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Updated Jun 18, 2024

The Best Credit Card Processors of 2024: Pricing and Hardware

Our top picks offer competitive rates, handle most payment types and have great ratings for customer service.

Mike Berner
Mike Berner, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
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Best for POS Hardware
Clover Credit Card Processing
Clover logo
  • Starts at $14.95 per month
  • Rates from 2.3% + 10 cents
  • Hardware from $49
USALinks to Clover Credit Card Processing

866-342-4017

Visit Site
  • Starts at $14.95 per month
  • Rates from 2.3% + 10 cents
  • Hardware from $49
Best for Flexible Pricing
Merchant One
Merchant One logo
  • Starts at $6.95 per month
  • Rates from 0.29%
  • Free hardware available
USALinks to Merchant One

855-794-1134

Visit Site
  • Starts at $6.95 per month
  • Rates from 0.29%
  • Free hardware available
Best for Startups
Square
Square logo
  • Free software available
  • Rates from 2.6% + 10 cents
  • Free hardware available
  • Free software available
  • Rates from 2.6% + 10 cents
  • Free hardware available
Best for Fast Setup
North American Bancard
North American Bancard
  • Contact for a price quote
  • Contact for a rate quote
  • Hardware from $9.95/month
  • Contact for a price quote
  • Contact for a rate quote
  • Hardware from $9.95/month
Best for Specialized Businesses
Paysafe
  • Contact for a price quote
  • Contact for a rate quote
  • Free hardware available
USALinks to Paysafe

844-427-0072

Visit Site
  • Contact for a price quote
  • Contact for a rate quote
  • Free hardware available

Table of Contents

Open row

Choosing the right credit card processor can feel overwhelming. At business.com, our team of experts and analysts regularly assess the latest tools to determine the best solutions on the market. We meticulously dissect each provider’s fee structure, processing rates, and hardware costs, prioritizing transparency and finding solutions with the lowest overall cost for your business.

But it doesn’t stop there. We run real-life demos with each processor to assess user-friendliness, the range of accepted payment methods, contract details, and any bonus features offered by their point-of-sale (POS) software. Learn more about our methodology and editorial process.

In today’s digital age, customers expect a seamless buying experience, and that includes offering a variety of payment options. But if you’re not set up for credit card processing, you’re missing out on a huge chunk of potential sales.

The good news? Accepting credit cards is easier than you think. This article will walk you through the entire credit card processing process, from choosing the right provider to understanding the fees involved. We already did the heavy lifting by reviewing dozens of processors and narrowing them down to our best picks. By the end of this guide, you’ll be equipped to unlock the power of credit card payments and watch your sales soar.

Tip Bulb

How We Decided

Our team spends weeks evaluating dozens of business solutions to identify the best options. To stay current, our research is regularly updated.

101

evaluated

35

researched

6

chosen

Our team spends weeks evaluating dozens of business solutions to identify the best options. To stay current, our research is regularly updated.

101

evaluated

35

researched

6

chosen

Compare Our Best Picks

BDC Ribbon
Our Top Picks for 2024
Clover Credit Card Processing
Merchant One
Square
North American Bancard
Paysafe
USBank
Rating (Out of 10)9.28.99.18.18.58.4
Best for

POS

Flexible pricing

Startups

Fast setup

Specialized Businesses

Businesses on a Budget

Pricing model

Subscription plus flat rate

Subscription plus flat rate

Flat rate

Interchange-plus, flat rate

Tiered

Interchange-plus

Monthly fees

Yes

Yes

No

Undisclosed

No

Varies

Contract term

Month to month

3 years

Month to month

3 years

Month to Month

Month to Month

24/7 support

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Yes

PCI compliance fee

Yes

No

No

Yes

No

No

Payout

1-3 days

Next business day

2-3 business days

Next business day

Same day

2-3 business days

Early termination fee

No

Sometimes

No

Yes

No

No

Review Link
Scroll Table

Our Reviews

Clover logo
  • Base Price: As low as $14.95 for some Starter plans.
  • Top Features: Virtual terminal, inventory management, e-commerce tools, customer management, loyalty program, 500 integrations, reporting, proprietary hardware
  • Trial Period: 90-day free trial for Clover’s software.
Editor's Rating: 9.2/10

866-342-4017

Visit Site

Why Clover is Best for POS Hardware

When it comes to credit card processors with top-notch POS integration, Clover stands out for its versatile hardware options. We were impressed with the Flex, a handheld terminal that lets you process transactions tableside, Meanwhile, the Clover Station provides a complete POS system that we found easy to use.  And for businesses that need simple yet effective contactless payments, we like that the Clover Go reader pairs seamlessly with your smartphone, taking the hassle out of accepting tap-and-pay transactions. We were also excited to see that newer Go readers even offer invoicing capabilities, expanding their functionality beyond simple payments.

Clover POS equipment

Clover offers various POS equipment products.  Source: Clover

Clover Costs

Starter Standard Advanced
Full-service dining $150 $195 $290
Quick-service dining $90 $130 $175
Retail shops $60 $130 $175
Professional services $14.95 $50 $120
Personal services $50 $90 $130
Home and field services $14.95 $49 $50

Processing fees

  • Starter: 5% + $0.10 for card-not-present transactions.
  • Standard: 5% + $0.10 for card-not-present transactions; 2.6% + $0.10 for card-present transactions.
  • Advanced: 5% + $0.10 for card-not-present transactions; 2.3%+ $0.10 for card-present transactions.

Hardware

  • $49 card reader.
  • $599 handheld terminal.
  • $1,799 register.

Clover Advantages

  • Clover offers a variety of pricing plans tailored to your business type, giving you the freedom to choose the perfect fit.
  • Unlike some competitors, Clover’s subscription plans don’t charge extra per employee.
  • Clover builds all their own POS hardware, so you can get everything you need in one place.

Clover Disadvantages

  • While Clover is great for many businesses, high-volume merchants might find a more cost-effective solution elsewhere.
  • Clover’s POS devices work best with Clover’s own processing system.
  • There is no free version of the software available.

Clover User Scores

Trust Pilot: 3.6/5

“Clover has been great for us! It’s a very affordable easy to use system,” one user wrote.

Learn more about Clover in our complete review.

Merchant One logo
  • Base Price: Monthly fee starting at $6.95, plus an annual $99 fee.
  • Top Features: Virtual terminal, reporting, e-commerce tools, 300 integrations, high approval rating, 24/7 support.
  • Trial Period: There is no free trial currently available.
Editor's Rating: 8.9/10

855-794-1134

Visit Site

Why Merchant One is Best for Flexible Pricing

Merchant One provides credit card processing solutions for businesses of all sizes and adjusts its pricing based on factors, such as business size, industry and credit. We were impressed by the wide range of services, including entire POS systems with terminals and credit card readers that attach wirelessly to iOS or Android devices. We also like that Merchant One boasts a high approval rate and a quick turnaround of funds.

Merchant One, a reseller of Clover POS hardware, provides high-speed processing, supports gift and loyalty card programs and offers the ability to launch text message marketing campaigns. Its e-commerce offering has many more features, including a free shopping cart and remote access. Merchant One, which boasts a 98% approval rating, has 24/7 customer support and provides you with a dedicated account manager to help you throughout the setup process, which is not something all of those we researched offered.

Merchant One interface

Merchant One features a sleek user interface. Source: Merchant One

Merchant One Costs

Monthly pricing

$6.95 a month, plus a $99 annual fee. Other monthly fees may apply.

Processing fees

Merchant One’s processing rates differ based on the exact type of business

  • In-person transactions: 0.29% – 1.55%.
  • Keyed-in transactions: 0.29% – 1.99%.

Hardware

Free hardware is available upon signup. Merchant One also resells Clover POS hardware.

Merchant One Advantages

  • The pricing plans provide flexibility on rates, as well as free hardware.
  • Merchant One’s subscription pricing is lower than many other processors.
  • Merchant One receives excellent marks on TrustPilot for its customer service.

Merchant One Disadvantages

  • Unlike other providers that we reviewed, Merchant One doesn’t manufacture its own hardware.
  • Merchant One requires that you sign up for a three-year contract.
  • An early termination fee may be assessed for each remaining month in your contract.

Merchant One User Scores

Trust Pilot: 4.8/5

“Gave genuine assistance, clarified information upon request, provided answers to all given questions and even enable us to receive discounts on our current rates. Great service. Much appreciated,” one user wrote.

Learn more about Merchant One in our complete review.

Square logo
  • Base Price: Free version available, then from $29 per month.
  • Top Features: Virtual terminal, inventory management, SMS invoicing, reporting, e-commerce, 350 integrations, proprietary hardware.
  • Trial Period: 30-day free trial for Square’s software.
Editor's Rating: 9.1/10

Why Square is Best for Startups

We love Square for startups because it’s so easy to get up and running quickly. Their software and POS hardware are known for being user-friendly, and their application process is smooth for almost any business. Plus, Square’s pricing is affordable, making it a budget-conscious choice.

We like how Square lets you accept payments in all sorts of ways, from swipes and dips to contactless options and even digital gift cards (which they offer for free). This flexibility ensures you can reach your customers however they prefer to pay. For those with a physical storefront, we recommend Square’s variety of attractive and functional POS hardware options to complete your setup.

Square POS device

Square’s POS devices are affordable and fully integrate with the company’s credit card processing.  Source: Square

Square Costs

Processing Rates

Transaction Type Fee
Swiped or inserted chip cards, contactless payments 2.6% + $0.10
Manually keyed-in payments, Card on File, Virtual Terminal 3.5% + $0.15
Invoices (Free plan) 3.3% + $0.30
Invoices (Plus plan) 2.9% + $0.30

Hardware

  • Free Square Reader for magstripe upon signup.
  • $49 Square Reader for contactless and chip.
  • $149 Square Stand for contactless and chip
  • $299 Square Terminal
  • $799 Square Register

Square Advantages

  • Square boasts user-friendly software and POS hardware at an accessible price point, making it perfect for startups and businesses new to credit card processing.
  • Square allows you to accept all major payment methods, including swipes, dips, contactless options and even digital gift cards.
  • Square integrates with popular e-commerce platforms and hundreds of business apps.

Square Disadvantages

  • While Square doesn’t have monthly subscription fees, its transaction fees can add up, especially for high-volume businesses.
  • Square has a variety of POS hardware options, but doesn’t offer any free options.
  • Square’s free invoicing plan has limitations. Upgrading to their Plus plan with advanced features comes with an additional monthly cost.

Square User Scores

Trustpilot: 4.0/5

“I have used many different Credit Card Solutions and POS Systems. I’ll take Square over all of them. It’s just easy and straight forward. No hidden fees or crazy calculations needed to determine the fees. Also great support,” one user wrote.

Learn more about Square in our complete review.

North American Bancard
  • Base Price: Contact the company for a quote.
  • Top Features: Reporting, virtual terminal, e-commerce, inventory management, cash discounting program.
  • Trial Period: There is no free trial currently available.
Editor's Rating: 8.1/10

Why North American Bancard is Best for Fast Setup

North American Bancard differentiates itself from other processors by promising an easy application process, quick approval and free equipment. We especially like that the company is willing to work with businesses in high-risk industries and it offers next-day funding.

We were impressed with North American Bancard’s merchant portal, Payments Hub, which lets you view key statistics, such as gross sales, transactions, refunds, disputes and other recent activities. Payments Hub also features a virtual terminal, invoicing and other tools. North American Bancard also offers numerous third-party POS devices, including several Payanywhere products. One advantageous offering is North American Bancard’s cash discount program called EDGE, which is designed to reward customers for paying in cash.

North American Bancard terminal

Payments Hub’s virtual terminal allows you to key-in transactions. Source: North American Bancard

North American Bancard Costs

Although the company doesn’t disclose its rates, factors, such as your business’ size and transaction volume, will determine your final cost. You will need to contact North American Bancard directly for a customized quote.

North American Bancard Advantages

  • The company accepts high-risk businesses.
  • The EDGE cash discount program is a great feature for businesses that deal primarily in cash.
  • North American Bancard offers a quick and easy application process, complete with free equipment.

North American Bancard Disadvantages

  • The company does publicly disclose its processing rates.
  • North American Bancard’s offering lacks some of the extra features provided by competitors.
  • Termination fees and other charges may apply.

Learn more about North American Bancard in our complete review.

  • Base Price: Contact the company for a quote.
  • Top Features: Next-day funding, iAccess business portal, solutions for employee and inventory management.
  • Trial Period: There is no free trial, but a demo is available.
Editor's Rating: 8.5/10

844-427-0072

Visit Site

Why Paysafe is Best for Specialized Businesses

Paysafe caters to specific industries with specialized solutions. The company provides tailored credit card processing services for retailers, hospitality, convenience stores, gas stations and direct marketing companies. But what excites us the most is that Paysafe is willing to work with many unusual industries, including cryptocurrency, video gaming and forex – industries that often face difficulty in obtaining credit card processing services.

Paysafe checkout form

Paysafe’s e-commerce tools include a secure checkout form. Source: Paysafe

Paysafe Costs

Paysafe uses a quote-based pricing model. Unlike some other providers that we reviewed, the company doesn’t publicly disclose its rates. However, you can contact the company for a customized quote.

Paysafe Advantages

  • For high-volume businesses, Paysafe’s quote-based pricing can lead to negotiated rates lower than standard interchange-plus models offered by competitors.
  • Paysafe caters to specific industries like convenience stores, digital marketing, and even regulated online gambling, offering tailored features and compliance expertise.
  • Businesses already using Paysafe’s prepaid cards or digital wallets can integrate credit card processing for a unified payment system.

Paysafe Disadvantages

  • Paysafe’s rates are less transparent compared to competitors with clear fee breakdowns.
  • Setting up and using Paysafe might require more effort compared to user-friendly options like Square or Stripe.
  • Finding clear pricing details on Paysafe’s website is difficult.
USBank logo
  • Base Price: free version available, then from $15 per month.
  • Top Features: Free POS hardware rentals, same-day funding, integrated Talech POS system, merchant services, Buy Now, Pay Later, EMV chip card processing
  • Trial Period: There is no free trial currently available.
Editor's Rating: 8.4/10

Why USBank is Best for Businesses on a Budget

We included USBank’s credit card processing services on our list because the company keeps budget-conscious businesses in mind. We like that they throw in free rentals of essential POS hardware to get you up and running without breaking the bank. Plus, its tiered pricing structure is clear and upfront, so there are no hidden surprises down the road. And for those times when cash flow is critical, we were particularly impressed with the same-day funding feature. This gets your processed transactions back in your hands faster than some competitors, keeping your business moving smoothly.  USBank strikes a perfect balance between affordability and functionality, making them a great choice for businesses on a budget.

USBank dashboard

USBank offers useful dashboard reporting features. Source: USBank

USBank Costs

Processing Rates

Transaction Type Fee
Swipe, tap, insert 2.6% + $0.10
Keyed-in transaction 3.5% + $0.15
Online transactions 2.9% + $0.30

Hardware

USBank offers free hardware rentals, as well as paid monthly plans that include POS equipment. These plans range in price from $15 to $99 per month.

USBank Advantages

  • USBank offers competitive rates on starter plans, and some even include free rentals of basic POS hardware.
  • Unlike some competitors, USBank boasts features like same-day funding for processed transactions.
  • USBank offers bundled solutions with Talech POS, which can be bundled with their processing services.

USBank Disadvantages

  • USBank’s tiered pricing structure can be less transparent than competitors with a clear interchange-plus breakdown.
  • While USBank offers an optional bundled solution, the overall user experience might depend on your chosen POS system.
  • Finding user reviews for USBank might be harder compared to widely used processors.

Additional Options Worth Exploring

Helcim

Helcim goes beyond most credit card processors in the tools that it offers to support your business. Its software has advanced capabilities, such as POS services, customer management, inventory management and employee tracking and management ― functions that some other processors only include in their more expensive plans. This versatile platform earns Helcim our pick for the best all-in-one credit card processor.

Sekure

Sekure is a credit card processing broker that gives businesses the options they need when choosing a payment processing provider. With Sekure, you can choose from multiple payment methods and craft a plan that suits your budget and transaction volume. We liked how Sekure can help you navigate the credit card processing space to find a reliable provider that offers the personalized service your business needs.

Chase Payment Solutions

Chase is one of the largest banks in the United States and a major credit card issuer, which gives it unparalleled insight into consumer spending. Businesses that sign up for credit card processing with Chase Payment Solutions can access the bank’s vast trove of data. Leveraging big data effectively allows small businesses to target potential customers. This feature differentiates Chase Payment Solutions from other processors, which is why we chose it as our best pick for data analytics.

Stripe

We think that online business owners will appreciate Stripe for its e-commerce tools! In our testing of the service, we found that setting up online payments is a breeze with their user-friendly platform. Plus, it seamlessly connects with platforms like Shopify and Magento, keeping checkout smooth for customers. But we like that Stripe offers more than just ease of use. You can customize our store exactly how we want, and their robust security features keep transactions safe.

National Processing

We chose National Processing as the best credit card processor for low transaction rates because its interchange-plus rates are low compared to other processors. It also boasts a rate-lock guarantee, which means your rates won’t increase during your contract. National Processing is also willing to match or beat competitors’ rates, which we found to be a unique benefit among the processors that we examined. National Processing will pay you $500 if it can’t beat your current rate.

Flagship Merchant Services

Flagship Merchant Services is a full-service payment processing company that allows merchants to take payments online, in person, by mail and over the phone. While many processors lock merchants into multi year agreements with cancellation fees, Flagship offers merchant account services to all of its customers on a month-to-month basis and doesn’t charge a cancellation fee. That’s why Flagship is our best pick for flexible contracts.

Finix

In our view, Finix is a game-changer for high-growth business. Unlike other processors with one-size-fits-all solutions, Finix lets you customize the entire payment experience.  We like that you can build a system that perfectly fits your unique needs, and it can grow and adapt right alongside your business. Plus, their robust API allows for seamless integrations with existing tools. Whether we’re adding new features or expanding to new markets, we were impressed that Finix is built to handle it all.

Finix API

Finix’s APIs allow users to quickly and easily build custom integrations. Source: Finix

What is Credit Card Processing?

Credit card processing is the process of transferring money from a cardholder’s account to a merchant’s account when the cardholder pays for a purchase with a credit or debit card. Though the process is simple and takes just a few seconds on the front end, the back end of the process is intricate, with data traveling between the merchant, processor, credit card network and multiple banks.

CCP flow chart

Credit Card Processing Rates

Credit card processing rates are typically expressed as a percentage of the sale plus a small per-transaction fee. Most rates average 2% to 4% of each transaction. The processor considers several factors to determine the processing fees it charges you, including your monthly processing volume, your average ticket size, your business’ industry and your processing history. It may also consider your business and personal credit.

The credit card processing industry is very competitive. Companies want to work with you, especially if you’ve been in business for a few years and process a high volume of payments each month. Many are open to negotiating a deal with you and advertise that they’re willing to meet or beat your current rates. But first, you need to understand what costs go into credit card processing rates and which are negotiable. All rates have three parts:

  • Interchange fees: This is a nonnegotiable rate set by the card networks and every processor pays the same amount. There are hundreds of rates, arranged by industry, card type, sales ticket amount and acceptance method. You can view interchange rate tables on the card networks’ websites.
  • Assessment fees: Like interchange rates, these are nonnegotiable and every processor pays the same amount. These rates vary by card brand.
  • Processor’s markup: This is the only negotiable part of the processing rate.

Here’s why you need to know this information:

  • If a company says it has lower interchange rates than other processors, it’s not true. All processors pay the same amount.
  • If a company posts links to interchange rate tables, indicating that this is what you’ll pay, you need to know that this is only a portion of the rates you’ll pay the processor.

Second, you need to identify which pricing model is best for your business. For most businesses, industry experts recommend interchange-plus pricing, but credit card processing companies prefer tiered pricing because they make more money with it. Some processors give you a choice of pricing models and may allow you to switch so that you can evaluate for yourself which one provides the best savings for your business. Here are the three most common:

Credit Card Processing Pricing Models

Tiered pricingInterchange-plus pricingFlat-rate pricing
Most plans include the following tiers, with different rates for debit and credit cards at each tier:
  • Qualified rate: Regular cards, swiped
  • Midqualified rate: Rewards, swiped
  • Nonqualified rate: Premium rewards, swiped rewards, keyed
Interchange-plus pricing has two parts:
  • Wholesale rate (interchange and assessment). These are not negotiable.
  • Processor’s markup (the percentage and per-transaction fee). You may be able to negotiate this part of the rate.
Flat-rate pricing is expressed as one of the following:
  • Flat percentage of the transaction
  • Flat percentage plus a per-transaction fee
It’s hard to know how much you’re paying the processor – or if you’re overpaying – because each processor decides which rates go into each tier.You can see the processor’s markup, which makes it easier to determine if you’re getting a good deal. This is usually the most cost-effective pricing model.Flat rates are higher than the prices in the other models but may save you money, because most have no additional fees and no contract.
This pricing model is a good choice if your customers prefer paying with debit cards.This is the pricing model most experts recommend for small businesses.This is the best pricing model for businesses with small tickets or low monthly volume.

Tiered Pricing

This is the most common pricing model, but it’s widely criticized by industry experts because it’s not as transparent as interchange-plus pricing. It attempts to simplify the interchange table by combining interchange rates, assessment fees and markups and then sorting them into tiers. Tiered pricing is also referred to as “bundled pricing” or “bucket pricing.”

Most processors categorize these tiers as qualified, midqualified and nonqualified transactions, although some plans may have only two or up to six tiers, with separate rates for credit and debit cards. The factors that determine the transaction category include the type of card ― whether it’s debit or credit and if it’s a regular, rewards, corporate, government-issued or international card ― and how the transaction is processed, whether you accept the card in person using a card reader, accept it online or key it in manually.

Did You Know?Did you know
Some processors have a special lower rate for PIN debit transactions.

Critics note a variance between processors as to which interchange rates fall into each tier, which makes it difficult to compare pricing between services. We found this to be true in our research as some processors categorize rewards cards as midqualified and others define them as nonqualified. This variance in tier categorization, sometimes referred to as “inconsistent buckets,” makes it difficult to determine how much you can expect to pay above the set costs for your processing:

  • Low rates advertised on processor websites are usually qualified debit rates. These only apply to nonrewards debit cards accepted in person with a card reader.
  • Qualified debit and qualified credit may be the only rates the sales rep quotes you, so it’s important to ask about the number of tiers, what they cost, which types of cards and acceptance methods each tier includes and what actions may cause a transaction to be downgraded to a lower tier.
  • The tiered pricing model is best for businesses whose customers prefer paying by debit card.

Interchange-Plus Pricing

Most industry experts prefer this model because it promotes pricing transparency. The interchange-plus pricing model may also be called “pass-through pricing” or “cost-plus pricing,” because the processor passes the interchange rates and assessment fees to you at cost and adds a markup.

The processor’s markup stays the same no matter what card type your customers pay with, so you can see how much you’re paying the processor. This makes it easier to spot savings when you’re comparing services. Also, many of the companies that offer interchange-plus pricing post their rates on their websites, which saves you time in gathering rates from the companies you’re interested in learning more about:

  • Many companies will quote you interchange-plus rates if you specifically request it, but some only offer this type of pricing to established customers, requiring you to process with them for a certain amount of time before you qualify. The best companies offer this pricing to all their customers.
  • The rate you’re quoted is only the markup. You’ll pay this amount in addition to the actual interchange rate and assessment fee.
  • Interchange-plus pricing is best for most businesses, and it’s the pricing model recommended by industry experts.

Flat-Rate Pricing

This is the simplest pricing model. Most processors that use this model charge a fixed percentage rate for each sale, regardless of card type. Alternatively, some processors charge a fixed percentage rate and a per-transaction fee. There are usually different rates for cards accepted in person and online.

Mobile credit card processing companies commonly use this pricing model. There are typically no monthly or annual fees, making it a good option for small businesses that don’t process enough transactions to cover these costs. Most of the time, the only other fee is a chargeback fee, which is only triggered when a customer disputes a transaction.

  • If your business processes less than $2,500 per month, some credit card processors will refer you to a processor with flat-rate pricing.
  • Most companies that offer this pricing structure set you up as a submerchant under their master merchant accounts, allowing for fast setup.
  • Flat-rate pricing is best for businesses that have small sales tickets or process a low volume of credit card transactions each month.

Credit Card Processing Fees

In addition to processing rates, you’ll pay various fees to whichever credit card processor you choose. Some of these are one-time or per-occurrence fees and others are charged monthly or annually.

TipBottom line

For a complete list and explanation of fees, including nonstandard fees that you should never pay, see our small business guide to credit card processing fees.

Common Credit Card Processing Fees

Most credit card processing companies charge these recurring fees:

  • The monthly fee (sometimes called a statement fee) usually ranges from $5 to $15. It may be higher if it includes PCI compliance and gateway fees.
  • The monthly minimum fee is normally $25, although this usually means the amount you pay in processing costs, not the minimum dollar amount of sales you must process per month.
  • PCI compliance is $100 per year on average, although some companies may prorate it and charge it monthly, sometimes including it into the monthly fee.
  • The payment gateway fee varies by the payment gateway you use. Most are charged monthly, although some companies also charge a small per-transaction fee.
  • Various network fees, such as Mastercard’s Merchant Location Fee and Visa’s Fixed Acquirer Network Fee, may be passed on to you as either monthly or annual fees.

These fees are also common but only charged per occurrence:

  • Batch fees are nominal daily fees that you pay when you close out the day’s sales, costing 10 to 30 cents and usually the same amount as your per-transaction fee.
  • Address verification service (AVS) fees are usually a few cents per transaction when you use this anti-fraud tool to verify the address and ZIP code of the cardholder.
  • Voice authorization is another antifraud tool with a small per-use fee. It’s rarely required, but you’re charged for each occurrence.
  • Chargeback fees are usually $15 or $20 per incident but may be as much as $45.
  • PCI noncompliance is a high monthly fee that you must pay if you fail to establish and maintain your PCI compliance. [Learn about other payment processing laws and regulations.]
  • A nonsufficient funds (NSF) fee is charged if you don’t have enough money in your business bank account to pay the fees you owe the processor.

Fees to Avoid

Some processors charge a variety of miscellaneous fees in addition to the standard fees listed above. Some of the worst are cancellation fees, club or membership fees and fees for what the contract vaguely defines as “additional services.”

Hidden Fees

Again, it’s important to read the entire contract before you sign anything to make sure no fees are tucked away in the fine print. As you read the contract, note every fee it lists. Then, before you sign the contract, ask your sales rep what each fee is for, how much it costs, how frequently it’s charged and if it can be waived. If the sales rep agrees to waive a fee, be sure to get this in writing, either in the contract or as an addendum.

What Credit Card Processing Features Do You Need?

No matter which credit card processing service you select, you should expect it to provide the basic services that you need to accept payments. The processor should:

  • Allow you to accept all major cards, including Discover and American Express, so you don’t lose sales from users of certain cards.
  • Comply fully with the PCI Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and help you attain PCI compliance.
  • Offer EMV-compliant card readers to reduce your vulnerability to fraud and to ensure that, in the event of a security breach, you aren’t held liable for using outdated equipment.
  • Provide readily accessible customer support that you can reach by phone 24/7 so that, no matter what hours your business keeps, you can get the assistance you need immediately.

Square EMV card reader

Square offers an easy-to-use EMV card reader. Source: Square

In addition to these criteria, we considered the following factors to evaluate each processing company.

  • Pricing: We looked at processing rates and account fees to find out how much it costs to accept credit card payments with each company. We also considered the pricing model the company uses and how transparent it is about its pricing.
  • Contracts and service terms: Standard processing contracts have lengthy terms and hefty early termination fees that make it difficult to switch providers. We looked for processors that offer month-to-month service with no cancellation fees, rather than locking you into a service.
  • Selection of processing types: Many small businesses want to accept payments wherever their customers are, so we considered whether the processor offers multiple processing methods. We looked for those that allow you to accept PayPal and automated clearing house payments in addition to all major credit cards.
  • Processing equipment options: This industry is notorious for bad leasing contracts, so we looked for processors that allow you to purchase credit card terminals and other processing equipment upfront. Also, whether you need a countertop credit card terminal or a mobile card reader, the processing equipment should allow you to accept chip cards, contactless cards and mobile wallets.
  • Third-party integrations: Because the ability to integrate with POS systems, accounting software and other commonly used business software saves you valuable time, it was one of the features we looked for in a processor.
  • Tap-to-pay capabilities: The pandemic changed the way people pay for things. Cash and credit card transactions are declining in favor of contactless payment methods. With this payment method, customers tap their credit or debit card, wearable device or mobile phone on a contactless payment terminal to complete the transaction. This can speed up the checkout process and keep customers feeling safe. Most newer POS terminals have built-in tap-to-pay capabilities.
  • Funds: We also considered how long it takes the processor to clear the account and deposit the transaction money in your business bank account and whether it offers additional funding options.

Clover POS devices

Many credit card processors resell Clover POS equipment. Source: Clover

Benefits of Using Credit Card Processing

The main benefit of credit card processing is that it allows you to accept credit and debit cards and, in many instances, mobile wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay. Acceptance of these payment types is increasingly important for nearly every type of business as many customers don’t carry cash anymore.

How Does Credit Card Processing Help With Business Finances?

In addition to preventing loss of business from customers who prefer to pay with cards, credit card processing helps you analyze your sales. Most services either connect with a POS system or provide an online dashboard that lets you run detailed reports on your sales. Many also integrate with accounting software, which saves you the effort of manually entering transaction data and reduces the risk of error due to manually entered data.

What Is Offline Credit Card Process and Why Does It Matter?

Online and contactless payment adoption rates are rising, but what happens if your internet goes down? Knowing that is a very real possibility, you should make sure your credit card processor can support you when you lose internet connectivity. That’s where offline credit card processing comes in. With offline processing, a customer still provides their payment card to the terminal, which encrypts and saves the card data. When your business is back online, the terminal sends the information to the merchant’s bank and card network. From the customer’s point of view, the transaction happened like normal.

Offline card processing isn’t only beneficial when the internet is down. It also enables you to accept payments outside your store. Most credit card processors, including the ones we reviewed, support offline card processing.

What Are the Other Benefits of Credit Card Processing?

Another important benefit is that credit card processors make it easy to accept payments across multiple sales channels:

  • In person: You can accept payments at your brick-and-mortar location with a payment terminal, card reader or POS system. You can also accept payments offsite with an app and mobile card reader.
  • Over the phone: Using a virtual terminal, you can record card details on your computer manually.
  • Online: You can accept online payments in various ways. On your website, you can embed a payment form or hosted payment page. On social media channels and in your text messages, invoices and emails, you can post payment links.
  • Cryptocurrency: Crypto is gaining popularity as more payment companies roll out services to support this method. Mastercard is a great example. The credit card company has teamed up with Bakkt, a company that makes digital crypto wallets, to make it easy for merchants in the U.S. to offer support for bitcoin payments. Merchants will also be able to offer customers cryptocurrency for rewards and loyalty programs.

Clover POS equipment

A virtual terminal can be used to key-in transactions manually. Source: Clover

Contracts

When you ask a processor to send you the contract to look over, the rep usually sends a “merchant application,” “merchant agreement,” or even a “pre-application form” for you to fill out. The term “application” is misleading, because it’s part of the contract and signing the application is signing the contract.

Although some applications include the terms and conditions and act as a full contract, most don’t. Some applications include links in the fine print to the terms and conditions and the program guide but, in most cases, you’ll have to ask your rep specifically for these additional documents.

You should read the full contract so you know exactly what you’re agreeing to and can verify the rates, fees and terms you were quoted:

  • Don’t enter your bank account information on an application until you’re ready to sign up with a company.
  • Don’t sign the application until you’ve thoroughly read the full contract and verified that the rates and fees are correct, waivers are noted and you understand the term length and cancellation policy.
  • Contracts usually have three parts: the merchant application, terms and conditions (or terms of service) and the program guide (or merchant operating guide). Make sure you get the full contract to review.

Here are some factors to look for as you review contracts.

Term Length

The industry is shifting away from three-year contracts in favor of month-to-month agreements and all the best processors offer this as an option. A processor should be confident enough in the quality of its service and the competitive value of its pricing that it doesn’t require its customers to sign lengthy contracts.

The only exception that justifies a contract is if you accept free equipment, in which case it’s reasonable for a company to expect you to remain a customer long enough for it to recoup its costs. We recommend purchasing your equipment instead, to avoid long-term contracts, but if you decide to sign a contract for this reason, the contract term length shouldn’t be excessive and the contract shouldn’t renew automatically for additional lengthy terms.

FYIDid you know

An excessive contract would span three years or longer and renew for additional two-year terms.

Even if the sales rep tells you that the service is a month-to-month plan with no cancellation fees, it’s still important for you to read the contract and make sure this information is consistent with what the contract says:

  • If the contract says the term is for three years or there’s an early termination fee (ETF), ask for a waiver or amendment that stipulates the service is provided on a month-to-month basis and waives all ETFs.
  • If the processor you want to work with has a lengthy contract, it’s worth trying to negotiate for better terms. Ask the rep if they can give you an amendment that puts you on a month-to-month plan and waives all ETFs.

Automatic Renewals

If you do choose a company with a traditional three-year contract, be aware that these contracts typically renew automatically for additional one- or two-year terms. It’s worth your time to ask for a waiver that puts you on a month-to-month plan after the initial term ends.

Early Termination Fees

There’s usually a very short window before a term expires in which you can cancel your account without incurring an ETF. Most early cancellation fees are a few hundred dollars but some are very expensive.

Scour any contract you sign for “liquidated damages,” which is either a percentage or the full amount of the projected revenue the processor expected to make on your account. This is a very punitive fee that can be exorbitant. The ETF may be disguised as an “early deconversion fee” (EDF), so look for this term in the contract text as well.

Personal Guarantees

Most application forms include personal guarantee clauses that grant the processor the right to perform credit checks. This guarantee also gives the processor the right to collect money from you personally if your business is unable to meet its obligations for any reason.

Did You Know?Did you know

In addition to holding you personally responsible for all expenses, some of these clauses hold your successors and heirs responsible for your debt if you pass away.

Additional Service Clauses

These indicate that the processor may sign you up for various additional services that cost extra and you have a very short period (typically 30 days) to cancel or opt out. Again, you may be automatically enrolled in additional services and you must figure out what they are and how to cancel them or you will be charged for them.

Frequently Asked Questions About Credit Card Processing

When a customer inserts a credit card into a merchant’s card reader, it initiates a complex series of data transfers that results in money being debited from the cardholder’s account and credited to the merchant’s bank account. The data passes through the terminal via secure connection to the processor, the credit card network, the bank that issued the customer’s credit card and the merchant’s bank.

Businesses should use credit card processing because it allows them to accept credit card payments, which is the increasingly preferred payment method for consumers. Although it costs you money to accept credit card payments, consumers tend to spend more money with credit and debit cards than with cash, potentially increasing your sales.

If your small business processes less than $5,000 per month, you’ll save money with a processor that has a flat-rate pricing structure and doesn’t charge any account fees (no monthly fee, annual fee or PCI compliance fee). The rates are higher but preferable to other pricing models as you aren’t processing enough to offset account fees.

If you process more than $5,000 per month, the cheapest credit card processing service will be one that has an interchange-plus pricing structure with a low margin. Fees can be problematic for this type of service as well, so pay attention to the fees different processors charge. For instance, some might have a very low monthly fee but charge a handful of extra fees that add up to high overall costs. Look for a service that is transparent about both its rates and fees as these companies tend to have the lowest credit card processing fees.

Data and overall payment security is a huge issue in the credit card processing industry. Although the large breaches that you read about in the news, such as those sustained by Home Depot and Target, may lead you to believe that your business is too small for criminals to be interested in, that isn’t the case. Small businesses are often the preferred targets of security attacks.

You can take two important steps to increase your security, protect your data and reduce fraud. First, comply with PCI DSS. Second, if you haven’t done so already, upgrade to EMV-compliant processing equipment.

Authorization holds are based on the banking practice of holding electronic transactions in limbo until the merchant marks the payment as settled. If it hasn’t been settled within the time determined by the cardholder’s bank, it “falls off” the account.

An authorization hold can last as long as 30 days, but American Express cards have a limit of seven days and Discover cards have a 10-day limit. Merchants who don’t complete a transaction hold within the allotted time could be charged a misuse fee by the credit card processor.

Payment processors consider a variety of industries high-risk, but these are some of the most common:

  • Alcohol
  • Firearms
  • Gambling
  • Pawn shops
  • Payday lenders
  • Ticket sellers
  • Tobacco

What to Expect in 2024

In 2024, several familiar trends will continue to develop in the payments industry.

Better customer experience

The overarching theme of payment processing in 2024 ― and one that multiple industry experts talk about ― is improving the customer experience. Consumer expectations surrounding payments are exceptionally high. A Vanson Bourne and Ekata study of over 7,000 consumers in North America and Europe found that:

  • 92% of respondents expect a “fast, frictionless experience” that is also secure.
  • More than 70% say account creation for online shopping should be instantaneous.

Mobile and contactless payments

One of the most obvious ways to take customer payments is on mobile devices. Mobile continues to gain importance in the payments industry. Contactless payments is another payment technology growing in usage. Since the beginning of the 2020s, contactless payments have jumped considerably. Expect this trend to continue growing.

Stricter fraud prevention and data security

Security remains a hot topic in the payments industry and the stakes are high. Although EMV adoption has been highly successful at reducing card-present fraud, card-not-present fraud continues to rise. Consumers are worried about fraud ― 90% of them, according to the Ekata report ― and over 60% of them feel that the businesses accessing their personal data are responsible for fraud prevention. When that doesn’t happen, 91% of consumers who experience fraud will not do business with that company again and 86% of them will warn others about their experiences.

Your business’ PCI compliance status should also be on your mind in 2024. Research has shown that merchants’ PCI compliance rates are falling. That’s not good for you or your customers since non-compliant businesses are more vulnerable to hackers. You might also pay a high noncompliance fee (more than $50 in some cases) each month.

Fortunately, advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) are helping small businesses to enhance security. Credit card processors have deployed AI algorithms to analyze transaction data, detect patterns and identify potentially fraudulent activities in real time.

Reduced interchange rates

Visa and Mastercard, the two largest payment processors in the U.S., have been engaged in a long-running legal dispute with merchants over swipe fees. This year, after two decades of litigation, the two companies agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by a group of mostly small businesses. Benefits for merchants over the coming years will include reduced interchange rates, a five-year freeze on new rate increases and more flexibility to direct customers to preferred payment methods.

Mike Berner
Mike Berner, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
Mike Berner brings to business.com over half a decade of experience as a finance expert, having previously served as an economic analyst for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. His expertise lies in conducting quantitative analysis and research, providing invaluable guidance for navigating the modern financial landscape. Berner, who has a bachelor's degree in economics and a bachelor of business administration in finance, enjoys simplifying complicated financial concepts for entrepreneurs and business owners. From deciphering the intricacies of business loans and accounting to identifying the best payroll systems and credit card processors, he offers comprehensive insights tailored to meet diverse business needs. Beyond dedicating himself to exploring and evaluating the latest financial solutions, Berner has also become adept at explaining how businesses can take advantage of artificial intelligence tools. His passion for sharing knowledge extends to various platforms, including Substack, TikTok and YouTube, where he imparts tips and strategies on topics like sales tactics, savvy investing and tax saving.
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