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The Best Merchant Account Services of 2021

By Donna Fuscaldo,
business.com Staff
| Updated
Apr 09, 2021

See our expert and unbiased reviews of the top 10 merchant services. Compare 2020's top-ranked merchant account services for free at business.com.
Best for Easy Approval
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Support for low credit scores
Digital payments
Month-to-month contracts
Best Merchant Service for POS
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Flat-rate pricing
Full-featured POS software
Month-to-month contracts
Best for Small Businesses
Transparent, flat-rate pricing
QuickBooks integration
Month-to-month contracts
Best for Emerging Businesses
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Support for high-risk industries
High rate of approvals
Month-to-month contracts
Best for Low Transaction Rates
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Wholesale rates
No long-term contracts
Flat-rate pricing
See our expert and unbiased reviews of the top 10 merchant services. Compare 2020's top-ranked merchant account services for free at business.com.

The Best Credit Card Processor Providers

Whether you accept payments from customers online, in person or over the phone, it's important to be able to accept every payment type, which is why choosing the right merchant services provider is essential. You also want to work with a payment processing company that has transparent pricing, competitive rates and no lengthy contracts. With these qualities in mind, we researched merchant account service providers and payment gateways to help you find the best options for your business.

Check out our recommendations for the best merchant service providers for different business types below. If you process less than $3,000 per month, see our mobile credit card processing reviews. Otherwise, read on to learn more about the features, pricing and contracts you should look for in a merchant account provider for your business.

 

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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.
102
Considered
33
Researched
11
Selected

Compare Our Best Picks

  Merchant One  ProMerchant Clover  Fattmerchant Payment Depot Square Helcim National Processing Chase Merchant Services Flagship Merchant Services PaySafe
Pricing model Flat rate Flat rate and interchange-plus Flat rate  Flat rate Flat rate Flat rate Interchange plus Flat rate Flat rate and interchange-plus Custom Custom
Monthly fees Yes Yes Yes No No No Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Contract terms Month to month Month to month Month to month Month to month Month to month Pay as you go Month to month Month to month Month to month Custom Month to month
24/7 phone support Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No No

Our Reviews

Merchant One: Best Merchant Service for Easy Approval

There's no PCI compliance fee.
Merchant One is willing to work with businesses with bad credit scores.
You need to speak to a sales representative to get a quote.
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We chose Merchant One as our pick for businesses witheasy approval because the company is willing to look beyond credit score when approving applicants and won't make the application process cumbersome. This merchant account provider knows that a credit score doesn't tell the full story and looks at other aspects to approve you for a merchant account.

Merchant One is a full-service credit and debit card processing company that offers fast processing rates and point-of-sale features for both online and in-store payments.

Merchant One boasts a 98% approval rate and works with all companies. It doesn't matter if you have a bad credit score and operate in a risky industry; Merchant One is willing to work with you. That's key for business owners who have struggled to get approved for services because of past financial mistakes.

We would have preferred to see more information about Merchant One's pricing online, but it's not the only merchant account provider that requires you to contact the company to get a quote.

Merchant One moves quickly to get its clients up and running once they are approved, touting a turnaround time of less than 24 hours. The sooner you can begin accepting payments, the more sales you'll bring in. We also like that Merchant One makes it easier to accept payments online or in person. It sells Clover POS hardware, which is widely available, making it easy to comparison-shop.

Through the merchant account software, businesses can sell gift cards and create loyalty programs. You can even craft text marketing campaigns through the Merchant One platform.

Thanks to its mobile capabilities, Merchant One also supports on-the-go businesses. You can accept payments from your mobile device anywhere you have internet connectivity. The company also offers a free shopping cart for card-not-present and e-commerce transactions, online account management tools and remote access to sales data.

We like that this merchant account provider assigns you a dedicated account manager who can help you through the setup and offer support once you begin accepting payments. Merchant One also has 24/7 customer support.

Small business owners h shouldn't be shut out of a merchant account because of the industry they operate in or their current credit profile, which is why we selected Merchant One as our best pick for easy approval.

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Clover Merchant Services: Best Merchant Service for POS

Clover is an all-in-one solution for credit card processing and POS functionality.
The flat-rate pricing structure is easy to understand.
You have to use Clover hardware.
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We chose Clover as our pick for the best merchant account for point of sale (POS) because of its feature-rich POS software and hardware and competitive pricing. Whether you run a restaurant, shop or e-commerce store, Clover can cover all of your payment needs.

Clover charges a flat rate per transaction and offers two pricing plans. The Register Lite Plan is $9.95 a month, plus 2.7% and 10 cents for in-person transactions and 3.5% and 10 cents for virtual or keyed-in transactions. The Register Plan is $29 a month, plus 2.3% and 10 cents for in-person transactions and 3.5% and 10 cents for online and keyed-in transactions.

We like that Clover also offers a virtual terminal to accept and process payments without the need for POS hardware. That can save you money, particularly if you do only online sales. With Clover's virtual terminal, you can accept the card payments directly from the Clover dashboard. The company charges the keyed-in rate for virtual terminal transactions. Merchants that need quick access to their credit card and debit card sales will appreciate Clover's Rapid Deposit service; for a 1% fee, you can access your credit card sales in minutes instead of one to two days.

Another reason we selected Clover for our POS best pick is because it doesn't require a long-term contract; you pay month to month. To cancel, you must give the company written notice 30 days before your monthly payment is due.

Beyond competitive pricing, Clover offers many useful POS features. With the POS software, you can set employee permissions, track sales, run reports and integrate with other business apps via Clover's App Market. The app store has a slew of integrations that cover all aspects of your business, including payroll and COVID-19 resources.

Clover also offers specific functionality for restaurant and retail customers. For example, you can send orders directly to the kitchen, connect a weight scale and other peripherals, track products and manage staff.

We also like that Clover has a lot of equipment resellers, so there's an opportunity to shop around and save more.

Small businesses that want a one-stop-solution for all of their credit card and POS needs should consider Clover because of the flat-rate, affordable pricing and robust POS capabilities.

Did You Know?Did You Know: Many merchant account providers offer POS, e-commerce and invoicing capabilities.

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Fattmerchant: Best Merchant Service for Small Businesses

Fattmerchant doesn't add a percentage markup to card transactions. You pay a monthly fee, interchange rate and flat per-transaction rate.
The merchant dashboard enables you to track and analyze sales performance.
To save money with Fattmerchant's pricing model, you have to process more than $7,000 in card payments each month.

We selected Fattmerchant as the best merchant account service for small businesses because it offers flat-rate pricing with no markup and a merchant account dashboard that lets you manage and analyze sales. We like that Fattmerchant doesn't charge a markup percentage on each transaction; instead, it adds a flat-rate fee to the interchange, which is the rate Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express charge and everyone must pay. 

For account fees, Fattmerchant charges one monthly membership or subscription fee that includes everything from PCI compliance to account maintenance. For this pricing structure to be worthwhile, however, you need to process $7,000 or more in card payments monthly. If you process a high monthly volume of card purchases, you'll realize the most savings with Fattmerchant.

Fattmerchant breaks down its pricing into two models that are based on annual processing volume. If you process less than $80,000 annually, Fattmerchant charges a flat rate of 2.9% per transaction. If you process more than $80,000 annually, there is a per-transaction fee of 8 cents or 15 cents depending on how the payment is accepted. The monthly subscription fee is $99, which is more than some competitors charge, but there aren't any additional fees or charges (other than the transaction fees).

Fattmerchant offers Omni software, which integrates with your sales data to improve customer management. The company offers three pricing plans for the software:

  • Starter: This plan is $49 a month. It lets you run reports, track refunds and access a virtual terminal so you can accept phone and internet payments.

  • Growth: This plan is $89 a month and gives you everything in the Starter plan, plus a dedicated account manager and the ability to create invoices.

  • Pro: This plan is $129 a month and comes with everything in the two other plans, plus the ability to schedule payments and invoices and send recurring invoices. It also includes a shopping cart and lets you manage product catalogs, customers and charge-backs.

Fattmerchant lets you accept all major payment cards, including American Express, Visa, Mastercard and Discover. The analytics dashboard shows you sales data at a glance, which is particularly helpful for gauging how your business is faring.

If you want a quick and affordable way to accept card payments and analyze and manage sales, Fattmerchant is a great option. Add e-commerce management tools to the mix, and you can see why Fattmerchant landed on our best picks list.

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ProMerchant: Best for Emerging Businesses

High-risk businesses aren't turned away.
You can choose between a flat rate and interchange-plus rates.
ProMerchant's website doesn't list pricing.
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ProMerchant is our choice for the best merchant account for emerging businesses, because unlike many merchant account providers, it's willing to work with businesses from any industry. Whether you run a legal betting company or sell online or through the mail, ProMerchant won't turn you away simply because your industry has been deemed risky. ProMerchant also looks beyond credit score when considering applicants, so even if your credit score isn't perfect, there's a good chance you'll be approved. 

There are two pricing models: flat rate and interchange plus. Your monthly volume of credit and debit card payments will dictate which pricing structure is right for you. To get an accurate quote, you have to complete an online form or call the company. Although we prefer that vendors list their prices on their websites, it's common to have to call for a quote. It requires a little work on your part, but you'll know exactly how much you'll pay to process payments.

ProMerchant's fees are in line with competitors', and the company bills monthly. You don't have to sign a long-term contract, which is a big plus. We also like that ProMerchant assigns you a dedicated account representative, who not only helps you determine the correct pricing plan but also remains your main point of contact as long as you are a customer. The company also offers email and telephone support.

ProMerchant boasts a quick turnaround time once you are approved for a merchant account, sometimes even the same day. Otherwise, it shouldn't take more than two business days to have a decision. The company will also overnight your free terminals and have your account operational within one day.

We also like that ProMerchant designs its offerings around the unique needs of small businesses. The company understands that restaurant owners need different processing tools than online merchants, for example. ProMerchant isn't afraid to take on clients in high-risk industries, doesn't lock you into a long-term contract and provides two pricing models. For these reasons, this merchant account services provider landed on our best picks list.

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Payment Depot Merchant Services: Best Merchant Service for Low Transaction Rates

You get membership pricing and wholesale rates.
There are no lengthy contracts or early-termination fees.
If you don't process a high volume of card payments, Payment Depot's services can get pricey.
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We chose Payment Depot as our best pick for high-volume businesses because it offers membership pricing and wholesales rates. We also like that Payment Depot is flexible; it doesn't lock you into a long-term contract or charge early-termination fees. And if you aren't happy with the merchant account services, you can switch providers at no cost.

Another reason we chose Payment Depot is its transparent pricing. The website clearly lists pricing, including fees and processing equipment costs, as well as the terms. Payment Depot has several plans to fit a variety of business needs and sizes.

You can accept payments online, on-site and via mobile devices. Payment Depot serves several industries and business types, including business to business, professional services, restaurant and retail. If you fall into one of these categories and have a high monthly volume of credit card sales, Payment Depot can save you money with its wholesale rates.

With the company's membership pricing model, you pay a flat rate each month and a small per-transaction fee. There aren't any setup or monthly fees. Payment Depot charges on a month-to-month basis. There is no cancellation fee if you close your account.

Through Payment Depot's merchant account, you can accept in-store, mobile and in-person payments, with the sales landing in your bank account within one or two business days. Payment Depot also has integrations with popular business programs, including Shopify, QuickBooks, WooCommerce and 3dcart. With those integrations, you can sync your card payment data with other aspects of your business, giving you deeper insight into your business's operations.

Standout customer support is another reason Payment Depot made our list of best picks. When you open a merchant account, you get a dedicated account representative who serves as your main point of contact. Your account representative is available Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Payment Depot also provides 24/7 phone support in case you need help outside of those hours.

If you accept high volumes of credit and debit card payments each month, you need a merchant account provider that isn't going to charge you a lot. You also need one that will fund your accounts quickly and provide support whenever you need it. Payment Depot meets all of those requirements. The company's membership pricing with wholesale rates ensures you don't pay too much to accept card transactions. Add in the flexible terms, and you can see why Payment Depot is our best pick for high-volume businesses.

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Square: Best Merchant Service for Growing Businesses

For the basic service, all you pay are processing rates. There are no monthly or annual maintenance fees.
The app, available for both iPhones and Android phones, includes a full suite of POS features.
It charges a per-transaction fee as part of its in-person processing rate, which makes small tickets more expensive to process.

Square is the best credit card processing vendor for growing small businesses thanks to its general lack of fees. The only fee Square charges for its basic processing service is a flat rate for each transaction. There are no monthly, gateway, setup, annual, PCI compliance or early termination fees. It doesn't even have a chargeback fee, which is unusual. Square's lack of fees makes it an affordable option for small businesses and individuals that don't process enough transactions to justify paying regular account fees each month.

Square also has the best mobile credit card processing app. It not only allows you to accept payments on the go, but also includes full-featured point-of-sale (POS) software that tracks inventory, manages customer information, and runs sales reports. The app is free to use – all you pay for is processing. It works on both Apple and Android phones and tablets, and you can add more business features by subscribing to paid services like payroll and email marketing or by integrating with third-party applications you already use, such as accounting software.

That's not all this credit card processor offers growing small businesses. Its retail- and restaurant-specific tools, including the ability to manage inventory and orders, help business owners meet demand now and in the future. We like that Square offers customers the ability to set up a free online store that syncs with your inventory and your social media. With purchases increasingly moving online, Square makes it easy to reach your customers wherever they are.  

Square isn't shabby on the accounting front either, which is another reason we like this credit card processor for growing businesses. Square lets you send and track invoices, accept payments, and manage them in one central location. It integrates with many accounting software programs, including QuickBooks Online and Zoho Books.

Once you've established a processing history with Square, it gives you access to Square Capital, which can provide your business with a merchant cash advance and fund it as soon as the next day. That option may prove useful in a short-term cash crunch.

Square offers a Mastercard business debit card called Square Card that makes it easy to access the money from your transactions. There are no signup fees, annual or monthly fees, minimum balance fees, or overdraft fees. One nice perk is that you receive an instant discount of 2.75% when you use this card to shop with other Square sellers.

We also like that even though Square's app is free, it includes a full suite of POS features and can be augmented with add-on services and integrations, allowing you to expand its functions as your business grows. It works on both Apple and Android phones and tablets, so you can use it with the devices you already own.  

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Helcim: Best Merchant Service For Established Business

Helcim is transparent about its rates and fees online, so you'll know what to expect on your bill.
Its single monthly fee includes PCI compliance and access to the virtual terminal, online store, and more.
You may be able to find lower rates elsewhere, particularly for online processing.
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Helcim is our merchant account services pick for small businesses because of its transparent and competitive pricing, solid customer service, and flexible contracts. When you select Helcim for your payment processing needs you get fast processing and features and applications designed to help you run your business.

We like that this full-service merchant account provider charges merchants interchange-plus pricing. With that pricing model you know exactly how much you'll pay per transaction. While Helcim may not be the cheapest processor on the market, its retail rates are lower than average, and its rate-lock guarantee isn't too common in the industry. With it Helcim promises not to increase its markup as long as you are a customer.

Helcim is also transparent when it comes to the fees it charges. Instead of hitting you up with a fee for PCI compliance, online statements, or for account maintenance it includes it in one monthly charge. With it you get customer support, PCI compliance and access to Helcim Commerce, the company's payment platform. Since its services are charged on a month-to-month basis you don't have to worry about getting hit with an early termination fee if you choose to close your account.

Beyond its transparent and competitive pricing, Helcim has a lot of merchant account services that makes it a standout. Take its POS app for starters. With it you can track inventory, store customer information, records transaction history, displays sales trends and generates several different reports. There's also a mobile version that works with Apple and Android devices. The apps support an unlimited number of user accounts and has access controls for employee access. You can add a cash drawer, card reader and barcode scanner to create a POS station if you are accepting payments in store. We also like that Helcim has a virtual terminal that lets you accept payments online. You can also issue refunds, void transactions, preauthorize credit cards and accept payments made through ACH transfers.

Helcim also makes it easier to manager relationships with customers via its customer portal. With it you can create customer profiles, view purchase histories, and store their credit card data. You can also send invoices, set up recurring payments and integrate with several shopping carts, e-commerce platforms and accounting software. It also has an API available if you want to build custom Intergrations. Whether you are just starting out or have been in business for years, Helcim can meet your merchant account needs. This full-service vendor checks off all the boxes, making it our best pick for small businesses.

Read Helcim Review

National Processing Merchant Services: Best Merchant Service for Fixed Transaction Rates

The interchange-plus rates are low.
There is a rate-lock guarantee.
There is a PCI compliance fee.

National Processing is our best pick for fixed transaction rates because its interchange-plus rates are below those of many competitors and it offers a rate-lock guarantee, which means your fees can't increase during your contract. Plus, there aren't any minimum processing requirements. Although National Processing does charge fees, they are standard for the industry.

Small businesses that accept card payments need a merchant account provider that is transparent about how much it charges to process transactions. National Processing stands out in that area, offering very clear pricing on its website.

The company has three rate plans, all of which cost $9.95 a month plus interchange. For the restaurant plan, you pay 0.14% plus 7 cents above interchange per transaction. The retail plan costs 0.18% plus 10 cents above interchange, and the e-commerce plan costs 0.3% plus 15 cents above interchange.

Like other merchant account providers, National Processing charges fees. However, it doesn't hit you with an annual fee, monthly minimum charge or early-termination fee, nor does it lock you into long-term contracts. National Processing will even pay you $500 if it can't meet or beat your rates from a competitor.

National Processing also sells POS equipment from Clover, which is a well-known brand. There are several resellers of Clover equipment, so you can shop around for a low price.

National Processing's merchant account offers online invoicing, ACH payment processing, a virtual terminal to accept online and telephone payments, and QuickBooks integration. After you submit your online application, it takes a couple of days to get approved for a merchant account.

Like some of its rivals, National Processing assigns you a dedicated account executive when you open a merchant account. You can reach your rep Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET via phone and email. National Processing also has 24/7 tech support and live chat.

Small businesses that care most about low rates should give National Processing serious consideration. This merchant account provider offers some of the lowest interchange-plus rates in the market and provides a rate-lock guarantee. Plus, there are no long-term contracts or early-termination fees. All of these benefits make National Processing a worthy contender for businesses that want to save money when accepting card payments.

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Chase Merchant Services: Best Merchant Service for All-Sized Businesses

There are several flat-rate and interchange-plus pricing models.
The mobile app has e-commerce and POS features.
Flat-rate pricing can get expensive if you have more than $5,000 in monthly sales.

We selected Chase Merchant Services as our best pick for all-sized  businesses because it offers several flat-rate and interchange-plus pricing models to fit all small businesses' needs. Chase will work with you to identify ways to reduce your processing fees if you are coming from a competitor, and existing Chase customers are eligible for an annual review to find ways to cut costs. Not many merchant account providers are so proactive, so Chase Merchant Services stood out by offering these services.

Another reason we selected Chase Merchant Services as our best pick for established businesses is it offers competitive pricing no matter which rate model you choose. The flat-rate plans are best for businesses that process less than $5,000 a month. In-person transactions accepted with a card reader cost 2.6% plus 10 cents, while manually entered transactions are 3.5% and 10 cents. Through its partnerships with Vend and BigCommerce, Chase has different rates for users of those services.

For businesses that process more than $5,000 per month, Chase offers interchange-plus pricing plans. To get a quote, you must call the company.

Chase Merchant Services offers features that many established businesses will find valuable. For example, with Chase's mobile credit card processing service, you can accept payments through Chase's mobile app or mobile checkout app. The mobile app works on iPhones, iPads, and Android phones and tablets. The app also enables you to create a product catalog, accept tips, text and email receipts, issue refunds and void transactions. You can also add employees to the account and manage permissions on the go.

We also like that Chase gives you a choice of payment gateways. You can go with Chase's Orbital Gateway or choose another one, such as Visa's Authorize.net. Chase Merchant Services also integrates with 140-plus software solutions, including other e-commerce platforms, like Shopify, Volusion and WooCommerce.

Chase Merchant Services has been in the business of processing credit card payments for years and has long been a popular choice among merchants of all sizes. When you go with Chase, you get competitive rates, a full suite of services and top-notch support, making it our best pick for established businesses.

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Flagship Merchant Services: Best for Flexible Contracts

There are no long-term contracts or cancellation fees.
Pricing is either interchange plus or tiered processing rates.
The pricing isn't transparent, and the contract has a vague "additional services" clause that you must opt out of within 30 days to avoid a monthly fee for services you don't want.

We selected Flagship Merchant Services as the best merchant account services provider for flexible contracts because it offers month-to-month billing and doesn't charge a cancellation fee. Unlike some merchant account providers, Flagship doesn't lock you into a long-term contract. The pricing is structured to give you choice, and the fees are in line with industry norms.

While many of our other best picks don't lock you into long-term contracts, many merchant processing contracts have three-year terms with a short cancellation window of 30 to 90 days before they automatically renew for additional one- or two-year terms. Many also have early-termination fees, which can get expensive. Flagship doesn't have any of that.

Flagship offers two pricing structures, which is another reason we chose it as our pick for flexible contracts. It offers interchange-plus and tiered rates, allowing you to select the best pricing model for your business. Keep in mind that the tiered pricing model is the least transparent and thus could be the costliest. If you choose the tiered pricing model, make sure you understand all of the pricing terms and fees associated with different transactions.

If you already have a processor, Flagship will try to meet or beat your current rates. The company has a monthly minimum processing amount and charges a monthly fee, a monthly payment gateway fee and a PCI compliance fee. However, there are no fees for the application, setup or payment gateway setup.

For small businesses that care most about flexibility, Flagship also delivers on the POS side. Flagship sells and supports several credit card processing hardware vendors, thereby allowing you to accept payments across all sales channels. You can start out with a simple credit card terminal with a built-in PIN pad and printer, and move to a more comprehensive POS system as your business grows. We like that you can easily add a mobile card reader if you want to accept payments on the go, curbside or at the table. You can also accept online payments.

Flagship's customer service is also in line with the rest of the industry. It offers a dedicated account representative, giving you a single point of contact for help during normal business hours. Flagship also offers 24/7 technical support.

For small businesses that care most about flexibility and choice in pricing, Flagship is worth a serious look.

Did You Know?Did You Know: Many of the merchant account providers that made our list assign you a dedicated account representative. That could prove useful if you have any questions during setup or when you begin accepting card transactions.

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Paysafe: Best Merchant Service for Online Businesses

Paysafe supports e-cash payments.
You get POS solutions, including the ability to make recurring payments and send invoices.
The website doesn't list pricing, so you have to call a sales representative.

We selected Paysafe as our best pick for online businesses because it enables you to accept digital, mobile and ACH payments, as well as cash online. With e-commerce becoming a larger part of small businesses' sales, it pays to have a merchant account service provider that can support your sales no matter where they occur.

When you open a Paysafe merchant account, you'll be able to accept payments both in person and online. Paysafe also sells an array of point-of-sale devices, including discounted Clover POS hardware. That could save you money; there are a lot of Clover equipment resellers, so you can shop around for the best price.

Paysafe's POS solution also gives you PCI protection, recurring payments and the ability to send invoices. We like that Paysafe takes PCI compliance seriously and helps you maintain it. If you don't meet the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, you could face costly monthly fees, so it's helpful that Paysafe's out-of-the-box and customizable checkout platforms have built-in capabilities to reduce security risks.

On the mobile front, Paysafe has all of the features merchants need to run a business online and offline. With the company's mobile solution, you can transform your mobile device into a POS system. Online businesses will also appreciate Paysafe's e-cash service, which allows you to accept cash as a payment method online. Customers make a purchase by entering a 16-digit code. By accepting e-cash, you can expand your client base.

This merchant account provider also integrates with Skrill and Neteller, the e-money transfer services owned by Paysafe. That's particularly useful if you sell products outside the U.S., as those two apps are accepted at more than 25,000 online merchants in more than 40 currencies. Paysafe's remittance product is another unique feature that's particularly useful for businesses that operate internationally because it lets you transfer and receive money around the world.

For online businesses that want a merchant account provider that is focused on e-commerce and digital payments, Paysafe delivers.

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Pricing

Cost is often a top factor when you're looking for the right merchant account services for your business. If you process a lot of card payments each month, it can be expensive if you go with the wrong provider. There are three types of costs you need to investigate:

  1. Processing fees
  2. Account fees
  3. Equipment costs

Many of the best merchant services and payment gateway providers post pricing on their websites. However, more commonly, you'll have to speak with a sales representative. During these calls, the rep will ask about the specifics of your business, such as your transaction volume, average ticket size, industry and creditworthiness. If you're already processing, many reps will ask you to send them a recent statement so they can try to meet or beat your current rates.

1. Processing Fees

Whether you accept credit card payments online or in person, you pay a small fee for every transaction, which is expressed as a percentage of the sale plus a few cents. However, providers calculate these costs differently, which makes it difficult to compare prices. To make an accurate comparison, you need to know the types of processing fees and pricing models.

Processing fees have three parts:

  • The interchange rate: This is a non-negotiable cost set by the card brands (American Express, Discover, Mastercard and Visa), and every service provider pays the same amount. Each card brand has its own rate table with different interchange rates based on the type of card (credit or debit, regular or rewards, etc.), your industry, the size of the sales ticket and how the card is accepted (in person or online, using a chip card reader or swiper, etc.).

  • The card-brand fee: This is also a non-negotiable fee that the card networks charge; every processing service provider pays the same amount.

  • The processor's markup: This portion of the fee is negotiable.

Recognizing how confusing this is, many processors try to simplify processing rates and how they communicate them to their merchants. Most use one or more of these three pricing models: interchange-plus pricing, tiered pricing and flat-rate pricing.

Interchange-plus pricing: Industry experts favor this pricing model – sometimes called interchange pass-through pricing or cost-plus pricing – because it's the only pricing model that shows you exactly what the processor's markup is. This is significant because the markup is the only part of the cost that you can negotiate. As a result, this model has the best pricing for most merchants.

  • When you're quoted this rate, it will look something like this: 3% plus 15 cents. Remember, this is only the processor's markup; you still must pay the interchange and assessment fees. For example, if you have a retail business and you accept a rewards Visa in person using a chip card reader, the interchange fees might be 1.65% plus 10 cents. The card association fee for Visa would be an additional 0.15% plus 2 cents. Adding up all three costs, the full rate you would pay for this transaction would be 2.1% and 27 cents.

Tiered pricing: Though this is the most common pricing model, industry experts criticize its lack of transparency. Other names for this model include bundled or bucket pricing, because it attempts to bundle interchange fees, card-brand fees and markups and then segment transactions into tiers, or buckets. These tiers are often sorted into qualified, midqualified and nonqualified, with separate tiers for debit and credit card transactions.

The low teaser rates that many companies advertise are usually qualified debit transactions, which means they apply only to regular debit cards that you accept in person using a card reader. Midqualified transactions are usually rewards cards, and nonqualified transactions are most often business or foreign cards, though some also include premium rewards cards. Most merchant services offer three tiers, but some have as few as two or as many as six.

  • When you see this rate advertised, it looks something like this: 39% plus 21 cents. However, this rate is only for debit cards accepted in person, so if you accept a credit card, you'll pay a different rate, perhaps 1.59% plus 21 cents. If it's a rewards card, it would be downgraded from qualified to midqualified, which might add another 1% to the cost. So, for this example, the rate would be 2.59% and 21 cents.

If you're quoted tiered rates, it's important to ask how many tiers there are and which types of cards and acceptance methods apply to each. Make sure you know which types of cards your customers use most so you can judge whether this pricing model is cost-effective for your business. If the majority of your customers use regular debit cards and you accept cards in person, this processing model may be worth considering; otherwise, you should look for a processor that offers one of the other pricing models.

TipPro tip: If you go with a tiered pricing plan, make sure you find out how many tiers there are and which types of cards and payment methods apply to each tier.

Flat-rate pricing: Most of the merchant service companies that use this simple pricing model charge a single fixed percentage rate per transaction, though some also charge a per-transaction fee. This pricing model is popular with mobile merchant service providers, and it may be the most cost-effective option for small businesses that process less than $3,000 per month or have small tickets. This type of transaction rate is noticeably higher than those from the other two pricing models, but there usually are no other account fees; all you pay are the processing fees for each transaction, which is why it's such an attractive option for new and very small businesses.

  • When you see this rate advertised, it looks something like this: 75%. Using the above scenario with the rewards credit card, this is the processing fee you would pay. It is higher than the other two pricing models' fee percentages, but there aren't any other fees for your account, which may make it less expensive overall, depending on how much you process each month and what types of cards your customers prefer. The consistent rate makes it easy for you to calculate exactly how much you'll pay in processing fees each month.

2. Merchant Account Fees

In addition to the processing rates for each transaction, you'll pay account maintenance fees if you're working with a full-service merchant account provider or payment gateway service. These typically use the interchange-plus or tiered pricing models. Generally, providers that use the flat-rate processing model don't charge account maintenance fees.

When you ask about account fees, most sales reps will tell you about the monthly fee, but there are a lot of complaints online about surprise fees on credit card processing statements. For this reason, it's important to read the full contract (application, terms of service and program guide) to ensure you're aware of every fee.

Here are some of the fees most merchant services providers charge. For a detailed list of fees to look for as you read processing contracts, see our Credit Card Processing Fees: Small Business Guide.

  • Monthly fee: Most merchant service companies charge a monthly fee, sometimes called a statement fee, that covers the cost of preparing your monthly billing statement and providing customer support. This fee usually ranges from $5 to $15. Some providers may charge more if they roll other regular account fees into this charge.

  • Gateway fee: A payment gateway is necessary if you intend to accept credit cards online. Small business owners with online shops need a gateway because it encrypts and securely transmits credit card data from your website to the processor. Pricing varies; some processors charge a monthly fee of around $10 for this service, some charge a per-transaction fee ranging from 10 to 25 cents and some charge both.

  • PCI compliance fee: If you work with a standard processor that gives you your own merchant account, you're required to be PCI compliant. That designation means you adhere to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, which was developed to help merchants prevent data theft and fraud. Most processors that charge this fee offer to help you complete the annual questionnaire that is required to demonstrate your compliance. Your rep may call or email to remind you to take the assessment each year, or the processor may note it on your statement. On average, this fee is $99 annually.

  • PCI noncompliance fee: Even if the processor doesn't require you to pay an annual PCI compliance fee, it may charge you a monthly noncompliance fee if you fail to establish compliance by filling out the annual questionnaire. You can easily avoid this fee by staying up to date with your PCI responsibilities. This fee can be very high, ranging from $20 to $60 per month, as it is meant to discourage you from letting your PCI compliance lapse.

  • Charge-back fee: If a customer disputes a charge and requests their money back, the processor charges you this fee. Charge-back fees are usually $15 to $25. Charge-backs are more common when you accept credit cards online than in person, because typical reasons for charge-backs include delivery failures, technical errors, fraud and customer dissatisfaction. Another common cause of charge-backs is if your store name is different from the name on your merchant account and your customer doesn't recognize your merchant name on their credit card statement.

Some processors charge a setup fee or an application fee for your merchant account, a payment gateway setup fee to connect the payment gateway with your website, and an early-termination fee if you want to close your account before the contract's term expires. The best providers don't charge these fees, though, so you should ask to waive them if they're included in your quote or look for a provider that doesn't tack them on.

TipPro tip: Avoid merchant account providers that charge you fees for setup or application. The best providers won't hit you with these extra expenses.

3. Processing Equipment Costs

If you accept credit cards in person, you need to purchase a card reader or terminal. Here are the three most popular options:

  • Mobile card readers: This is the cheapest option, as many providers give you a free swiper when you sign up for an account. If you want to purchase a mobile card reader that also accepts EMV chip cards, contactless cards and mobile payments, it costs less than $100.

  • Credit card terminals: This is the midrange option. These devices cost $150 to $600, depending on whether you choose a countertop or wireless unit. They have built-in keypads and receipt printers, and all new models can accept both chip cards and contactless payments.

  • POS systems: This may be the most expensive option, but costs depend on the type of system you choose. Tablet POS systems are often the least-expensive and work with mobile card readers.

The most important thing to know about processing hardware is to avoid leasing it, because you can't cancel leasing contracts, and in most cases, you'll pay much more over the long term than you would to buy it upfront. It's enough of a problem that the Federal Trade Commission cautions against it, noting that businesses that lease may pay thousands of dollars for equipment that costs just a few hundred dollars.

Buying Guide

Features

Whether you work with a merchant services provider, a payment gateway provider or a credit card processing company that provides you with both a merchant account and a payment gateway, the company you choose should be up to date with industry standards and allow you to accept all major cards (American Express, Discover, Mastercard and Visa). Here are more qualities you should consider as you look for a merchant processor for your small business:

  • Pricing: The best service providers are transparent about pricing, either by clearly posting their rates, fees and processing hardware costs on their websites or by making it easy to get a quote from a company representative. Look for a merchant account service that offers interchange-plus pricing and doesn't charge setup fees, cancellation fees or nonstandard fees, like quarterly technology fees or semiannual postage and handling fees.

  • Contracts: Choose a service provider that offers month-to-month or pay-as-you-go terms so you can move on without penalty if you find a better deal elsewhere. Standard payment processing contracts have three-year terms and charge hefty early-termination fees; some even have liquidated damages clauses.

  • Scalability: As your business expands, you may want to accept credit cards online in addition to in-store and on the go, so look for a company that offers multiple ways to accept payments. You should also be able to add registers, or even locations, to your account.

  • Security: The credit card processing company providing your payment gateway and merchant account should comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. It should also help you become PCI compliant.

  • Processing hardware: The services provider should offer card readers or terminals that are EMV- and NFC-capable so you can securely accept chip cards, contactless cards and mobile payments such as Apple Pay and Google Pay. It should also allow you to purchase the hardware upfront so you can avoid bad leasing contracts and the headaches that come with them.

  • Integrations: If you have a website or use other business software – like an e-commerce platform, POS system, customer relationship management software or accounting software – you'll want a merchant account or payment gateway that integrates with those platforms so you can easily sync data instead of manually downloading and uploading it between systems.

  • Payouts: It's important to consider how and when you receive your money after a sale. Most service providers offer next-day funding, taking one or two days to deposit your money into your business bank account, and some can do it even faster, offering same-day or instant funding for a fee. Some providers give you the option of having your money loaded onto a business debit card.

  • Customer support: The company's customer service team should be readily accessible. The best providers offer 24/7 customer service so you can resolve issues no matter when you call.

  • Other benefits or service limitations: If there are certain features you need – for example, a virtual terminal so you can accept payments using a computer with internet access – make sure to look for them before selecting a processor. Also consider whether there are certain limitations, such as monthly processing limits or vendors that support only one acceptance method.

Payment Processing Contracts

The best merchant account contracts have month-to-month terms with no early-termination fees. However, the standard merchant account contract has a three-year term that automatically renews for an additional one or two years. If the processing service provider you want to work with has a lengthy contract, ask the sales rep if they can give you month-to-month terms. They want your business, and many are willing to negotiate.

With a standard merchant account contract, you have a very short window at the end of the term, usually 30 days, in which to cancel your account without penalty if you don't wish to renew. Most providers require you to submit a cancellation request in writing.

If you miss this window or decide to close your account early, the company charges you an early-termination fee, which is usually a few hundred dollars. Some contracts also have liquidated damages clauses, which can make it very expensive to get out of your contract.

No matter which service provider you choose, it's important to read the entire contract (the application, the terms of service and the program guide) before you sign anything or give the company your bank account and Social Security numbers. Be aware of all the fees listed in the contract, as you will be expected to pay them even if they weren't disclosed by a sales rep. If the sales rep offers to reduce or waive the term length or certain fees, get that in writing by amending the contract or receiving a written waiver.

TipPro tip: Avoid merchant account providers that try to lock you into a long-term contract. Most of our best picks charge you on a month-to-month basis.

Methodology

Our first step in choosing the best merchant services and payment gateway companies was to compile a list of providers. We considered credit card processing companies that small business owners told us they liked, companies that asked us to consider them, those we were already familiar with and those we found on well-known websites. This list of more than 100 payment processing providers included large banks and industry leaders, as well as small companies and those new to the industry.

We then researched the companies on our list by studying the information and resources on each one's website and began narrowing our list based on the criteria in the section below. Here are the 10 merchant account providers and payment gateway services we selected as our best picks: Fattmerchant, Square, Payment Depot, National Processing, Clover, ProMerchant, Merchant One, Flagship Merchant Services, Chase Merchant Services and Paysafe.

Frequently Asked Questions About Merchant Services

WHAT IS A MERCHANT ACCOUNT?

A merchant account is a type of bank account that allows you to accept payments from your customers using credit and debit cards. The credit card processing company sets it up for you and assigns you a merchant ID number (MID). Once you start accepting credit card payments, the company holds your funds until settlement, when they are transferred to your business bank account.

DO I NEED A MERCHANT ACCOUNT TO ACCEPT CREDIT CARDS?

If you sign up for a processing account with a payment facilitator (PayFac) or aggregator like Square or PayPal, you don't need your own merchant account. Instead, you sign up as a submerchant under the provider's master merchant account.

The benefit of working with a PayFac is that it's faster and easier to set up your account, service is provided on a pay-as-you-go basis and there are usually no account maintenance fees. But there are some limitations. Most aggregators don't work with high-risk merchants, so if your business is in a high-risk industry, you'll need to get your own merchant account. PayFacs are also more risk-averse than full-service payment processors, which means that your funds could be held if something about a transaction raises a red flag.

There are also some advantages of having your own merchant account. You can often get lower rates and better customer service, and the likelihood of having your money held or your account frozen is lower. There are account maintenance fees, but if your processing volume is high enough, they're offset by the lower transaction rates.

WHAT IS A PAYMENT GATEWAY?

A payment gateway is the technology that creates a secure connection between your website or browser and the credit card processing company, encrypting payment data for each credit card transaction. Some merchant service companies have proprietary payment gateways, but most set you up with a third-party payment gateway, such as the popular Authorize.net and NMI gateways.

The advantage of setting up a payment gateway through your merchant account provider is that it reduces the likelihood of compatibility issues and, in some cases, can be less expensive. For instance, you may not be required to pay a gateway setup fee if you go through your service provider instead of going direct. Also, depending on your processing contract, there may be an exclusivity clause that requires you to go through your merchant account provider.

HOW DOES A PAYMENT GATEWAY WORK?

Each time you run a transaction online or a customer makes a purchase on your website, the credit card information enters the payment gateway, where it's encrypted and routed through a secure connection to the credit card processor, the card network, the bank that issued the card and your business's bank account. Your customer's card is charged for the transaction amount, and you receive the funds from the sale, minus the processing costs.

DO I NEED BOTH A MERCHANT ACCOUNT AND A PAYMENT GATEWAY?

It depends. If you want to accept credit cards online and in person, you will need both a merchant account and a payment gateway. If you exclusively accept credit and debit cards using a credit card terminal, you won't need a payment gateway. But you will need one if you use your computer as a virtual terminal or accept cards through your website.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF ACCEPTING CREDIT CARDS ONLINE?

The main benefit of accepting credit cards online is that it gives you more ways to accept payments from your customers. According to Visa, "78% of consumers surveyed rank a digital payment method, such as paying with a card or mobile device, as their No. 1 preferred payment option."

Even a business that has brick-and-mortar locations – whether it's a retail store, restaurant, office, salon or other type of establishment – may benefit from accepting credit cards online, as Visa notes that "52% of consumers surveyed say they would prefer to shop exclusively online."

Merchant account providers offer several e-commerce solutions that can help you accept credit cards online, such as hosted payment pages, buy buttons and forms that can be added to existing websites, and integrations with e-commerce platforms. Some can also help you accept payments from customers through your social media pages.

If your business invoices its customers, you can use online invoicing to make it easy for them to pay you on time. All they'll have to do to pay you is click a link in the invoice and enter their credit card information. Many payment processors can also help you accept ACH payments if your customers prefer to pay invoices by e-check.

HOW CAN YOU AVOID CREDIT CARD PROCESSING FEES?

Because credit card processing fees are how credit card companies generate revenue, it's extremely unlikely you'll ever be able to avoid the added cost. Through negotiation during the initial application process, however, you can attempt to ensure the rate is favorable.

There are also other ways you can offset your credit card processing fees. For example, some businesses push the fees onto the customer in the form of a surcharge or offer a small discount to customers who pay with cash. This tactic is generally seen at gas stations, where it costs more to pay with a credit card than with cash. While this method eliminates the credit card processing fee levied against your business, it could be a double-edged sword because it could push credit card users away from your business. The credit card networks have strict rules around surcharging, so make sure your policy is in line with their recommendations. [Read related article: The Truth About Free Credit Card Processing]

Alternatively, you can set a minimum purchase amount for all credit card transactions. By requiring a purchase of $5 or $10 for each credit card purchase, you can ensure that the transaction is worth paying the credit card processing fee. This option is widely used by many businesses, since it's an easily understood rule for customers and doesn't feel as punitive as other options. The credit card networks have rules about minimum purchase amounts as well, so again, it's important to make sure that your policy complies with their guidelines.

In both instances, you could alienate potential customers who only carry credit cards. The number of people who don't carry cash is growing, so you ultimately have to weigh the potential savings on credit card fees against the risk of losing sales.

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO OPEN A MERCHANT ACCOUNT?

When signing up for a merchant account, you should have several things on hand to make the process move smoothly. Most credit card processing companies require some general information on your business so they can determine whether it is a high or low risk.

The business's risk level depends on factors such as the business's potential to be a victim of credit card fraud or a high rate of return. The payment processor also considers how long the business has been in operation, since it's harder to lend money to what may amount to a fly-by-night operation. [Read related article: Credit Card Processing in High-Risk Industries]

Most payment processors also want information on the business's history, including any bankruptcies, defaults or previous merchant accounts on its record. In addition, most processors want information on the business owner, including their personal credit history, as many contracts require the business owner to sign a personal guarantee.

Some merchant account providers charge fees for the application or setup, but this is unusual among the best processors. You may want to consider other options if the company charges these fees. [Read related article: The Ultimate Small Business Guide to Credit Card Processing Fees]

What to Expect in 2021

Improving the customer experience will remain a top priority in 2021 for those in the payment industry. Giving people the ability to pay when, where and how they want will be merchant service providers' focus in the coming year, especially because more business has shifted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's not enough anymore to just offer payment solutions that are tailored to consumers; now, payments need to be taken right to them," Michel Léger, executive vice president of innovation at Ingenico, said in a statement.

A recent Ekata survey of more than 7,000 consumers throughout North America and Europe revealed that 92% expect a secure, fast and frictionless payment experience, while 70% believe that online shopping account creation should be instantaneous.

To support those desires, mobile payments will continue to be paramount for merchant service providers. Finding better ways to support mobile shopping, mobile wallets and mobile checkouts will be a top priority for payment providers this year.

Recent research from Adobe found that 37% of purchases on Cyber Monday in 2020 were made on mobile devices, CNBC reported.

In addition to accepting mobile payments, you should focus on finding ways to let your customers pay with mobile wallets and contactless cards that use near-field communication (NFC) technology in 2021, as this type of payment is growing in popularity. According to CPA Practical Advisor, digital payments are poised to hit $6.6 trillion during 2021 and reach $10.5 trillion in the next four years.

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo
business.com Staff
See Donna Fuscaldo's Profile
Donna Fuscaldo is a senior finance writer at business.com and has more than two decades of experience writing about business borrowing, funding, and investing for publications including the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, Bankrate, Investopedia, Motley Fool, and Foxbusiness.com. Most recently she was a senior contributor at Forbes covering the intersection of money and technology before joining business.com. Donna has carved out a name for herself in the finance and small business markets, writing hundreds of business articles offering advice, insightful analysis, and groundbreaking coverage. Her areas of focus at business.com include business loans, accounting, and retirement benefits.

Other Services Considered

FIS, the result of a 2019 merger between Worldpay and FIS, Vantiv and FIS (Fidelity Information Services), a leading technology provider for financial institutions, is one of the largest credit card processors in the world.

Although FIS is a giant in the payments industry that works with large corporations like banks and ISO/MSP processing companies, it also works directly with small businesses. It offers every form of processing, including omnichannel solutions, and tech savvy businesses can use its developer tools to create custom integrations. It also has very competitive rates and a one-year contract that you can cancel without penalty when you provide 30 days' written notice. For these reasons, we selected FIS as the best direct processor for small businesses. 

 

Editor's note: Looking for information on credit card processing? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you with the information you need: 

 

 

Visit our best picks page to see all of our recommendations for credit card processing companies. If you're looking for the processor with the lowest overall pricing, see our pick for the best credit card processing company for small businesses. 

Pricing and Terms

FIS doesn't post its pricing on its website, so you'll need to call the company and speak with a sales rep or fill out the "build a quote" questionnaire to receive a pricing quote via email. 

When we called FIS, posing as a small business owner with a retail store, the sales rep quoted us both interchange-plus and flat rates. We didn't have to specifically request interchange-plus, and the rep recommended this pricing model for us as it would be less expensive. This is impressive – especially from a large processor – as most prefer to set you up with tiered pricing. Industry experts recommend interchange-plus pricing because it is more transparent than other pricing models ‒ the markup percentage and per-transaction fee you pay the processor is the same no matter what type of credit and debit cards you accept. 

Here's what we were quoted. 

  • Interchange-plus rate: 0.20% + $0.10 above interchange
  • Flat rate: 2.75% + $0.15 

Credit Card Processing Fees

There aren't any additional fees for the flat-rate pricing model, but FIS charges a monthly fee for its interchange-plus plan, as do most full-service processors. The contract also notes a monthly chargeback service fee, which is somewhat irregular. If you have two or fewer chargebacks per year, your overall monthly fees are around $20 per month, which is an average dollar amount for total monthly fees. However, if you have more than two chargebacks each year, the monthly rate is higher than average. Most service providers don't charge this fee but instead have a chargeback fee – usually around $25 – that they charge on a per-incidence basis. 

Here are the recurring fees you'll pay if you choose the interchange-plus plan:

  • Monthly fee, which includes PCI compliance support: $5.95 (the rep said this was discounted from the regular amount of $24.95)
  • Monthly minimum: $25
  • Monthly chargeback fee: $10 to $50. The amount you pay for this fee is based on the number of chargebacks you have within a year. If you've had no chargebacks, it costs $10 per month. One or two chargebacks cost $15 per month. Three or four chargebacks cost $20 per month and so on up to $50 per month when you have 22 to 25 chargebacks within a year. If you have 26 or more chargebacks within a year, you're charged $25 each instead of the monthly fee 

Here are the fees you won't pay with FIS:

  • No application or setup fee
  • No early termination or account closure fee when you give 30 days' notice
  • No PCI compliance fee
  • No annual fee
  • No batch fee 

Like most processors, FIS charges some incidental fees on a per-occurrence basis. Here are some examples:

  • Voice authorization or voice address verification services (AVS) fee: $0.60 per occurrence. These are charged when you call the processor to authorize a charge or to verify that the address a cardholder gives you matches the billing address the card issuer has on file.
  • Retrieval fee: $2.50 per occurrence. This is charged when a customer's bank requests additional documentation for a specific charge, usually before initiating a chargeback.
  • Nonsufficient funds: $15 per occurrence. If there's not enough money in your bank account when the company withdraws your regular fees, you'll pay this fee.
  • PCI noncompliance fee: $19.95 per month. The sales rep noted that this is a fee you should never pay, as the company helps you achieve and maintain compliance with the Payment Card Industry's data security standards (PCI DSS). 

Payouts

FIS deposits the processed money from your transactions into your business bank account within one to three business days. The industry average is two business days. If you need to receive your money faster, the processor has a FastAccess Funding program for qualified merchants. With this program, your money is deposited daily – including weekends and holidays – and is accessible with a debit card that it provides. 

Terms

It's important to read through your contract (application, terms of service and program guide) to verify that the rates, fees and terms you were quoted are noted on the application, amended in the contract, or that you receive a written waiver. 

The initial term we were quoted in our testing is for one year, with no cancellation fee if we provide 30 days' written notice. The standard contract has a three-year term that automatically renews with additional one-year terms and requires 90 days' notice before the term expires to cancel your account. The standard contract also has an early termination fee of $495 per location plus liquidated damages (as stated, with the one-year contract, this fee is waived with 30 days' written notice). 

Features

FIS sets you up with a merchant account that lets you accept all major credit and debit cards wherever you do business, whether that's in a brick-and-mortar store or office, on the go at offsite locations or events, on your website, or over the phone.

Here are some of the features FIS offers. 

Processing Equipment Option

You can purchase a terminal or mobile card reader from FIS, and options include models from top brands such as Ingenico, Verifone and PAX. When we called, the sales rep offered us a free EMV-compliant Verifone terminal with no contractual obligations or additional fees. 

Payment Gateway

As one of the world's largest payment processing companies, it's no surprise that it has its own online payment gateway. FIS Gateway Services can be used for both mobile and online transactions. It supports more than 300 types of international payments so your customers can make online payments in their local currencies, which may be an important consideration for global e-commerce businesses. Hosted payment pages are available, as are integrations. 

Integrations

FIS has more than 1,000 software integrations, so chances are good that it will integrate with your accounting software, e-commerce platforms, shopping carts and point-of-sale systems. This payment processing company doesn't resell POS systems but integrates with hundreds of them, including popular options like Vend, ShopKeep and Lightspeed, so in most instances, you can continue using FIS as your processor. 

Virtual Terminal

You'll need FIS's virtual terminal if you want to process payments using your computer, such as for credit cards you key in when accepting orders over the phone, accepting ACH payments and setting up recurring payments. You'll also need virtual terminal access if you want to use a mobile card reader with your phone or tablet. 

Level II and III Payment Processing Solutions

Businesses with B2B and government customers that collect additional payment details – such as the information typically included on purchase orders and invoices – may qualify for lower interchange fees, which can save you money when you're accepting large payments on corporate credit cards. 

Reporting

FIS's reporting tools are available through Vantiv iQ, the processor's online self-service platform. With it, you can see your sales data in real time, displayed as colorful graphs on the dashboard. You can also generate reports, set alerts and have your sales data sent to you daily by text or email. 

Developer Tools

If you have developers on staff and want to create a custom payment integration for your website or mobile app, FIS offers multiple tools, including APIs and SDKs with documentation, sample code, developer sandboxes and simulated test environments. It also has a community forum and a developer's blog with payments technology articles, such as a how-to guide for adding Apple Pay to your mobile app and top trends for internet of thing payments. 

Additional Considerations

Here's some additional information about FIS to keep in mind as you look for the best credit card processor for your business. 

Application Process

After you call for a quote, the sales rep sends you a link to an online application. After you fill it out and submit a voided business check, it takes between 24 and 48 hours for the company to approve your application and set up your account. It then ships your terminal and can send it overnight, if needed. 

Security

Data security is a top concern for payment solutions providers. FIS has multiple security protocols in place to help you keep your customers' sensitive payment data safe. It uses point-to-point encryption that prevents hackers from accessing card data as it travels from your system to the processor and tokenization that replaces card details with randomly generated tokens. It requires you to be PCI compliant, and sells EMV-compliant credit card terminals so you can accept chip cards properly and avoid counterfeit fraud liability. 

To help you achieve and maintain PCI compliance, FIS includes its OmniShield Assure program as part of your monthly fee. The sales rep we spoke with explained that the company proactively helps its merchants achieve and maintain PCI compliance. Your rep can help you if you need assistance filling out the annual questionnaire, and the company provides quarterly scans to ensure your system complies with PCI data security standards. It also includes breach insurance that covers up to $100,000 of your liability, should you experience a data breach. 

Customer Service

FIS provides its merchants with 24/7/365 customer support across multiple channels, including phone, live chat, email and online contact forms. When we called the credit card processing company, posing as a small business retailer, the sales rep we spoke with was eager to work with us and offered interchange-plus rates and favorable terms. After our call, she followed up with us quickly, with a link to an application that included the rates she quoted us and terms of service for us to review. 

The company's website is searchable, and you can find educational articles about credit card processing and detailed information about the services FIS provides. You can also visit the subscription center to sign up for newsletters, product updates, promotions and information about events the company is hosting or attending. On its support page, you'll find phone numbers, login links and support guides for its online payment gateway. If you stumble across the old Vantiv support page, you'll find a searchable knowledgebase and a link to a merchant support video library. FIS merchants can also find guides and user training on the iQ reporting platform. 

Limitations

The company's online presence continues to be split between FIS and Vantiv websites, which is somewhat confusing – especially when you're redirected from one site to another. However, both sites appear to be maintained and up to date. Vantiv site's logo has been updated with the tagline "Now FIS," which is useful information for small business owners redirected from the FIS site. 

The chargeback service fee that the processor charges monthly instead of a per-incidence chargeback fee may be an extra expense for some companies. For example, if you average two chargebacks per year, you pay $10 per month, totaling $120 per year, which is more expensive than the $25 per incidence, totaling $50 per year, that most processors charge. 

The company doesn't post its rates, fees or equipment pricing. Although the sales rep we spoke with offered us competitive rates, favorable terms and a free terminal, we recognize that others may have a different experience, depending on the sales rep they speak with.

Editor's note: Looking for the right credit card processor for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

Small and midsize businesses in the retail sector often process a high volume of transactions each month and, therefore, have ample choices when it comes to credit card processing companies. Even large processors that typically work with corporations and financial institutions compete for this market segment and are willing to offer favorable terms and competitive pricing.

Before its merger with Fiserv this year, First Data was already one of the biggest credit card processing companies in the world. It provides its processing services to more than 6 million business locations in 118 countries. It processes more than 3,000 transactions per second, amounting to more than 33 billion transactions per year. Annually, these transactions are worth $2.6 trillion.

Fiserv works with businesses of all sizes, from startups to multinational corporations, and across nearly every industry, including retail, food and beverage, and professional services. It also owns the Clover brand of point-of-sale systems, which is sold by more than 3,000 Fiserv resellers nationwide.

Pricing and Terms

Fiserv doesn't post its rates, fees and contract terms on its website, which is inconvenient for merchants wanting to shop around for a good deal online without calling companies. However, this is a fairly common practice among large, full-service processors, as many prefer to customize quotes to prospective merchants, considering factors such as industry, monthly processing volume, and sales ticket averages to calculate your rates.

The company does post its flat-rate pricing on the Clover website, and those are the rates we were quoted when we reached out to the company, posing as a small business owner.

Flat-Rate Pricing

This pricing model can be the best option for small businesses that have a lower monthly processing volume and new businesses that don't yet know what their processing average will be. Like other flat-rate plans, Fiserv's flat rate includes all fees – which can save you money if you don't process a high volume of credit card sales each month. The caveat is that Fiserv expects its small business customers to use Clover, so there is a fee for the Clover point-of-sale software.

There are two flat-rate plans. The one you use depends on the Clover POS software you use.

Clover Register POS

  • In-person transactions: 2.3% +$0.10
  • Online and keyed-in transactions: 3.5% + $0.10
  • Monthly fee for Clover Register software: $29

Clover Register Lite POS

  • In-person transactions: 2.7% + $0.10
  • Online and keyed-in transactions: 3.5% + $0.10
  • Monthly fee for Clover Register Lite software: $14

Interchange-Plus Pricing

Industry experts prefer this pricing model for its transparency, and for most businesses, this is the most cost-effective plan. The rep we spoke with said he could provide us with interchange-plus rates, but only if we could provide a statement. If you're currently processing and willing to provide the company with a statement, you may be able to receive an interchange-plus pricing quote and negotiate lower rates than we received in our testing, depending on the specifics of your business.

Like most full-service merchant account providers, Fiserv charges account service fees with its interchange-plus plans. You may be able to negotiate with your sales rep to waive some of them. Fees include the following:

  • Application fee. When we last reviewed the company, we were initially quoted $149 for this fee, but the sales rep later offered to waive it for us.
  • Cancellation fee. All standard contracts include an early termination fee, but the sales rep we spoke with was willing to waive it.
  • Monthly statement fee. At our last review, we were quoted $5.95 for this fee, but it's also negotiable.
  • Monthly minimum. This amount is based on the processing rates and fees you pay the processor for the credit card transactions you process each month. Fiserv's minimum is $25, which is on par with what most companies charge.
  • PCI compliance fee. Fiserv doesn't charge this fee but instead charges you $19.95 per month for the TransArmor security solution, which includes tools to help you achieve and maintain PCI compliance. This is higher than the $99 annual fee that most processors charge for PCI compliance, so you should try to negotiate a lower rate.

Contract

With the flat-rate plan, the terms of the contract depend on the Clover subscription you choose. Terms vary, so you should ask your sales rep about the availability of month-to-month terms. Be aware that if you decide to lease your processing equipment or POS hardware, you'll also have a noncancelable leasing contract. Leasing contracts are notorious in this industry; whenever possible, you should purchase processing equipment upfront to avoid them.

With the interchange-plus plan, Fiserv's standard contract has lengthy terms that automatically renew and have an expensive termination fee if you choose to close your account before the term expires. However, better terms are available if you ask. When you call for a price quote, don't be afraid to ask for month-to-month terms with no cancellation fee.

The rep will send you a pre-application form that asks for information about your business before providing you with the full contract to review. The rep we spoke with noted that we didn't need to sign it or provide our personal information (bank account and Social Security numbers).

When you receive the merchant application, be aware that this is part of the contract and by signing it, you're actually signing the contract. Make sure you receive the other parts of the contract as well – the terms and conditions and the program guide – and read them. You want to verify that the rates and fees you were quoted match those on the application, that you're aware of all possible fees, and that you understand the cancellation policy.

Also make sure you have a written waiver or that the contract was updated to reflect reduced or waived fees that the rep promised you. As with any processing contract, you don't want to sign it or provide your bank account and Social Security numbers until you've read the full contract and understand your obligations. 

Features

As a full-service payment processing company, Fiserv can help you accept credit and debit cards across multiple channels so you can sell your products in your brick-and-mortar store, on your website, over the phone, and on the go. You can also accept paper checks, ACH payments and gift cards. It offers loyalty programs that you can use to offer incentives to your regular customers. 

Multiple Processing Equipment Options

Fiserv offers its Clover line of processing equipment to its small business merchants. There are several options, ranging from Clover Go, a mobile credit card reader that plugs into your phone or tablet, to Clover Station, a full-featured POS system that includes a monitor, card reader and printer. Every option allows you to accept multiple types of credit and debit payments, including magnetic stripe, chip, and contactless cards as well as mobile wallets like Google Pay and Apple Pay.

As with its processing fees, Fiserv doesn't post hardware pricing on its main website (the old First Data website now titled "First Data is now Fiserv") but is visible on the Clover website. As mentioned in the pricing section above, you can purchase processing equipment upfront or installment plans. Leasing is also available, but you should avoid this option, as it's more expensive over the long term and the contract is noncancelable.

Security

EMV and PCI compliance are the two main security factors to look for in a credit card processor. No matter what type of processing hardware you choose, it should be EMV compliant so you can accept chip credit cards properly and avoid liability for counterfeit fraud occurring at the point of sale. All of Fiserv's Clover processing equipment is now EMV compliant.

If you have a merchant account, you're required to be PCI compliant. Fiserv helps you establish PCI compliance using its TransArmor security software and charges a monthly fee for it. The software simplifies PCI compliance with its PCI Rapid Comply questionnaire wizard and prevents fraud using tokenization to encrypt each transaction, ensuring sensitive credit and debit card data is safely transmitted to the processor and never stored in your system. It also monitors your hardware and software for tampering and includes a $100,000 liability waiver against card association costs that could be incurred if your data is breached. As with any processing service, you need to keep your PCI compliance current to avoid expensive noncompliance fees.

Customer Service

Fiserv's customer service team is available 24/7 by phone or over live chat during extended business hours. You can also email the company. If you prefer to find the information you're looking for online, you can search the company's knowledgebase. Fiserv also provides webinars, whitepapers, newsletters, videos and infographics, which are useful if you want to learn about Fiserv, Clover or processing topics like fraud prevention. 

Additional Considerations

Fiserv works with nearly every business type, and industry-specific solutions are available for businesses in healthcare, corporate billing, financial analysis, gambling and gaming, government, and education. Here are some of the programs it offers:

  • First Data Salutes is a companywide program that supports the military community with career opportunities and business solutions. The Military Times magazine and other organizations have recognized Fiserv as a top veteran employer. It provides a free Clover Mini POS device to its new merchants who are veterans or military spouses.
  • Fiserv merchants who use Clover processing equipment can accept credit card payments via Alipay, a popular Chinese payment app. Businesses in tourist towns or near travel destinations that have a lot of Chinese travelers can use this feature to cater to a growing customer segment.

Limitations

Because it has millions of merchant customers, Fiserv – under the First Data name – has a lot of negative reviews. Many of the complaints are due to its equipment leasing division, First Data Global Leasing, which has lengthy, noncancelable contracts. Other complaints are from merchants who were surprised to see more fees on their bills than they bargained for, claiming that sales reps didn't disclose them.

You can avoid these problems by purchasing your equipment rather than leasing it and reading the full contract before you sign up with Fiserv (or any other processing service). This is important, because it's the only way you can verify that the waivers you were promised are documented, that you're aware of all rates and fees, and that you know how long the term is and how to cancel without penalty if you choose to do so. 

Here are some additional drawbacks to keep in mind before signing up with this company:

  • Even though Fiserv offers its services to small businesses and is very interested in working with this market segment, small businesses that have a low processing volume may find less expensive processing services elsewhere. Experienced merchants with higher processing volumes may be able to negotiate better rates, fewer fees and month-to-month terms.
  • Although you need to review the contract in full before filling out Fiserv's application, you may need to fill out the company's pre-application form to get it, according to the reps we spoke with. One noted that we could withhold our personal information (bank account and Social Security numbers) but did need to provide business information.
  • You can't find Fiserv's interchange-plus pricing online, which is inconvenient if you want to see whether it's in your price range. You'll need to call the company for a pricing quote specific to your business, though you can also use Fiserv's live chat service if you're more comfortable with that communication channel.

 

Stripe

We chose Stripe as the best credit card processor for online businesses because of its versatility. It integrates with hundreds of e-commerce platforms, shopping carts, and other business software and services. It has prebuilt checkout forms that can easily embed into an existing website. For businesses with development resources, Stripe offers APIs and developer tools that allow you to create custom checkout forms or entire payment flows for your website and mobile app.

Pricing and Terms

The best online credit card processing companies have clear, transparent pricing and terms of service. Stripe is a good example of this, as it posts detailed information about its rates and transaction fees, and you can read all of its service agreements on its website.

Stripe has simple flat-rate pricing and charges very few fees. There's no additional cost to use Stripe's integrations, prebuilt checkout form or developer tools.

Here's what you'll pay when you accept credit card payments online using Stripe Payments:

Accepting Online Payments

  • 9% + $0.30 for domestic credit and debit card payments, no matter what type or brand of card your customer uses, or if they use a digital wallet.

  • 8% with a $5 cap for ACH debit transfers. Stripe also allows you to accept ACH credit and wire transfers, and you can view pricing for these payment methods on the company's website.

Accepting In-Person Credit Card Payments Using Stripe Terminal

  • 7% + $0.05 per transaction, regardless of card type or brand.

Stripe offers volume discounts for businesses that process more than $100,000 per month, and custom pricing is available for businesses that have microtransactions or abnormally large sales tickets. Nonprofits may qualify for special pricing.

These are some of the incidental fees you may encounter while using Stripe:

  • If you need an instant payout, it costs 1%, with a minimum fee of 50 cents.

  • If you accept international cards, you add 1% to the transaction rate, and if currency conversion is necessary, it costs an additional 1%.

  • If a customer disputes a charge and requests a payment reversal, you pay a $15 chargeback fee. If the dispute is resolved in your favor, however, Stripe refunds this fee, which most processors don't do.

  • If you issue a refund, there's no fee, but it doesn't return the original processing fee to you.

Here's a list of the fees you won't pay when you use Stripe as your online payment processing company:

  • No application or setup fee
  • No monthly fees for statements or customer service
  • No monthly minimum processing requirement
  • No payment gateway setup fee
  • No monthly payment gateway fee
  • No annual fee
  • No PCI compliance fee
  • No early termination or account closure fee

Optional Fees

Stripe offers several other products, such as Stripe Billing, Stripe Connect, Radar for Fraud Teams, Stripe Sigma and Stripe Atlas. If you choose to use them, other fees apply. You can learn more about these products and what they cost on the company's website.

Payouts

Once you begin accepting credit card payments using Stripe, you must wait seven to 14 days for the company to transfer the money from your transactions into your bank account. After this initial payout, your funds are transferred on a rolling schedule.

Most businesses are on the two-day rolling schedule – which is an average amount of time – but if Stripe considers your business to be a higher risk, you may be placed on a seven- or even 14-day schedule.

If your cash flow is often tight and you need to receive your money faster, instant payouts are available for 1% (with a minimum fee of 50 cents).

Terms of Service

Stripe Payments offers its services on a pay-as-you-go basis, so you can close your account at any time without incurring high early termination fees. Instead of signing a multiyear contract, you accept a service agreement that you can read in full on the company's website. As with all payment processing companies, you should take the time to read this document before signing up with the company to make sure it's a good fit for your business and you understand what you're agreeing to.

Like many processors that offer flat-rate pricing with few fees, Stripe doesn't provide you with your own merchant account, setting you up as a submerchant under its master merchant account instead. This has some advantages, such as faster account setup that doesn't require a credit check and simplified PCI compliance with no related fees. However, Stripe and other merchant aggregators receive a lot of complaints online about frozen funds and sudden account terminations. You can reduce your chances of experiencing these issues by reading the service agreement and complying with its terms.

Make sure that:

  • Your business type and the products and services you sell aren't on Stripe's list of prohibited businesses.
  • You use Stripe's services as they're intended to be used. For example, you can't use Stripe Dashboard as a virtual terminal except in rare circumstances. Using it in this manner on a regular basis is specifically forbidden in the service agreement.
  • You comply with network rules and do your part to keep card data secure, in accordance with PCI standards.

As the company explained in a letter to the Better Business Bureau, per its service agreement, Stripe reserves the right to hold your funds in a reserve account if it suspects a risk of loss or fraud, or if you have a lot of chargebacks. It may close your account if it determines your business is a fraud or credit risk, if you offer products or services on its prohibited businesses list, use the service in an unauthorized way, or violate terms of the agreement.

Features

Stripe says that it offers more than 100 features, and this wealth of capabilities allows many different business types and sizes to use Stripe as their online payment processing service. You can choose from premade solutions that you connect to with just a few clicks or payment flows custom-built by your development team.

Stripe is regularly updated, and each month the company posts a changelog on its blog that shows new features or improvements to its existing capabilities.

Here are some of the products and features Stripe offers.

Integrations

The easiest way to use Stripe is to connect to it from one of the business applications you already use. Stripe offers hundreds of integrations across multiple categories, so you can start accepting payments quickly, then automatically sync your sales data to the other programs you use. For example, if you use an e-commerce platform for your online store, you can choose Stripe as your payment processor and connect to your account with just a few clicks. You can then connect your Stripe account to many of the other programs you already use, such as your accounting, invoicing, inventory management, CRM and email marketing software. Plugins for third-party services are also available.

Checkout

The second easiest way to use Stripe is to embed Stripe Checkout, a premade checkout form, into your existing website. To do this, you copy and paste a few lines of JavaScript. The form redirects the customer to a Stripe-hosted payment page that you can customize with your branding and product images. Checkout is PCI compliant and tokenizes your customers' payment data so it's never stored on your server.

Stripe Elements

If you have some coding skills, you can use Stripe's prebuilt UI elements – input fields and buttons – to create a custom checkout form that complements the look and feel of your website. Like Stripe Checkout, Elements is PCI compliant, and Stripe takes care of the heavy back-end coding – all you're doing is customizing the look and format of the checkout form.

Stripe.js

This method for using Stripe to accept payments on your website requires more development know-how, as it allows you to use Stripe's JavaScript library and APIs to build a checkout form of your own.

Stripe Billing

This API allows you to customize a solution for recurring payments and subscription billing. You can decide how to charge customers, such as with a flat recurring fee or based on their product usage or tier, and how frequently you bill them. You can also offer discounts and trial periods.

It has a customer portal that your customers can use to manage their billing details themselves – which saves you time, since your customers can check their billing histories, upgrade or downgrade their subscriptions, cancel their subscriptions, and update their payment methods without your help.

This is a prebuilt solution, which means it's easy to set up, and Stripe hosts it to keep it secure. You can customize it to match your brand by adding your logo, brand color, and accent color, and you can add links to helpful information on your website, such as your terms of service.

Stripe Connect

Stripe can provide payment services for marketplaces and platforms – onboarding users, managing payments, handling compliance issues, tax reporting and more.

Stripe Terminal

You can now use Stripe to accept credit card payments in person. You can integrate Stripe Terminal into your existing checkout flow, or use its SDKs to create your own mobile or web-based app. The company offers two card readers to use with this payment method. Both are EMV-certified and support chip cards and contactless payments, including mobile wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay.

  • The BBPOS Chipper 2X BT, which costs $59, is a mobile card reader that uses Bluetooth to connects to smartphones and tablets.
  • Verifone P400, which costs $299, is a countertop credit card terminal.

Mobile Payment Options

If you have a mobile app, you can boost sales by adding in-app payments, letting your customers shop and complete purchases with it. Stripe payments are currently supported on iOS and Android devices.

Digital Wallet Support

Stripe allows you to accept payments from digital wallets. In addition to Apple Pay and Google Pay, it supports Visa Checkout, Masterpass by Mastercard, Amex Express Checkout, Microsoft Pay, Alipay and WeChat Pay.

International Currency Support

For businesses with customers outside the U.S., Stripe is a good option because it allows your customers to pay with their local currency. Stripe then converts it, so you receive your funds in your currency. It supports more than 135 currencies.

Dashboard App

Available for both Android phones and iPhones, the Stripe Dashboard app allows you to track your sales when you're away from the office. You can issue refunds, set alerts, and view daily summaries, reports and historical comparisons on the Android version. On the Apple version, you can also email customers, search transactions and create new customer subscriptions. 

Reporting

You can view your sales data and account balance history in the dashboard. It has several built-in reports, and you can export your data to CSV files. If you integrate Stripe with other programs, such as your accounting software, it automatically syncs to that application. If you want advanced reporting capabilities, you can use Stripe Sigma for an extra cost.

Additional Considerations

Here's some additional information about Stripe to keep in mind as you select a payment processing company for your business.

Security

Stripe takes data security seriously and has multiple security protocols in place to keep your customers' payment data secure. It uses tokenization technology, so no actual payment data is stored on your servers, and includes Radar, its fraud-prevention tool, with every account.

PCI Compliance

Stripe is a PCI Service Provider Level 1, the highest certification available, but you still have to comply with PCI data security standards and complete a self-assessment each year. It doesn't charge a PCI compliance fee.

Customer Support

If you need help using Stripe, you can email the company or use its online resources, which include searchable documentation, reference guides, articles, tutorials and FAQs.

Limitations

Stripe is unique in that it's designed for developers. While this is one of the reasons it's such a versatile product, it can be overwhelming for small business owners who aren't developers. Even figuring out how to use Stripe and where to find its easy-to-use products, such as its integrations and Stripe Checkout, is challenging, and you may need to hire a developer if you want any customizations.

Stripe doesn't provide inbound phone support. If you run into a problem while using the service, you'll have to email the company.

As discussed above, Stripe is like other merchant aggregators in that it's wary of risk compared to full-service processors. It may hold your funds or close your account if you have a lot of chargebacks or there's something irregular about your transactions, such as an abnormally high sales ticket, that makes Stripe suspect fraudulent activity.

 
 
 

Payline provides cost-effective credit card processing solutions with no lengthy contracts to businesses of all sizes. It has multiple plans, each featuring interchange-plus pricing with rates transparently posted on its website. Custom solutions are also available. Payline offers in-store, online, mobile and ACH payment processing, subscription billing services and more. Read Review.

PayPal is one of the few processors that allows both businesses and individuals to accept payments, making it a popular choice for freelancers, consultants, solopreneurs, and other very small businesses. It has flat-rate pricing and no contract, so you only pay for the processing services you use, and you can close your account at any time without paying a penalty. For these reasons, it's our pick as the best credit card processor for businesses with low sales volume.

Pricing and Terms

If your business doesn't accept many credit card payments each month, you may find it expensive to work with a full-service processor that has a monthly minimum processing requirement and a handful of regular fees, such as monthly statement and gateway fees and an annual PCI compliance fee. Choosing a processor like PayPal that has flat-rate pricing and pay-as-you-go terms can save you money, since you'll only pay for the processing you use.

PayPal is very transparent with its pricing; you can find all of its rates and fees posted on its website. Here's what you'll pay when you accept credit cards using PayPal:

Accepting credit card payments in person using PayPal Here

  • 7% of each transaction for credit cards, debit cards, and contactless payments you accept in person using the PayPal Here app and a card reader. The rate is the same, no matter what type of credit or debit card your customer uses – including mobile wallets like Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay.

  • 5% + $0.15 of each transaction for the credit and debit cards you manually key or scan in using the PayPal Here app. If you don't yet have a card reader and need to accept credit card payments, you'll pay this higher rate.

To promote its QR code payments, PayPal is charging a reduced rate of 2.2% of each QR code transaction until March 31, 2021. After that, these transactions will cost 2.7% like other card-present transactions.

Accepting payments online or by invoice

  • 9% + $0.30 of each online transaction for credit and debit cards you accept through your website or digital invoice.

Accepting credit and debit card payments using a virtual terminal

  • 1% + $0.30 of each transaction for the Visa, Mastercard and Discover payment cards you accept using PayPal's virtual terminal (such as payments you accept over the phone, by fax or by mail).

  • 5% of each transaction for the American Express cards you accept using PayPal's virtual terminal, PayPal Payments Advanced or PayPal Payments Pro.

You'll notice that PayPal's transaction fees are somewhat higher than those of full-service processors. However, it's still more cost-effective if your monthly processing volume is low, because you aren't paying account fees. If you use a full-service processor, you pay around $20 per month in account maintenance fees and have a monthly minimum of $25, which can be difficult to meet if you process less than $2,500 per month.

Here are the fees you won't pay using PayPal:

  • No application fee or setup fee
  • No monthly fee for statements and customer support
  • No monthly minimum processing requirement
  • No gateway setup fee
  • No annual fee
  • No annual or monthly PCI compliance fee
  • No early termination or account closure fee

Incidental and Optional Fees

PayPal offers some additional services that cost extra. For example, if you need the money from your transactions immediately, you can pay 1% for an instant transfer from your PayPal balance to your bank account. Regular bank transfers are free and usually take one business day.

Here are some more optional services that carry fees:

  • Chargebacks: $20 per incidence
  • Recurring billing service: $10 per month
  • Advanced fraud protection services: $10 per month plus $0.05 per transaction
  • PayPal Payments Pro: $30 per month (allows you to accept payments directly on your website and includes a virtual terminal)
  • Virtual terminal: $30 per month
  • Cross-border fee: 5% is added to the transaction fee when you accept payments from customers outside the U.S. If your cross-border payments require currency conversion, it costs an additional 3%.

Special pricing is available for certain business types:

  • Registered charities pay 2.2% + $0.30 for online donations; in-person donations cost the same as regular business accounts, at 2.7% for card-present transactions and 3.5% + $0.30 for keyed-in transactions.

  • Businesses with transactions less than $10 may qualify for PayPal's micropayment fees, which are 5% + $0.05 per transaction.

Terms

There's no long-term contract requirement with PayPal; you accept a user agreement instead of signing a contract. As your business grows and your processing volume increases to the point where the savings from lower rates would surpass the account fees, you can close your PayPal account and switch to a full-service processor at any time without penalty.

Features

One of the best things about PayPal is that you can accept various payment methods simultaneously – on the go and at brick-and-mortar locations using QR codes or a card reader and online using invoices, social media, and your website – and the money from all of your transactions goes into one PayPal account, making it easier to manage your finances.

Here are more features PayPal offers:

Free Basic POS Software

To accept payments in person at your business or on the go, you install the PayPal Here app on your phone or tablet and attach a credit card reader. This mobile credit card processing app includes point-of-sale features that help you run your business. Here's what it can do:

  • Accept credit and debit card payments
  • Record checks and cash payments
  • Create an inventory list and add photos of items
  • Add multiple users to your account and manage their access
  • Set taxes, suggest tip amounts, apply discounts at checkout
  • Email, text or print receipts
  • Refund sales
  • Generate sales reports
  • Transfer funds from your PayPal balance to your bank account or your PayPal Business Debit Mastercard

Card Reader Options

PayPal has several card readers for you to choose from. They are all EMV compliant and connect to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth. PayPal also sells receipt printers, cash drawers, stands and cases.

  • Chip and swipe reader: $24.99. You can accept magstripe and chip cards with this reader.

  • Chip and tap card reader: $59.99 (or $79.99 with charging stand). This model accepts magstripe, chip, and contactless credit and debit cards. It also accepts mobile payments from Apple Pay and Google Pay.

  • Chip card reader: $99.99. This reader accepts magstripe, chip, and contactless cards as well as mobile wallets. It's the only model with a screen and a built-in PIN pad.

PayPal Integrations

One of PayPal's strengths is that it integrates with many business systems and applications. Here's a small sampling of the business solutions PayPal integrates with:

Online Payments

PayPal makes it easy to accept credit, debit and PayPal payments online. It offers a few different ways to do this, including a payment gateway option.

  • PayPal Checkout: There's no monthly fee for this plan; all you pay are the processing fees for your online transactions. On this plan, you place buy buttons on your website that redirect your customer to a checkout page hosted by PayPal. Some e-commerce platforms already have this feature built into their platforms.

  • PayPal Payments Pro: This plan costs $30 per month. With it, you can design and host the checkout pages yourself. It includes a virtual terminal that you can use to key in credit card information for sales made over the phone or by fax or mail.

  • Payflow (payment gateway): If you need a payment gateway for your website and want it to have a secure payment template that you can embed, Payflow Link may be a good option for you. With it, you can accept credit and debit card payments as well as PayPal payments on your website. It costs 10 cents per transaction (above the processing rates you pay your other processor), with no setup or monthly fees. If you require a fully customizable solution, you can get Payflow Pro for $25 per month, but this option has a $99 setup fee.

  • Pay in 4 and PayPal Credit: These programs pay you upfront but allow your customers to pay for their purchases over time, either in four payments or over a set period.

  • Sell on Social: This feature lets you create shopping links for your product listing that you can share on social media channels, chat and email.

Online Invoicing

You can create and send invoices by logging in to PayPal's website with your business account credentials or by using the PayPal Business app on your phone or tablet. Your customer receives an email with a link, clicks the link to open the invoice, and can then choose to pay the invoice using their credit or debit card or their PayPal account. There's no cost to send invoices; when receiving payments from your customers, you pay 2.9% + $0.30 for each transaction.

  • Invoicing with Messenger: If you and your customers use Facebook, you can create invoices in Messenger to send to your customers. Your customers can click on the invoice in your message to pay it using their PayPal account. 
  • PayPal Commerce platform: Startups with online marketplaces, crowdfunding platforms and other e-commerce solutions can use this advanced payment platform to allow their sellers to accept payments from buyers around the globe.

If your small business sells to customers in other countries, PayPal is a good processor for you. It accepts payments made in over 100 currencies around the world.

Additional Considerations

Here's some additional information about PayPal for you to keep in mind as you decide which payment processing company is the best fit for your business.

Customer Service

If you run into an issue using PayPal, you can call or email the company 24/7 or use the self-help resources on its website, which include live chat, FAQs, a searchable knowledgebase, how-to guides, a community forum, and its Resolution Center that assists with customer disputes. Although the company lists extended phone hours on its website, a company rep told us that you can actually reach a customer service representative 24/7, though if you call after hours, your call may be routed to one of its international offices.

Security

PayPal uses multiple security measures to keep your customers' payment data safe, including end-to-end encryption and 24/7 transaction monitoring. It complies with the data security standards established by the Payment Card Industry, and most of its card readers are EMV compliant, which deters counterfeit fraud. Your account is password-protected, and you can add a second authentication factor using PayPal Security Key, which sends a unique one-time PIN code to your phone via text.

PayPal Business Debit Mastercard

Using this card, you can spend your PayPal funds at any store and receive 1% cash back on qualified purchases. You can also withdraw cash from in-network ATMs. There's no annual fee for this business debit card.

PayPal Business Loan and PayPal Working Capital

Eligible merchants can receive small business loans and working capital through PayPal.

Drawbacks

PayPal is a great solution for low-volume businesses, as it allows you to accept credit, debit, and PayPal payments in person and online on a pay-as-you-go basis, with no monthly or annual account maintenance fees and no long-term contract. However, if you go beyond the basic credit card processing services, there are lots of little fees to keep track of, and they could add up quickly. To PayPal's credit, it lists these fees in full on its website.

Another issue to be aware of is held funds and frozen accounts, which is the cause of many online complaints. This problem isn't exclusive to PayPal – you'll find similar complaints about other payment facilitators online – as this type of payment processor tends to be more wary of fraud than traditional processors, and irregular patterns in your processing, such as spikes in transaction amounts or frequency, can raise red flags.

Following PayPal's best practices for sellers reduces the likelihood of having your money held in a reserve account. Also make sure that the products or services your business provides are within PayPal's acceptable use policy; otherwise, your funds may be frozen or your account closed without notice.

SumUp launched in 2012 and is now a global mobile credit card processing company that works with thousands of small businesses in 31 countries. Its notable customers include Bosch, DHL and Staples. It has transparent, flat-rate pricing, and there's no long-term contract.

Like other top mobile credit card processors, SumUp has transparent, flat-rate pricing and no monthly or annual fees, so you only pay for the processing you use, making it a great option for new, small and seasonal businesses. There's no long-term contract, so you can close your account at any time without incurring any type of account closure fee, such as an early termination fee. 

Pricing and Terms

For small businesses that either haven't accepted credit cards before, that process less than $3,000 per month or that have small average sales tickets, working with a mobile credit card processing company or account aggregator like SumUp can be a good solution. Here's what you'll pay when you use SumUp as your payment processor. 

Processing Rates

No matter what brand of card your customer presents – American Express, Discover, Mastercard or Visa – you pay the same rate. There's also no rate difference based on card type. Whether your customers pay using debit or credit, regular or rewards, personal or corporate cards, the transaction fees you pay are the same. The only variable that affects the SumUp's credit card processing rate is how you accept the cards.

  • Credit and debit cards you accept in person using a card reader: 2.75%
  • Credit and debit cards you accept using the virtual terminal (card-not-present transactions): 3.25% + $0.15 

Fees

There are no setup or hidden fees with your SumUp account. There are also no monthly fees, monthly gateway, statement or annual PCI compliance fees. There is only one incidental fee to be aware of, which is the $10 chargeback fee. The only time you'll be charged for it is if you have a customer who disputes a transaction. 

Payout

SumUp deposits money from your transactions, minus its fee, into your bank account within two business days. You set the frequency of your payouts to daily, weekly or monthly. After it deposits money into your bank account, it emails you a list of transactions included in the payout. You can also track payouts using the SumUp app and your account dashboard. 

Terms of Service

Instead of a contract, SumUp has terms of service, and like every such document from a payment processor, you should read it before signing up for an account. The company provides its services on a pay-as-you-go basis, and you can close your account at any time without penalty. 

Like other mobile credit card processing companies, there are some types of businesses that SumUp doesn't support. To avoid having your funds held or your account closed without warning, read the terms of service to ensure you use your account in accordance with SumUp terms, and that your business type and the products or services you offer aren't listed as a restricted business. It's also worth noting that while SumUp can be used by individual sellers with even very small businesses – such as those who sell items at craft fairs a few times per year – it's not a P2P service like Venmo and can't be used to transfer funds from friends or family members. 

Getting started with SumUp is easy and takes less than five minutes. You will need to provide an email address, shipping address and your payment details. Next, you 'll create a password for your account. Then, before you begin processing, you'll need to provide some basic information about your business so the payment provider can verify that your business is legitimate. It will also need bank account information so it can deposit your payouts once you begin processing. 

As you're setting up your account, SumUp asks about your business structure. When you sign up for an account as a sole proprietor, you will be asked to provide the following information: 

  • Legal structure and business category
  • Business name and address
  • Home address, date of birth, Social Security number and mobile phone number
  • Bank account 

If your business is a partnership, LLC, cooperative or corporation, you're asked to provide the above information as well as

  • Your EIN
  • Names of beneficial business owners
  • Contact and personal information (address, date of birth, Social Security numbers and phone numbers) for authorized signatories
  • Business bank account 

SumUp Features

SumUp's mobile app is available for iPhones, iPads and Android devices. Its features are more basic than those offered by some of its competitors, like Square, but here are some of the things you can do with it: 

  • Accept credit and debit card payments, including Apple Pay and Google Pay
  • Issue refunds
  • Print, email or text receipts
  • Create a product catalog
  • Add and edit sales tax rates
  • Track sales and payments in real time
  • Send customers SMS texts with a payment links 

Processing Equipment Options

SumUp offers only one card reader, but you can use it to accept magstripe, chip, and contactless credit and debit cards as well as mobile wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay. It connects to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth, and the company says that with it, you can process more than 500 transactions on a single charge. It costs $19, which is the most affordable EMV/NFC card reader we've seen. Shipping is free, which is a nice perk, and it takes between two and three business days for the unit to arrive. 

Dashboard

When you access your SumUp account online, you can find your account details and a dashboard that gives you a graphical overview of your transactions. You can see your sales revenue by day or week, by amount or number of transactions, and by payment type (credit card, debit card, cash). It also shows the most recent payout to your bank account. Your sales history is filterable and downloadable, making it easy to search for specific transactions. It also allows you to drill down to the sales details for each transaction. 

Virtual Terminal

If you need to run a card-not-present transaction, such as when a customer gives you their credit card number over the phone or by email, you can use SumUp's virtual terminal. This feature isn't automatically provided with your account – you'll need to call the company and fill out an application that requests some additional information about your business before you can have it set up, but there is no setup fee and no monthly fee if your request is approved. 

Employee Accounts

From your SumUp account page, you can add employees to your account. Each employee has their own login credentials, and can accept credit card payments and view their sales histories. They can't access your account, add or organize products, or add a separate bank account – all payouts are transferred to your bank account. From your account, you can review the sales histories for all the employees connected to your account. 

Integrations

SumUp has an API and SDK, so your developer can integrate the service into your website or mobile app. Test accounts are also available for developers. 

Additional Considerations

Here are some additional points to keep in mind as you decide which mobile credit card processing company is the right fit for your small business. 

Security

SumUp is PCI-DSS certified, and its card reader is certified by PCI, EMV, Mastercard and Visa. 

Customer Support

This mobile credit card processor has multiple customer support channels. On its website, it has a searchable knowledgebase, a blog, and a chatbot that answers questions about how to set up an account, the documentation that is required, pricing, and how the service works. It can also answer common questions that SumUp merchants have about their account, card reader and payouts. 

Or, if you prefer to speak with a customer service rep, phone support is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST. The rep we spoke with said the company is looking at adding Saturday hours during the holiday season. When we called the company, posing as a small business owner as part of our testing, our call was answered promptly, and the rep we spoke with was helpful, friendly and answered our questions thoroughly. 

Limitations

SumUp is simpler than some of its competitors and lacks nicer features like recurring payments and inventory tracking. Still, for small businesses that want a solid, basic payment processing solution to accept in-person credit card payments and don't need advanced features, it's a terrific option. 

Like other mobile credit card processing services, some industries are prohibited, so you'll want to read the terms of service and make sure your business type is supported before you sign up for an account. If your business type isn't supported and you sign up anyway, you risk having your funds frozen or your account shut down without warning.

 

Square Merchant Services

We chose Square as the best merchant account provider for growing businesses because of its low rates and lack of monthly fees – two factors that make it an affordable option for new or growing small businesses.

Square also stands out because of its mobile credit card processing app, which lets you accept payments and access full-featured POS software that allows you to track inventory, run sales reports, manage customer interactions and preferences, and more. And there's a bonus: The app is free. You pay only processing fees. The app works with both Apple and Android devices. We like that you can add business features – such as payroll, accounting and email marketing – via integrations with third parties.

Square may not be ideal for businesses that process tens of thousands of dollars' worth of credit card payments each month, but for smaller retailers and restaurants, this merchant account service offers a lot of benefits. In addition to allowing you to accept payments, Square lets you manage inventory and orders, thanks to retail and restaurant tools. Square customers can also set up a free online store that can sync with existing inventory and social media.

Square stands out for its support for online sales, which have become increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. On the accounting side, you can use Square to send and track invoices and manage payments from one dashboard.

Another reason Square is our pick for growing businesses is its merchant cash advance program. Through Square Capital, you can get merchant cash advances as quickly as the next day. You need to establish a processing history with Square to be eligible for the merchant cash advances.

Square also has a Mastercard business debit card. There are no signup, annual or monthly fees with the Square Card. You also get an instant 2.75% discount when you use the Square Card to shop with other Square sellers. The merchant cash advances and business credit card may come in handy as your business grows.

Square offers merchant account services that are affordable, transparent and easy to understand, making this provider a good match for new and growing businesses. Add integrations with other business apps and access to capital, and Square is worth serious consideration for growing businesses.

Did You Know?Did You Know: Most merchant account providers have flat-rate, interchange-plus or tiered pricing. Tiered pricing is the least transparent; the true cost can be hard to decipher.

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TSYS is one of the country's leading payment processors. It recently acquired Cayan (formerly Merchant Warehouse). TSYS works directly with businesses of all sizes across many industries, including healthcare, as well as indirectly through merchant account providers. It has everything you need to process credit cards in store, online and on the go.
Helcim
Helcim makes credit card processing simple and affordable for small businesses. It offers retail, mobile, and virtual credit card processing solutions with transparent pricing and month-to-month terms. All merchants receive volume-based interchange-plus pricing, and you can view complete rates and fees online. Discounted rates are available for nonprofits.
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