ANSWERS FOR CAMPAIGNS WITH MERCHANT ACCOUNTS
Information for Merchant Account Users
- What is a merchant account and how does it work?
- Why do I need a merchant account?
- My campaign or committee’s jurisdiction does not require me to use a merchant account. Can I still set one up?
Setting Up your merchant account
Reconciling your merchant account
- When will donations show up in my account?
- What will appear on my bank statement when these funds are transferred?
- How much does a merchant account cost?
- How do I reconcile my committee’s bank account and determine the total fees assessed?
- How do I refund a donor’s contribution?
- My committee has stopped fundraising – why am I seeing a small debit from Vantiv in my bank account?
- I need detailed merchant information for my campaign finance reports. Where can I find that?
Reports needed for reconciliation
What is a merchant account and how does it work?
A merchant account is a type of bank account that enables your committee to process credit card transactions. Our platform is designed to work exclusively with merchant accounts that are provided by Vantiv, our payment processing partner. Funds you raise through ActBlue will be processed through your Vantiv merchant account and deposited directly into your bank account via ACH transfer.
Why do I need a merchant account?
Certain states and localities have campaign finance regulations that prohibit ActBlue from directly processing the transfer of funds from your donors to your committee. In order for us to legally operate in these jurisdictions, we are required to do so through merchant accounts.
You can find a list of states and localities in which we are active that require merchant accounts here.
My campaign or committee’s jurisdiction does not require me to use a merchant account. Can I still set one up?
ActBlue operates as a conduit wherever possible, so we are unfortunately unable to offer merchant accounts to committees in jurisdictions that do not require them.
Setting Up Your Merchant Account
How can I get started?
First, you should fill out the ActBlue setup form, to receive an email from a member of the ActBlue team with instructions for how to proceed with the necessary setup documents.
What sort of documentation will I need?
1. A bank account–Vantiv will require either:
a. A voided check (this must have the campaign or committee’s name printed on it–Vantiv cannot accept a starter check),
b. OR, a letter from your campaign or committee’s bank, on bank letterhead, that includes your full account and routing numbers, as well as a bank representative’s signature and contact information
2. A federal tax ID/employer identification number (EIN)–Vantiv may require documentation from the IRS to verify your campaign or committee’s EIN, which can be:
IRS letter SS-4
OR IRS letter 147C
OR a screenshot of your confirmation page if your EIN was obtained online
Signed ActBlue and Vantiv Merchant Agreements —
For this, we use HelloSign, a totally secure and legally binding electronic form-filling and e-signing service. All you’ll need to do is submit the merchant account online setup form, which can be found here. Once the form is submitted, our team will review the submission, and you will receive an email from HelloSign shortly thereafter with instructions on how to electronically sign your merchant account agreements.
Why does Vantiv require my campaign or committee to have an EIN?
Federal law requires that all financial institutions establish and implement a Consumer Identification Program in order to verify the legitimacy of any entity that is attempting to set up any sort of financial account. As such, Vantiv cannot set up a merchant account without an EIN. If you do not yet have an EIN, you can obtain one using the IRS Online EIN Application which only takes a few minutes to complete.
Why does Vantiv require a Social Security Number?
Similar to requiring an EIN, federal law requires that financial institutions verify the identity of any individual before they establish an account. Your SSN will be used only for basic identity verification.
How long until my account is ready to start fundraising?
Once the forms are submitted, Vantiv will have your merchant account up and running within five business days. Once the merchant account is all set, Vantiv will send us the necessary information, and we’ll be able to activate your fundraising account immediately.
Which payment methods will my merchant account accept?
At the outset, you’ll be able to process contributions made using VISA, MasterCard, and Discover.
With a few additional steps, American Express can also be enabled. To set this up, you’ll need to call the American Express merchant services customer line at 800-528-5200 to open an American Express merchant account. Once you’ve established the account, we will need to know your committee’s American Express ID so that Vantiv can enable American Express transactions on your merchant account. This can be done during the initial Vantiv setup process or at any point thereafter.
Please keep in mind that American Express contributions are processed directly by American Express and will be transferred into your bank account separately.
Reconciling your merchant account
When will donations show up in my bank account?
In general, contributions will be bundled together in a single ACH transfer (i.e. a direct deposit) two business days after the contribution date (“Activity Date”). Please keep in mind that Vantiv’s nightly cutoff is 10:00pm eastern time, so any contributions processed after that will be considered part of the following day’s activity. Contributions processed on a given day will “settle” on the following business day, and the funds will hit your bank account the business day following the Settlement Date.
What will appear on my bank statement when these funds are transferred?
Settlements from Vantiv (which include contributions made with VISA, MasterCard, and Discover cards) will appear on your statement as:
LITLE & CO./FUNDS DISB
Settlements from American Express, if enabled, will appear on your statement as:
How much does a merchant account cost?
The merchant account setup process is entirely free, and there are no monthly maintenance fees. Fees are only assessed on transactions that are actually processed.
The table below provides a brief breakdown of the fees you can expect to see:
How do I reconcile my committee’s bank account and determine the total fees assessed?
For each month that you’re reconciling, you’ll need to use a combination of the reports from your ActBlue Dashboard, Vantiv’s reports, and, if applicable, fee reports provided by American Express. To learn more about reconciliation, please see the Reports section, below.
To request Vantiv’s reconciliation and fee reports, fill out this form, and we’ll send the reports you’ll need to the designated individual.
How do I refund a donor’s contribution?
If your committee uses a merchant account, you can issue your own refunds at any time.
Once you find the contribution in question using the “Search” tab on your Dashboard, click on the contribution date to expand to a more detailed view. From there, select the reason for refunding the contribution for your records (optional) and click “Process Refund.”
Please note that if there are no pending settlements to be disbursed, the refund will be debited from your committee’s bank account. Make sure your bank account has sufficient funds before processing a refund.
My committee has stopped fundraising – why am I seeing a small debit from Vantiv in my bank account?
When Vantiv deposits funds into your bank account, the funds transfer fee for that deposit is deducted from the next deposit. If you stop fundraising for several days and there is no settlement against which to assess the fee, Vantiv will debit the fee from your bank account. If you need more information, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I need detailed merchant information for my campaign finance reports. Where can I find that?
*Some state and local regulatory agencies may require you to disclose your unique Merchant Account ID–if you need this information, please drop us a line at email@example.com and we’ll get right back to you with that information!
Reports needed for reconciliation
ActBlue Reporting Center
On the “Reporting” tab of your ActBlue dashboard, click on the “Details” link that corresponds to the month in question. (see below)
On the “Monthly Details” screen (shown below), you’ll see all of your monthly ActBlue details at a glance, including the ActBlue service fee for that month (which, in this case, was billed to the committee’s bank account at the beginning of April 2016).
Reconciliation Activity Report (provided by Vantiv)
Read below for a breakdown of the different information reported by Vantiv in your Reconciliation Activity Report, and see a sample report for your reference.
Approved Transaction By Purchase Currency — This section will show the total number of contributions made using each card type, as well as the gross amount processed. Keep in mind that while American Express activity is reflected in this portion of the report, it will not be reflected in the “Activity Summary By Activity Date” section (seen below). If you have enabled American Express on your merchant account, you will need a separate report from American Express in order to reconcile your bank account and determine fees.
Continue reading below for an explanation of each column in the “Activity Summary By Activity Date” section of your report.
Activity Date — The contribution date, which will typically match up with the contribution date on the CSV report that you can download from your ActBlue Dashboard. However, please keep in mind that they may not always match up exactly, because Vantiv's daily cutoff is 10pm Eastern time. Any contributions processed after 10pm Eastern time on a given date will be contained in the following day's activity.
Settlement Date — The date the contributions are settled, which is generally the business day after the activity date. The actual funds should land in your bank account the business day after the settlement date. For example, the non-fee activity from 3/5, 3/6, and 3/7 was all settled on 3/8 and those funds were therefore contained in the 3/9 bank transfer.
Count — The total number of transactions on the corresponding activity date (this includes both donations and refunds). Again this information should match up with the CSV contribution reports found on your ActBlue Dashboard.
Settled Deposits — The gross contribution amount for the given activity date.
Settled Refunds — The gross refunds issued on a given activity date.
Total Fees — The combined total of the Vantiv Fees and Passthrough Fees (Credit Card Processing Fees) deducted from the settlement. Please keep in mind that these may not actually reflect the fees that were assessed on the specific donations contained in the settlement. Depending on the credit card type these fees can be delayed and deducted from a future transfer.
Net Settlement — The net amount that is deposited into the committee's bank account (which will be Net Settled Sales minus Total Fees)–this number should equal the exact amount of the corresponding deposit (the date of which will be the business day after the settlement date). If there are multiple settlements on a given date, you'll receive a single deposit in the amount of the sum of all net settlements on that date.
Fee Report (provided by Vantiv)
The Fee Report will show a more itemized breakdown of the individual fees that have been assessed via your merchant account. Most committees will not need a Fee Report in order to reconcile their bank account, because in any given month, the aggregate fee amounts shown on the Fee Report will match exactly the amounts on the corresponding Reconciliation Activity Report. However, some committees may need to submit Fee Reports as part of their campaign finance disclosure.
Vantiv Fees by Category — This section will show an itemized breakdown of the fees that are assessed by Vantiv, including Authorization Fees, Processing Fees, and ACH Transfer fees.
Passthrough Fees by Category — This section will show an itemized breakdown of the fees that are assessed by VISA, MasterCard, and Discover. If you have American Express enabled, you will need to obtain a report directly from American Express to determine those passthrough fees.