A virtual terminal makes it easy to accept credit card payments online

With virtual terminal, accepting credit cards without traditional payment processing hardware is as easy as connecting to the internet.

Accept payments, virtually everywhere

A virtual terminal is exactly what it sounds like—it’s a credit card processing terminal, without the actual terminal. The terminal only exists virtually, which is to say, it lives online, not on your countertop. To access it, simply pull up a web browser, type in the web address of the terminal (available from Vantiv or your payment provider) and you’re in.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

1. How virtual terminals work

2. Why it’s useful

3. How to get it

4. Further considerations

How virtual terminals work


The short answer, is that a virtual terminal works just like a regular credit card terminal. You enter the sale amount, swipe or key in a card number, and wait for an authorization.  The main difference is that the payment and card information are transmitted via computer instead of via a standard credit card terminal.

Taking payments on a virtual terminal is easy. The first step is to open the terminal on a web browser. Every virtual terminal will have its own user interface, but you can expect the page to look like a form with fields to fill in with information about the sale.  Typically, this includes the sale amount, the card number with expiration date, and the card’s security code.





After you’ve swiped the card or entered the sale information, you submit the payment for authorization. The payment information is then transferred through the authorization network and back to your web browser with a response. 

Then, depending on the features included with your virtual terminal service, you may also have the option to print or email a receipt to the customer. And you can then view that transaction in real-time, on the transaction reporting tool that many payment processors provide.

Recurring transactions

If your virtual terminal also supports recurring transactions, you can skip entering the card information and sales details and go straight to processing the payment.  Simply select the customer from your list of saved cardholders and their card information will auto-populate on the form.

Or, depending on the features included in your service, you may also be able to schedule recurring payments that don’t require any manual input. Set the amount, select the frequency, (daily, weekly, bi-monthly, annually etc.), and the number of payments or desired duration, and set it in motion.


Virtual terminal credit card readers

With a card reader, you can also swipe a credit or debit card rather than key-entering a card number to initiate a payment.  Doing so means getting a better interchange rate since transactions that are key entered are usually considered to be card not present transactions which are typically processed at a higher rate. 

Credit card readers come in a variety of styles and have some differences in functionality depending on the type. They typically connect to the computer via USB cord and are small in size, adding to the convenience virtual terminal offers.  You can easily stick a card reader in your lap top case, or briefcase to take payments on the go.

The main differentiators among card swipers include:

  • Size
  • Key injection for PIN pads
  • Security features

Security features are important because merchants have a responsibility to meet PCI standards. That means you’re responsible for maintaining secure systems and handling cardholder data safely and securely.  But you should also consider having card data encryption technology so that whether you key enter or swipe the card, the data you enter is instantly encrypted  and protected from theft throughout the entire transaction.

Why a virtual terminal is useful to merchants

There are lots of use cases for virtual terminals. The most prevalent is to facilitate payments when you’re away from your brick and mortar location.  You don’t have to turn sales down, or try to perform an offline transaction by writing down the customer’s payment info and processing it later (which is inefficient and presents security risks on both sides).

Another popular use case is as a backup option in case any of your payment hardware or software malfunctions.  If your point of sale system is down, simply log into the virtual terminal and continue business as usual until the equipment can be reset, repaired, or replaced.

Many merchants will take payments over the phone but don’t have a web-based ecommerce solution to process the transaction.  With a virtual terminal, you can easily take MO/TO (mail order/telephone order) payments.  Some solutions even provide a hosted webpage for online sales. The website looks like your business website, but is actually hosted by your payment processor’s virtual terminal. 

Virtual terminal can also help solve the high processing cost of business to business (B2B) transactions that can add up if they are not submitted with track 2 and 3 data.  B2B transactions are often tied to eCommerce solutions based on a card-not-present (eCommerce) platform.  Virtual terminals are a useful option in this regard, because of their ability to facilitate secure, ongoing payments, with the information collected in track 2 and 3 data, which lowers the processing rate.

Industries most likely to process payments with virtual terminals

Some business models are more apt to use a virtual terminal solution than others. 

Card-present business types


Specialty retail
Hair and nail salons
Repair shops
Law offices
Healthcare providers
Daycare facilities
Auto parts dealers



Card-not-present business types

Property management
Call centers
Automotive dealers
Catalog sales
Lawn care services
Warehouse distributors
Membership clubs


How to get a virtual card payment terminal

To use a virtual terminal you need a merchant account with a payment processor.  Many processors offer virtual terminal services as an add-on to a main processing account, so you don’t have to have a separate merchant ID and account for your virtual transactions. 

The advantage of having one provider for both your standard and virtual transactions is that all of your transactions are listed on one monthly statement and occur within your same account.  This simplifies the enrollment process and reduces paperwork and billing statements for your business. 

Choosing a virtual terminal provider is no different than picking your standard merchant account provider.  You want to make sure that the processor’s services and fees align with your business type and your expectations for processing features and customer support.  If you need more information about how to spot quality providers and use the checklist here.

Vantiv’s Virtual Terminal Plus

Vantiv’s virtual terminal offers the best features, service and customer support. With Virtual Terminal Plus, you can accept credit, debit, and even recurring payments that protect card data per PCI requirements with support of Level 2 and 3 payments which lowers processing costs.  You can manage transactions easily, efficiently, and cost-effectively—without expensive alternative acceptance devices.  Plus, it comes with convenient and comprehensive customer data reporting, too.

Virtual Terminal Plus is

  • Efficient—consolidated statements let you see all merchant services fees at a single glance
  • Multi-user friendly—manage and support multiple users and locations
  • Convenient—accessible anywhere via popular web browsers
  • Simple—with an easy-to-use web interface
  • More secure—payment data is stored on our PCI compliant server platform. An encrypted device can be added, purchased, for an additional layer of security

With Virtual Terminal Plus, you can:

  • Easily generate refunds and reversals
  • Manage recurring payments and schedules
  • Administer and authenticate multiple users, based on roles and permissions you define
  • Create recurring payment schedules
  • Customize user fields to capture additional customer transaction details with each payment transaction 
  • Conduct simple customer searches for historical transaction info
  • Automatically generate end-of-day batch settlement 
  • Protect card data per PCI DSS requirements and support Level 2 and Level 3 payments for B2B and commercial customers 

Have more questions about virtual terminals? Want to sign up for Virtual Terminal Plus? Give Vantiv a call.  Our representatives are payments experts and have the answers to all your questions.  Call today.