A merchant account allows credit and debit cards to be processed online. The set up time can vary from days to weeks depending upon the provider. This is because the providing institution will need to run background checks on the business and verify your identity. Therefore, contacting providers with whom you have an existing relationship can greatly speed up the process. An alternative can be found through an online payment gateway. The providers operate a virtual merchant account allowing you to accept credit and debit cards. Payment gateways such as PayPal can be set up in a matter of minutes.