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The merchant account is between your business and the bank offering the merchant account. Your business must complete an application and qualify for the account. In some ways, a merchant account is a loan from the bank to your business. Your customer purchases your product and uses the credit card. You fill the order and ship it and process the credit card charge. The bank "lends" you the money until the customer receives and accepts the product.
The first step is establishing your business as its own entity. Merchant accounts can only be awarded to businesses. The business should probably be set up as a corporation or limited liability corporation. You will need to obtain a Federal Tax ID number. The second step is to open a business checking account. If you do this at one of the major banks you have the option of applying for a merchant account at that bank. Having both accounts at one bank simplifies things. However don't automatically use your own bank for the merchant account. You need to compare fees and services as well as convenience.
The third step is to select the bank for the merchant account and complete the application. Finally you'll need to find a gateway processor if the card will be used for online sales. A gateway processor is an independent third party that interacts between your ecommerce website and your merchant account. Setting up a merchant account can mean setting up your ecommerce site for increased sales.