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How I Set Up PayPal Mass Payments

As a freelancer, I’m a firm believer that the publisher is responsible for transaction fees. My rate is whatever cents a word, not that minus a transaction fee. As a publisher, I put my money where my mouth is, but I don’t exactly want to pay out the nose for that.

Since I use PayPal for most transactions, that’s where Mass Payments comes in. for US-to-US payments, the maximum fee it charges per transaction is $1. One damn dollar. And that’s born by the payer, so you don’t have to do any math that you’d have to do if you were to bear the fees of a normal business payment.

I’ve had some people say that using Mass Payments looked complicated or was too much a hurdle to deal with, and I sympathize; I only started using Mass Payments with my last project, and PayPal has a bunch of intentional and probably unintentional hurdles in using it. So here’s me sharing how I got it going.

(As a tangent: PayPal’s business transaction methods assume commerce rather than paycheck, meaning they charge the recipient as though they’re merchant, because to PayPal they are a merchant. That’s why it’s so screwy, as we aren’t merchants in that sense.)

Enabling Mass Payments

This was a massive pain, and PayPal’s interface and support site were utterly terrible about this—after clicking through a bunch of buttons that suggested I had access to Mass Payments, I was told to contact support or my account manager (which I don’t have). Searching this topic in their support site brought me to a forum question that no one from PayPal answered. Their email support never responded to me, so I eventually called them on the phone.

PayPal’s phone support is always been good to me, though. The hold time was short, and the support person was on the ball. The only freaky part was the third-party system they use to verify identity, which crawls through public records and asks you multiple-choice questions based on what they crawl. One question totally didn’t apply to me, asking about a birthday for someone who happened to make the same last name, and the guy explained to me that they couldn’t do anything about the question or the process.

So, that’s a thing. But getting at least four questions right plus some other stuff was enough to verify that I’m a human.

I was told it would be set up within 24 hours, likely 2 hours, and I’d get an email once it was. It was set up within a few hours, though I never received that confirmation email—again, PayPal’s email support is horrible.

Using Mass Payments

Figuring out how to use Mass Payments was annoying, and I’m a software developer who gets how the process works in abstract.

At the time of this post, you can get to Mass Payments by clicking on “More >” in the Money tab on the your main page, then click on “Send Money” on the left side, then “Send a Mass Payment”. At least, that’s how it is with me and my business account. That brings you to the Mass Payment page. Click on the “Use Mass Payment >” button.

Make a payment file for your payouts. You can have as few as a single person in your Mass Payments, so don’t feel like you need to follow the “Mass” part. The best instructions for making said file is buried in their newer help site, and not the links you can click on in the application to view help. Seriously, their help system is disjointed as hell. (But as my job is dealing with support articles that aren’t as quickly updated as the application is, I sympathize.)

In short: I made a text file that has five columns separated by tabs: email address, amount to pay (without currency symbols), currency type for that denomination (regardless of who you’re sending it to), optional ID, and optional message. You can make this in Excel and save it, as is suggested and typical practice. (I’m sure real accounting software would handle exporting like this, and I should probably use accounting software that’s beyond Excel.)

Here’s a sample:

EMAIL1	0.00	USD	ID1	MESSAGE1
EMAIL2	0.00	USD	ID2	MESSAGE2
EMAIL3	0.00	USD	ID3	MESSAGE3
EMAIL4	0.00	USD	ID4	MESSAGE4
EMAIL5	0.00	USD	ID5	MESSAGE5

With that file saved, I click the “Upload” button in Mass Payment form and attach the file. I leave the next field set to “Email Address”, put in a subject line that applies to all my recipients, and if there’s a message that applies to them all then I put one there. The individual message in the payment file is appended to that message.

Then click “Review”. If you’re worried that you’re gonna screw it up, don’t worry; you get a chance to review and confirm before the payments process. If everything looks good, click “Submit”. Click “Make Changes” to start over.

It’s a slight bit more of a hassle for a single payout than normal, though my freelancers are worth it. Also, I’m worth it.

As another aside: having a business account is great as a freelancer, because with that I have a debit card that draws right from the PayPal balance. I’m instantly able to use money I’m paid for everyday things when needed, instead of waiting a few days for a balance to transfer to my bank account. When I was living hand-to-mouth as a game editor, those freelance payments came in handy for paying random car repair bills or sudden, critical wedding expenses.

–Ryan

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