another reason a refund cannot be issued – like if their original card is no longer available. This process works just like a charge/sale, except that the funds are transferred from the merchant to the customer’s payment method. 

payment transaction types credit process blog image

Required: Merchants need the card number, CVV, and the customer’s information to issue a credit.

Why Payment Types Matter in Payment Processing

Cash transactions will always be so much simpler than processing credit and debit cards, but the benefits of an airtight payment process makes your business sales infinitely scalable, automated, measurable, and far more relevant in the world of online purchasing. 

Understanding the various transaction types can help you make sense of services and fees offered by payment processors and gateways so you can spend more time offering unique value to your clients and customers – and build a bigger brand market share. 

As always, Clear Function is here if you ever need a hand figuring it all out. Schedule a discovery call with us and let’s dig in.

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Get to know modern payment processing and the key components that affect how you do business. 

Payment processing hasn’t changed much since the world upgraded from bartering to currency. You want to sell something and your customers want to buy it – transaction complete. 

But what makes payment processing different today is the ability to do it well at scale, which includes technology, compliance, information security, accounting, tax, shipping, global reach, and other key elements that are integral to selling digitally. 

  • Good news for buyers: getting your next t-shirt online is much faster, greener, and more convenient. 
  • Good news for sellers: facilitating the transaction is trickier than with cash, but infinitely scalable with the right payment system in place. 

Payment Processing in the Internet Age

The marketplace has become increasingly comfortable with digital payments as security, regulations, and compliance have caught up with the internet wave. Today, you could even say we’re dependent on it. As a result, you can now choose between building a custom payments platform or a slew of ready-out-of-the-box payment processing solutions with varying capabilities.  

Both have their perks and downsides, but the most important consideration is functionality and your return on your investment. Whether you’re new to the subject or a seasoned veteran, it’s well worth the time to look before you leap on a solution to ensure it meets your business goals five or ten years from now. 

To lend a hand in this evaluation process, we’ll be diving into these topics the next few months:

Payment Processing Overview blog image

Payments in a Global Economy

Globalization enables businesses to operate across vast distances, nations, cultures, and currencies. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, online or remote purchases doubled in the last 6 years. Even physical money has become rare as people favor debit/credit cards and online payment platforms like Venmo, PayPal, or Zelle – or now even your smartphone. 

As a merchant, you may sell three products to someone in Maine today, seven to a buyer in Portugal tomorrow, and 15 in your Minneapolis brick-and-mortar store this week. Ultimately, this means that any tech-enabled organization needs tech-empowered payment solutions to make the purchasing experience as quick and convenient as your customers expect.

Let’s explore.

Key Features in Modern Payment Processing Systems

1. Basic Payment Flow

When a customer comes to your physical store or online store, they do their shopping and we hope they initiate payment. It tends to look a something like this:

Online Payment Process blog image

You are the merchant, they are the customer, and if they’re using a digital payment method, a payment gateway is a key part of the process.

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2. Payment Gateways: Gathering the Details

In short, payment gateways request certain information about a transaction and a customer to help confirm the validity of the card or direct payment. For example:

  • Brick-and-mortar stores generally use POS (Point-of-Sale) systems to collect payment information, such as credit and debit card numbers. In this case, the information you need about the customer is stored on the card, plus some sort of security like a PIN. 
  • Online merchants use payment gateways to collect the necessary customer information to make a payment. This info is key for facilitating transactions, but it’s just the start.

The latter group of merchants may include eCommerce, eBusinesses, online retailers, “bricks and clicks,” and more. Your customer makes their selection and upon checkout must fill out a form gathering payment details such as name, address, shipping information, coupon codes, card information, and more – depending on the scenario. 

Online payment process - payment gateways

Payment gateways like these typically work with a variety of card-issuing banks and card associations

  • Card-issuing bank: financial institution that offers branded payment cards from card associations directly to consumers. This may include credit cards, debit cards, key fobs, and prepaid cards.
  • Card association: a network of issuing banks and acquiring banks that process branded payment cards. For example: Discover, MasterCard, Visa, etc.

Besides ensuring that the payment details are securely transferred, the gateway can also check the customer’s credit card number and billing address to make sure that they match. Otherwise, the transaction may get flagged for potentially being fraudulent. If everything checks out, the information passes to a payment processor.

Note: Some services like PayPal and Stripe provide combined payment gateway and payment processing services. For simplicity, we’ll treat them as separate. Let’s dive into payment processors next. 

3. Payment Processor: Processing the Transaction

Payment gateways work with payment processors to make the transaction process fast and simple. A payment processor connects customers and their card-issuing bank with merchants and their acquiring bank to facilitate transactions.

Once the payment processor receives payment information, they contact your customer’s credit/debit card issuer, often their bank, or other relevant financial institution (say, PayPal). With credit and debit card transactions, like Visa or Mastercard, a card network facilitates communication and transfers.

The customer’s card issuer or other relevant financial institution (sometimes called the merchant acquiring bank) will then check to make sure that the customer has the necessary funds or credit to cover the transaction. If the financial institution notices any red flags, say suspicious purchases, they might pause the transaction and contact the cardholder/client. Otherwise, if the funds are available, they will approve the transaction.

Online payment process - payment processor blog image

From here, the payment processor will pass the info back to the payment gateway, which will update you (the merchant) and your customer.

4. How Funds Get Transferred from Customer to Merchants

The payment gateway will let you and your customer know whether the transaction was approved or declined. Assuming it was approved, your customer’s bank or other relevant financial institution will send money to your (the merchant’s) acquiring bank, which is the financial institution you use to accept payments.

The acquiring bank will deposit the money either into a merchant account specific to your business’ merchant ID (MID), or an aggregated merchant account. Your money stays in this account in case of chargebacks, returns, and/or other issues later on. After the appropriate time frame, it’ll be deposited into your designated business accounts.

Online payment process - payment settlement blog image

5. Fast and Secure Transactions

Don’t worry if this is still a bit confusing. Fact is, modern payment systems are intricate and have many stakeholders. But what you get is the ability to process payments worldwide within a matter of seconds. This way, customers can get the products and services they need, and businesses can reel in the revenues needed to thrive.

Yet when it comes to money, speed isn’t everything. In fact, payment systems sacrifice a fair amount of speed in exchange for security. This is a trade we gladly make to preserve relationships with customers who expect us to handle their sensitive information with respect and care. Fortunately, modern payment systems are typically quite safe.

6. How Are Transactions Secured?

Where there is money, there will be fraudsters trying to get away with the loot. The internet is massive and data constantly bounces around on different pieces of hardware via highways of digital infrastructure. Often, criminals will try to hijack the data while it’s being transmitted. 

Fortunately, there are many steps merchants, cardholders, banks, and other entities can take to reduce the risk of criminal activities.

We’ll dive into this topic in more detail soon if you need to know more about acronyms like TLS, SSL, SIEM, PCI DSS, GLBA, GDPR, FISMA, and more. But for now, it’s worth noting that when shopping for a payment system solution or team of developers to help modify what you have, security is an essential component.

The Wrap Up

We covered a lot here, but we just skimmed the surface. We love this topic because it’s our specialty and it’s important. 

Modern payment systems simplify purchases for customers in a world where money is invisible and everything rides on how you handle the data. You may find yourself in a situation where you’re choosing between a custom payment system or an out-of-the-box payment system, depending on your business needs and goals. 

It’s worth a hard look, because as business models change and relationships with customers evolve alongside the internet, out-of-the-box payment solutions often fall short of meeting many companies’ need for more flexible, custom payment platforms.

Whichever you choose, Clear Function is always here to lend a hand. Book a call with us at a time that works for you and we’d be happy to help.

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Established tech companies understand that the best products and features are often virtually invisible to the customer, and this is especially true with payment integrations. When you’re dealing with people’s money, you want to be as reliable and discreet as a Swiss banker. But customers also expect transparency and feedback, and a well-integrated payment gateway delivers both in the form of a seamless and reliable payment process. Building payment features into your platform demands that you see them not as mere utilities but as bona fide opportunities for customer experience.

With that end in mind, this post will walk you through four keys for integrating payment gateways into your platform in such a way that it builds customer trust while also streamlining your payment processing infrastructure. Achieving this means choosing payment platforms that are well-suited to your business, minimizing your per-transaction expenses without sacrificing stability and reliability, taking advantage of value-added services available from many payment platforms, and engineering your internal systems and processes to cover potential gaps between the payment feature and your existing platform.

4 Critical Steps for Integrating Pay Features into Your Platform

1. Identify the types of payments best suited to your platform and business objectives.

Not every payment integration will be a good fit for your platform. Especially with mobile payment platforms, you’ll need to sort through a long list of options to find the tool that does exactly what you need. For example, Apple Pay and Apple’s in-app purchases are both potentially powerful tools for streamlining payments and retaining customers, but they process payments much differently, with distinct fee structures and rules for use, and they can’t each be used for every type of product or transaction. International payments are another potential difference-maker because some tools don’t support them (and some businesses don’t need them).

While an “all-of-the-above” approach may seem like a customer-friendly choice, too many payment integrations will mean significantly more administrative and operational complexity. Remember that bugs love needlessly complex systems, and one more redundant payment integration is one more opportunity for a missed payment or double charge.

2. Minimize expenses per transaction (but not at the expense of reliability).

Here again, your best option depends on the nature of your business. At first blush, it may not seem to make a difference whether you charge customers through credit cards, ACH (bank transfers), or both. But these methods charge you differently and process payments in distinct ways that could have big implications for your profits or overhead. ACH will typically charge you a flat fee per transaction instead of a percentage of the charge like a credit card transaction, so ACH is typically preferable for high-dollar transactions. But credit cards can offer immediate payment authorization, whereas ACH payments take several days to fully process. That processing delay may or may not be important to you—if you bill in arrears, for example, you have already built your business model to accommodate it. Ticketmaster, by contrast, is a good example of a business with a clear preference for credit cards (they don’t accept ACH), since they need to able to verify payments immediately or risk outrage from the buyers and sellers in their marketplace who are exchanging goods with very short shelf-lives.

ACH vs. credit cards is just one example of the cost considerations you must make when integrating payment tools. If your business relies on a high volume of microtransactions, neither credits cards (high fee) nor ACH (delayed authorization) is a viable option. Even in-app purchases charge you commissions that can take a big bite out of revenue. Digital wallets can defray some of the costs for frequent small transactions by requiring a minimum contribution to the wallet and deducting purchases from a balance that has already been hit with a credit card fee.

3. Consider value-added services that really do add value.

Payment platforms have been stepping up their game in the realm of security and fraud prevention in particular. We don’t need to be reminded of the long list of companies, including more than one digital security firm, who have lost money and goodwill to data breaches. Even so, not every payment platform that claims to offer payment security has equally robust security. If you can offer your customers CAPTCHA and 2-step verification as part of a smooth, unified payment experience, you may be willing to pay a bit more per transaction to a payment gateway with a proven security track record.

Some payment platforms can also offer strong analytics and reporting capability. Others enable you to process transactions through a variety of merchant accounts, optimizing for lower fees, reduced risk, or increased leverage. Of course, every feature adds a layer of complexity, and some services don’t scale well for smaller businesses. As with everything else in your business, you must judge the value you get from these services against the investment required to extract that value.

4. Build your own infrastructure to maximize uptime.

As good as these payment gateways can be, they will never simply run themselves. An all-too-common mistake is trying to integrate payment tools without adequate internal staff to support them. Remember that sensible architecture assumes failure. As a cultural value, you should think of every fix that requires the Ops Team as a bug. Especially when you’re dealing with payments, resolving discrepancies after the customer reports them is not enough to restore their trust.

Consider a common failure for credit card transactions: the customer pays with their card, and their payment goes through to the processor, but for any number of reasons that may have nothing to do with you, they find themselves at an error screen. Assuming the transaction failed, they pay again. Up to this point, there may be nothing your team could have done to prevent the double payment. If you are relying on customers to see the double charge on their monthly statement three weeks later and call you about it, you may not regain their confidence even if you are able to refund the second charge while you still have them on the phone. But if, instead, you have designed a reporting system to periodically query the payment processor and identify payment errors mere minutes after they happen, you have created an opportunity to gain customer trust by fixing the error before they know it has occurred.

Like every aspect of your business, integrating online payments is an opportunity to improve the experience you provide to your customers. Payment gateways aren’t just utilities to facilitate your sales, they are a critical part of the sale itself. Especially in a digital marketplace where consumers are spoiled for choice, a clumsy or unreliable payment experience is more than enough to drive them into the arms of your competitors. You must be sensitive to costs, of course, but you must also be willing and able to tailor your payment integration to the specific needs of your business by choosing the right types of payments to accept, minimizing per-transaction expenses, taking advantage of additional services that provide good value, and in some cases investing in your own payment processing infrastructure.


If you have ever received an estimate for a software project that turned out to be off, off by a long shot, then you’re not alone. The estimates of most software developers often miss by a factor of two to three.

Here’s an axiom you can bank on: The less experience the developer has, the less accurate the estimate. Yet, even seasoned veterans miscalculate.

Does it surprise you that we’d admit that? It shouldn’t.

Accurate quotes requires us to predict the unpredictable not only for ourselves but also for other developers on the team, for our clients, and for technologies that we use but don’t control.

On the rare occasion that we receive a comprehensive requirements document, we go over it with a fine-toothed comb. We price out each feature. We sift all those development hours and shake off the excess.

We feel proud when we quote with such precision. Doing so requires intelligence, expertise, and foresight. Then, a single variable beyond our control arrives on the scene and blows up the estimate:

  • Stripe updates their API.
  • iOS deprecates a function.
  • Two technologies inexplicably stop playing well together.

Estimates are guesses, our best guesses.

Depending on the thesaurus, the two words are synonyms! “Accurate software estimation” is like hiking from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

You are not moving in a straight line.

That’s why good financing agreements, like good code, must anticipate such surprises and accommodate for more than the immediate issues. They have the backbone necessary to flex and grow with the project. They can adjust to unforeseen changes in scope that would otherwise threaten the project’s viability.

If you have participated in a software development project in the past, then you have probably heard of agile methodologies. Those short development sprints and rapid iterations can certainly help clients manage their risk and uncertainty:

“In two weeks after two sprints, they’ll be able to tell me how much work is left, how much it will cost, and their confidence level in both estimates.”

But which pricing models should you use and when?

At Clear Function, we take three different approaches to financing.

1. Fixed Bid

When the project calls for developing a fully functioning system by a certain deadline, many clients want a fixed bid.

Fixed bids seem straightforward, but development is not. Fixed bid pricing is thus tricky because it requires us to have a comprehensive understanding of project scope before the project begins. We must determine whether or not a certain change order or request from the client is still in scope and part of the original agreement.

If a client has already worked with another technical team or has developers on staff who are available to do some of the work, then a fixed bid becomes less risky. We can kick off the project without worrying overly much about getting hosed.

But in order to minimize chaos and maximize clarity, we must stay in close communication with our clients. Burning through hours of a client’s budget without their approval is a surefire way to damage their trust and compromise the project.

The only way to avoid such awkward situations with a fixed bid is to run to the client at the first sign of trouble. That way, we can figure out a plan of attack together.

How to Prepare for Fixed Bids

With fixed bid, it’s important to stick with the original plan. If the developers re-architect the application as they go, they will blow scope and their clients budget along with it.

What is in the statement of work? We must remember to not outsmart ourselves.

  • Initiate a discovery project. If clients have never worked with a technical team, then we initiate a discovery project. To get started in these murkier scenarios, we take a wild guess at the overall size of the project. We then slice off a percentage of the project’s estimated cost and assign that to the discovery project.

For example, let’s say we estimate that a project will cost $100,000. In order to do a more thorough review of potential complications and realistic workload, we ask for 15% up front. Once our clients agree, we dedicate that $15,000 to helping them define their objectives based on their remaining budget.

  • Confirm the accuracy of the initial proposal. Then, at the end of that discovery phase, we can confirm the accuracy of our initial proposal. We have much more confidence because we have spent significant time uncovering roadblocks.
  • Vet the client. To be 100% honest, we also use the formal discovery phase to vet the client and the project. We like to work on projects we believe will succeed, ones that justify the opportunity cost.

When clients commit to our version of discovery, we achieve better alignment. They trust us to ensure that the project doesn’t break the bank and positively affects their bottom line.

  • Set the right pace. Finally, discovery projects put the emphasis on quality as opposed to just speed. There’s no sense in building the wrong product quickly, but there’s a lot of sense in building the right product at a sustainable pace.

2. Retainer

Retainers usually grow out of a relationship with an existing client.

Once we have completed their project, either party might identify a few lingering issues, enhancements, or small, follow-on projects. A retainer amortizes the budget for all those immediate or anticipated touch-ups across however many months.

Usually billed per month, retainer projects allow us to set aside an agreed-upon block of work for a set price.

What we love about the retainer model is that clients are “saving their places in line” with us. We’re letting clients know that they can depend on us for a given number of hours, and depending on the arrangement, that can sweeten our relationship with them and strengthen their product at the same time.

How to Prepare for Retainers

Time Tracking – With retainers we must stay proactive about our time tracking. How many hours have we spent each week on retainer clients?

Communication – If we foresee spending more time on a project than the contract includes, then we need to reach out to the client. We ask them if we need to put the brakes on or if they want to keep up the speed by paying for an extra block of time and attention. They appreciate this straightforward approach, and we avoid having to ask for money at the end of the month after we’ve already burned the hours.

Flexibility – With that said, we also give our clients the option to roll some hours forward from one month to the next to prepare for a big push.

3. Time & Materials (aka, Staff Augmentation)

This approach to financing means that either one of our developers will work for an extended period of time as part of our client’s staff.

Most of Clear Function’s Time & Materials engagements don’t require our employees to work off-site, or rather, on-site with the client. They stay in our office and work remotely, typically full-time, for as long as the client wants them.

How to Prepare for a Time & Materials Contract

Old Clock

Believe it or not, we really enjoy being a part of our clients’ teams from time to time.

With these contracts, we are not involved in constant discussions about which work is ours and which work belongs to their in-house teams.

Because one or more of our developers have, in effect, joined their teams, our clients are paying the negotiated hourly rate, based on seniority and skill-level. For example, they might choose to augment their team with a senior-level engineer who can guide their mid-level engineers for a season.
They trust us. They like our people, our culture, and our development process. So it’s easier and less risky to borrow one of our engineers for a season than to try to go out and recruit on their own. So this arrangement can work really well for both parties.

When a client needs an experienced (but temporary) project manager to oversee incremental improvements to a larger system or the roll-out a new product, time & materials work particularly well.

Hold on. Don’t say “Goodbye” just yet.

Financing your software projects doesn’t end after the ink has dried. As we deliver on your needs, you may discover new needs and necessary maintenance work that fall outside of the original scope.

We have an easy solution: We will keep communicating with you.

When we see things that will require ongoing attention—“By the way, this thing will need an oil change every 3,000 miles”—we’ll let you know. We can modify our existing agreements to keep the project moving forward, or we can begin handing the project off to your in-house team.

If your plans change, you know where to find us.

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    Get to know what payment transaction types you need before choosing your solution.

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    Get to know modern payment processing and the key components that affect how you do business. 

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