Does your utility accept credit cards?

If your answer is “No”, then my next question to you is “Why not?”

I’ve heard many reasons why utilities still don’t accept credit cards…

  • The fees are too expensive.
  • It’s not fair for all of our ratepayers to pay for a few customers who pay by credit card.
  • My board doesn’t want to.

The bottom line is this is 2011 and your customers expect to be able to pay by credit card. Where else do your customers do business that only accepts cash and checks?  The grocery store, the gas station, even fast food restaurants now accept credit cards.

Beyond providing reliable utility service to your customers, your most important objective is getting paid for that service. A portion of your customer base may not be able to come up with the cash to pay their utility bill when it’s due, but I will wager that many of these same customers have a credit card (or credit cards) with enough of a credit limit to pay their utility bill. So why not let them pay you?

Let’s take a look at the reasons that many utilities cite for not accepting credit cards…

The fees are too expensive.

There is a cost associated with processing credit card transactions. But these fees can be negotiated. If your bank or current credit card processor refuses to negotiate a better fee structure with you, take your business to a merchant partner that will. A number of our customers have received very aggressive rates from Bankcard Associates.

It’s not fair for all of our ratepayers to pay for a few customers who pay by credit card.

At first blush, this argument seems to make sense. But, upon closer scrutiny, it doesn’t hold water. You accept cash and checks, don’t you?  What is the cost to your ratepayers to process cash and check payments?  Nothing…?  Think about it a little more – your cashiers have to count their cash drawer and add up their checks as a part of balancing every day, don’t they?  You have to prepare a bank deposit. This bank deposit has to be taken to the bank. Mail payments must be opened. Walk-in customers paying by cash or check want to stop and visit, resulting in unproductive time for your staff. Have you scrutinized your bank statement lately?  How much is your bank charging you per deposit?  Some banks even charge a fee per item (that’s a check to you and me) deposited. There are obviously costs associated with accepting cash and check payments, too. (I’m not advocating not accepting cash and checks, I’m just pointing out the not-so-obvious reasons why the “all bear the burden of a few” argument doesn’t stand up.)

My board doesn’t want to.

This is a tough one. Some boards are more progressive than others and if your board is dead set against accepting credit cards, you may not have any options. But I would encourage you to take an informal survey and keep track of every time a customer asks if you accept credit cards. Use this information to make a presentation to your board.

If you don’t accept credit cards, I strongly encourage you to consider doing so. Your customers will thank you.