High-Risk Credit Card Processing and Merchant Accounts

Learn all about high-risk credit card processing and merchant accounts, including the pros and cons, and which businesses need one.

  • High-risk credit card processing and merchant accounts can provide reliable payment processing services to companies with a high rate of chargebacks and refunds.
  • Excessive chargebacks, generally higher than 0.9% of your transactions, can automatically put you in the high-risk category.
  • High-risk credit card processing and merchant accounts can offer multiple currency support and chargeback protection.
  • This article is for business owners who operate in a high-risk industry or have a high rate of chargebacks and are considering payment processing solutions.

Also Read – How to Try to Become a Millionaire

Whether your business falls into a certain industry category or has a high chargeback or refund ratio, it can be considered high-risk. However, most business owners don’t realize they are high-risk until they start applying for a merchant account to process their monthly transactions for ACH, debit and credit cards.

According to Bankcard, chargebacks increase by 41% every two years – a threat that should be on every entrepreneur’s radar. Chargebacks aren’t only due to fraud; they can also occur from general cardholder claims, such as “merchandise was not as described” or “the merchandise was not received.” 

Once your company is denied a merchant account from traditional banks, it can be overwhelming to navigate high-risk credit card processing and merchant account providers. Read on for basic information, along with pro tips to help you choose the right provider for your company.

What is a high-risk merchant account?

A high-risk merchant account helps high-risk businesses, whether by industry or business practices, have top payment processing services.

If your business has a large number of chargebacks and refunds every month, you may be subject to a rolling reserve on your account, which can help cover transaction issues and fraud.

High-risk vs. low-risk merchant accounts

Before you apply for a credit card processing and merchant account, you will need to decide whether you are a low-risk merchant or a high-risk one. While merchant account providers generally categorize businesses into one or the other, several factors can differentiate the two.

High-risk merchant account

Your processing history – and, more specifically, your chargebacks – can put you in the high-risk category. Merchant account providers can add their own characteristics to the list, but here are a few that will characterize your business as high-risk:

  • $20,000 or more in monthly sales
  • Credit card transactions that average over $500
  • Business with countries known for high levels of fraud
  • History of poor credit
  • Frequent chargebacks 

Low-risk merchant account

A low-risk merchant may need to meet many requirements; however, the most important are: low revenue, few transactions, and low chargebacks and returns. These are additional characteristics of a low-risk merchant:

  • Credit card transactions are $500 or less.
  • Transactions add up to less than $20,000 monthly.
  • The industry is considered low-risk – such as essential goods, clothing, household and baby items.
  • The chargeback ratio is low – less than 0.9% of total transactions.
  • Business is completed in low-risk areas – such as the United States, Europe, Japan, Canada and Australia.
  • The rate of returns is low.

What types of businesses need high-risk merchant accounts?

Here is a list of industries that require a high-risk merchant account:

1-800 chat sitesAdult contentAirlines or airplane chartersAnnual contractsAntiquesAttorney referral servicesAuctionsAutomotive brokersBankruptcy attorneysBanned or illegal goods and servicesBrokerages“Business opportunities”Car partsCasinos, gambling or gamingChain lettersCheck-cashing servicesCigarette, e-cigarette, vape or CBD shopsCoins, collectible currency or autographed collectiblesCollection agencies and other debt collection servicesCoupons or reward-points programsCredit protection, counseling or debt repair servicesDating servicesDirect-response marketersDrug paraphernaliaE-books (copyrighted material)ElectronicsEvent-ticket brokersExtended-warranty companiesFantasy sports websitesFinance brokers, financial consulting or loan modification servicesFurniture sellersIndirect financial consultingGame codes and hacksGet-rich-quickbooks and programsHealth and wellness productsHigh average ticket salesHow-to websitesHoroscopes, astrology or psychic servicesHype products or servicesHypnotists or self-hypnosis servicesInternational shipping, cargo or import/export servicesInternet service providers and hosting servicesIPTV servicesLife coachesLingerie salesLotteries or sweepstakesMagazine salesMail or telephone order salesMedical care programsMembership-based companiesMoney transfer servicesMerchants on the Terminated Merchant File (TMF) or MATCH listMerchants with poor creditModeling or talent agenciesMulticurrency salesMultilevel marketing (MLM)Music, movie, or software downloads or uploadsNightclubs or cabaret barsNutraceuticalsOffshore corporation establishment servicesPawn shopsPhone-locking servicesPrepaid calling cardsPrepaid debit cardsReal estateReplica handbags, watches, wallets and sunglassesSelf-defense, pepper spray or maceSEO servicesSmartphones – sale, resale and spare partsSocial networking sitesSports forecasting or bettingSub-acquiring/merchant aggregationSubscription-based billingTechnical support and web developmentTimeshares or timeshare advertisingTour operatorsTravel clubs, services or agenciesVacation plannersVacation rentalsVitamin and supplement sales VoIP servicesWeapons of any kind, including parts

What makes a business high-risk?

Here are a few reasons why your business may be considered high-risk.

  • New business: If your company was recently established, you can’t present an extensive transaction history to the financial institution.
  • Not enough transactions: A merchant account provider needs to calculate your chargeback ratio. If you don’t complete enough transactions each month for an average score, this could put your business in the high-risk category.
  • Industry type: Certain industries – such as travel, gambling and adult sites – are specifically known for excessive chargebacks because of a high number of cancellations.
  • Many chargebacks, refunds and fraud: After your business has achieved a large number of monthly transactions, your risk goes up if you have a high average of chargebacks, refunds or fraud. 

Pros and cons of high-risk merchant accounts


These are some benefits of a high-risk merchant account:

  • Long-term growth opportunities
  • Increased profits
  • Acceptance of multiple currencies
  • High chargeback protection
  • Reserve account for surprise chargebacks
  • Processing of credit card transactions even with bad credit or financial setbacks


Here are some of the downsides of a high-risk merchant:

  • Higher processing fees
  • Potentially mandatory reserve account, which can be as high as 50% of the monthly volume
  • Rolling reserve that can be held up to 180 days after account closure

What to consider when looking for a high-risk merchant

As you search for a high-risk merchant account, you will notice that there are several options available. It’s important to do your research before choosing one, as it can impact how much time you spend monitoring transactions and the effect it can have on your future finances.

Here are a few features you should look for when choosing a high-risk credit card processor:

  • Timely support: Any bad transaction through your website can cause issues that snowball quickly. Choose a provider that offers proactive support and has your back when a problem arises.
  • Custom payment options: Your provider should be able to meet your complex business needs by enabling custom payment forms that allow for multiple payment scenarios.
  • No hidden fees: Make sure you are aware of all fees upfront. The monthly cost of a high-risk credit card processing and merchant account should be easily found on the provider’s website. If not, a quick phone call or chat should be able to answer all of your questions.
  • Up-to-date technology: Your payment partner should be current on payment trends and offer an open API. Onboarding should be seamless and take days, not weeks. Avoid high-risk payment processors that have an outdated website, excessive downtimes and lack the tech knowledge needed to meet your business needs.
  • Anti-fraud tools: Since high-risk accounts are more subject to fraud behavior, look for a merchant account that has enhanced security measures – including chargeback prevention and multifactor authentication.
  • Market leadership: Choosing a high-risk merchant account can take time, and you also need to factor in the time for onboarding and customization. Selecting a reputable company protects not only your time, but your money too.
  • Customer support: If your business works with a certain industry, multiple industries, or a diverse group of countries, choose a credit card processor that can meet all of your unique needs. Industry and country support should be readily accessible on the website.

Since a high-risk merchant account tends to be stricter than a low-risk one, always read the contract provided before signing. The fine print can affect your rates, fees and penalties.