Understanding and Preventing Merchant Processing Holds and Reserves


There are a number of reasons a merchant can experience a credit card hold/reserve. There are also a number of things merchants can do to prevent this headache.

Knowing the basics of credit card reserves and holds can save merchants quite a bit of frustration and hopefully help them avoid experiencing a delay when receiving their funds.

What is the Difference Between an Account Reserve and Funds Withheld (Hold)?

Account Reserve is money set aside as a security deposit. It is usually due to the nature of the business (i.e.- a business at a high risk for chargebacks). When a processor determines a reserve is needed, it is common for the processor to hold a percentage of the merchant’s batches until a predetermined amount is reached.

Funds Withheld (Holds) take place when red flags are triggered by an unusual transaction type and the merchant processor holds the funds until further research is done or the chargeback deadline has passed.

Why do Account Reserves and Holds Exist?

Acquiring Banks (the merchant processor) are basically a line of credit until the chargeback time limit expires (at which point the card holder can not refute the transaction. Learn More About Chargebacks Here). If the cardholder disputes the charge, the merchant processor can use the reserve/hold to repay the consumer rather than try to recoup the amount from the merchant directly.

Who Decides What for a Merchant Account Reserve

Ultimately, it is the merchant processor that takes on the risk for merchant processing by funding merchants for transactions that can be disputed at a later date. It is up to the merchant processor to decide the parameters for the account reserve and sometimes looks at it as a case-by-case scenario (i.e.- length of time the merchant has been processing, the goods sold, chargeback history, etc).


It is typical for high-risk merchants to need a reserve, and the processor can require a reserve as soon as the merchant begins processing.


The merchant processor can put a hold on an account based on an individual transaction that may look out of the ordinary (uncommonly high tip, larger than usual transaction, etc). When a merchant first signs up for merchant processing the merchant processor requests the expected average monthly volume, average ticket size, and highest projected ticket amount. The processor can use these queues to setup red flags in their system to identify unusual credit card activity. For example, if a restaurant claims their highest ticket is $1,000 but runs a $2,500 transaction for a catering order, the merchant processor will review that transaction and determine if a hold is needed until the chargeback deadline is cleared.

How Merchants Can Prevent Reserves and Holds

Set the right expectations up front

When deciding the average ticket/monthly volume and the high ticket amount, it is important to be as accurate as possible to reduce any unnecessary red flags while processing. Merchants will also want to confirm their SIC Code (a four-digit codes that categorize companies by the type of business activities they engage in) is correct at the time of their application boarding. The wrong SIC code may categorize them as a high risk merchant resulting in unnecessary reserves.

Be upfront with the processor about the nature of the business

It helps to provide as much information as possible during the boarding process. Previous statements, chargeback history, business history, etc all can benefit the merchant by building credibility with the processor. Don’t lose hope if the processor requests a reserve on the account. Depending on the processor, the merchant can sometimes provide additional information at the time of approval to either avoid the reserve or lessen the amount requested.

Notify the processor about unusual transactions before they are batched

The best way to avoid holds on individual transactions is to notify the processor before the transaction is authorized and batched. It is typical for the processor to request either a signed invoice or a back story of the transaction. The risk department will take note of the transaction and usually fund the merchant for the full amount with the correct documentation.

While not ideal, reserves and holds are a necessary “evil” when it comes to keeping the merchant and processor safe from losing money. It is important for merchants to talk to their processor to find out what they require and to confirm the parameters they have on file are accurate based on the volume that is ran.

Want to learn more about preventing holds and reserves on merchant accounts? Feel free to drop us a line below and a member of the Priority I.S. team will reach out to you. You can also email us at info@priorityis.com.

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