What's the difference between Card Not Present (CNP) and Card Present (CP)? Why does it matter?

When signing up for either a live account or a test account with Authorize.Net, you’ll find that you’re asked which type of account you need: a Card Not Present (CNP) account or a Card Present (CP) account.

So what exactly is the difference between the two?

The answer is pretty simple and derived from the names of the account types themselves. Card Presentliterally means that the cardholder is physically present along with the card at the point of purchase. This means that the track data encoded on the magnetic stripe at the back of the credit card will be read by a magnetic card reader. This term is used in the payments industry to identify traditional brick and mortar or retail merchants.

Card Not Present literally means that the merchant accepts payment from a cardholder without seeing the plastic card. This means that the card information is manually keyed in instead of being swiped through a card reader. This term is used in the payments industry to identify e-commerce merchants, such as those that operate via websites, and mail order/telephone order (MOTO) merchants.

Why is there a difference?

The reason that there are two main categories mostly has to do with potential risk. CNP merchants will generally pay higher interchange fees to their Merchant Service Provider (MSP) than CP merchants simply because there is the possibility of a greater chance of potential fraud on transactions where the merchant doesn’t actually see the physical card.

Why does this matter?

Because of the difference between the two account types, you cannot use a CP account to process transactions using a CNP connection method and vice versa. If you do try to use an incorrect account type, your transactions will error out. For instance, if you’re trying to test out CIM using a CP account, you will receive an error. This is because CIM is a CNP connection method and so you must have a CNP account to use it.

How do I find out which kind of Authorize.net account I have? 

To determine what kind of account you have (either for your test account or your live account), follow these steps:

  • Log onto Authorize.net

  • In the left-hand menu, under Tools, if all you see is a Virtual Terminal link, then you have a CP account.

  • If you see a plethora of other links like Upload TransactionsRecurring BillingFraud Detection SuiteCustomer Information Manager and Simple Checkout, then you have a CNP account. 

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