It’s up to you if you want to take personal checks.
I do and I’ve never had a problem, but I am aware it’s probably only a matter of time. Yup, it was just a matter of time! I had a guy buy a $6 print with a check. It bounced, which cost ME $11–the original $6 plus a $5 bounced-check fee. Needless to say, I don’t take checks any more because one jerk ruined it for the rest of you. However, with the rise of personal credit-card scanners, checks are on the wane so you won’t really be losing money if you don’t accept them.
If you choose to take checks, then make sure you deposit them on Monday morning after the con, in case they’ve written a few more checks than they have funds at the con, or in case the bank gets over-eager and clamps down on the account after a bunch of checks written to weird people in a new location hit it. (That hasn’t happened to me at a convention, but I once had a check for wedding photography I did bounce because of that.)
They’re not used much in this new day of debit cards and you may never see one, but traveler’s checks work pretty much like cash. The person will have signed the checks at the top, and will sign again at the bottom before giving them to you. Make sure the signatures match. If the buyer gives you $40 in traveler’s checks for a $35 purchase, give them change in cash.
Can I Take Credit and Debit Cards? Yes You Can!
This is the section of the Guide that’s changed the most in the four short years since I first published it! If you’ve got a smartphone or a tablet that works with the new personal credit-card scanners, you’re golden! If you don’t yet have one of these, give serious thought to acquiring one. A refurbished iPod Touch won’t set you back a huge amount of cash and is a worthy investment if you’re going to sell at more than one or two cons in the next couple of years–it won’t require you to set up a phone services account with a carrier to be able to access the Internet and use a personal card reader.
You will want to make sure that your device gets signal at the con. It’s not fun to have to leave a minion at the table so you can walk with the purchaser over to the front door of the hotel to run their card. Consider purchasing wifi access from the hotel. The wifi will still be overloaded with other con attendees updating Facebook and merchants in the Artist Alley and the Dealers’ Room running cards, but slow as it is, it’s better than not being able to make a sale because you didn’t have signal. You’ll probably make up the cost of wifi in sales.
New information, thanks to Julie the commenter below! As of summer 2014, Square’s device does not need to have an active connection to the internet: it can store data for up to 72 hours and will process the payments after you connect. Check out their page on the offline mode here.
- Square is the most well-known personal card reader as of this writing. The reader itself is free. They charge a little less than a Paypal merchant account (2.75% of the purchase, as of October 2012). You can use them on your iOS or Android device. (If you’ve got an iPad you can turn it into a register!) You can also accept payments from someone else’s Square app instead of swiping their card.
- Paypal Here is Paypal’s personal card reader, and as of October 2012 (probably attempting to compete with Square), they’re charging only 2.7% of the purchase. The card reader is also free. It’s available for both iOS and Android devices.
I’m leaving the next two paragraphs here for nostalgia’s sake, because I can’t see the point in getting a fancy credit card knucklebuster if you can use Square, Paypal Here, or Paypal’s app below, but in case someone wants the info, here it is:
This [taking credit cards] is obviously not an option for the Hobby Artist. You’ll have to talk with your bank and may need to open a business account, and they will probably charge you a small fee for each transaction. You can then rent or buy a credit-card machine. There are fancy ones that you can hook to your cell phone (if you get signal in the artist alley) or a nearby phone line (confirm with the hotel before the con) and use them to call in each transaction as it happens. This allows you to check that the credit card is good before you sell the merchandise.
Some banks allow you get one of those machines lovingly nicknamed knuckle-busters, which produce an impression of the credit card on the receipt, and you then call in each transaction at the end of the day. If someone gives you a bum card, you may not have any option open to you to get the cost of the merchandise back.
Using Paypal via App
If you’re not ready to accept cards, or if your buyer doesn’t have a card but does have a Paypal account and a smartphone or other portable device that uses apps or can access the intartubes, you can accept Paypal payments right at your table!
The buyer just sends you their payment from their device using Paypal’s app or Paypal’s mobile website, you check your email, and when it shows up in your email, you’ve got the money!
Man, I love living in the future.