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Online Payment Options for Rally Organizers - PayPal and Beyond

In the world of online payment, there many options of how to manage payment for online transactions. Let's look at a few in terms of how they relate to rally organizers.

  • Stripe
  • PayPal
  • Google Checkout
  • Amazon Payments
  • A regular merchant account is your best choice for receiving rally entry payments online. Stripe is a relatively new entrant to the payment market. On the back end, it operates like a traditional merchant account: it batches the day's sales, and deposits them to your bank. The innovative part of their technology is that users don't leave your web site when making payments. A slick faded popup appears where the sale takes place, and it's a simple credit card dialog, very stripped down, without user accounts and logins. This is the most advanced technology currently supported by the NRS registration system and the only system that "talks back" to the NRS database automatically entering the payments into your registration system.

PayPal is the largest online processor of payments, around 60% of all online sales transactions. So on the upside, most people who have purchased anything online have a PayPal account. The downside, for rally organizers, is that our financial model is not common for them. Generally, accounts are either personal and mostly dormant, making a few purchases and sales a year, for minor dollar amounts, or larger commercial accounts, which have steady traffic of sales each day. What is not common is an account that sits dormant all year, and then suddenly receives $10,000 or $20,000 in a couple days (right before early entry deadline, for example). That, to PayPal, looks a lot like money laundering or something suspicious. This exact problem happened to a large national rally in 2012. All of the funds in the account (tens of thousands of dollars) were frozen by PayPal for months and not released till after the rally. The important thing to remember is that while PayPal can look like a bank, since you have a balance of money in your account, it is not a bank and is not bound by any banking laws in the US. So there is no arbitration method or anything else available to you in the case of a dispute like this one. So while PayPal is fine for buying a T shirt or getting payment for some stickers, because of the unusual business model of rally events, it is risky for an organizer to receive entry funds this way.

Another issue with PayPal is it's non-intuitive security measures. Every once in a while the error message pops up "The card you entered cannot be used for this payment. Please enter a different credit or debit card number." which, while the NRS site is fully functional, means that PayPal has one of six possible issues with the card, whether it's mismatched card vs email or unverified card or internal red flags. The problem here is the racer will contact the organizer about the problem, and the organizer has no way of providing any help.

Google Checkout used to be one of the next largest processors. For about five years, many East Coast NRS events used Google Checkout, which rebranded itself to Google Wallet. However, Google changed their business model, and moved to mobile-phone only payments, so Google Checkout not an option for rallies any more. For historical reference, Google Checkout worked in a similar method to a merchant account: purchases were made, the day's activity was batched together, and automatically deposited into the organizer's bank account. You couldn't keep a balance in your Google Checkout account. It was good, but a little clunky.

Another option is an actual merchant account. This means getting a credit card processing contract, just like a restaurant or clothing store would have. There are generally multiple parts to this: first, you get a merchant account. With this account, and a credit card swiping terminal, you could charge credit cards. But you'll also need to pay a "gateway" to access that merchant account if you're going to be doing online sales. The most common gateway by far is This method would work, but the multiple expenses, hassles, and contracts make it a poor choice.

Finally, Amazon Payments is another possibility. The upside would be that many many people have an Amazon account already. The downside is that racers would have to leave your web site to go to Amazon to process payment.

Of those five options, Stripe is currently the best fit for online processing of entry payments. A Stripe account is required for the organizer.

Additionally, for on-site credit card payments, Square is very handy. This lets you swipe a credit card in a little adapter that plugs into your smart phone. The adapter is free when you open an account. Like Google Checkout or a merchant account, the payments are batched and moved to your bank account the next day. It can also be used to take credit cards over the phone by typing in the credit card number to your smartphone.