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The Best Merchant Services of 2021

By Lori Fairbanks,
business.com Writer
| Updated
Nov 13, 2020

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 Low-Fee Payment Processor
Flat-rate pricing
Free full-featured mobile app
Pay-as-you-go service
Best For Small Business Overall
Clear interchange-plus pricing
Rate-lock guarantee
Month-to-month service
Merchant Service Provider With the Best Contract
No application fees
No setup or gateway fees
Month-to-month service
Best Merchant Account Provider for Retail
Clover processing equipment
Incentives for veterans
Flat-rate pricing available
Best Low-Volume Payment Processor
Flat-rate pricing
No monthly minimum
Pay-as-you-go service
TSYS
Best for Professional Service Providers
Read Review
Healthcare-trained support agents
ERM system integration
Flat-rate pricing available
Fattmerchant
Payment Processor With the Best Rates
Read Review
Transparent pricing
One monthly fee
Month-to-month service
FIS (Formerly Worldpay)
Best Direct Payment Processor for Small Businesses
Read Review
Competitive rates
1,000+ software integrations
Choice of pricing model
Stripe
Online Processor
Read Review
Flat-rate pricing
Easy integrations for platforms
Pay-as-you-go service
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.
Updated 11/13/20

We have updated our PayPal review with information about the company's new cryptocurrency features.

Merchant Services and Payment Gateway Comparisons

Whether you accept payments from your customers online, over the phone, in person or a combination of the three, it's important that you can seamlessly accept every brand and type of credit and debit card your customers present – which is why it's important to choose the right merchant services provider. Additionally, you 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 your search for the right merchant account provider for your business.

 

Find the Right Merchant Service for Your Business

Fill out this questionnaire to find vendors that meet your needs.
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
9
Selected

Compare Our Best Picks

  Trasnparent
pricing
Pricing
model
Monthly
fees
Contract
length
24/7 phone
support
Helcim Yes Interchange-plus Yes

Month to
month

Yes
PayPal Yes Flat rate No Pay as you
go
No
Square Yes Flat rate No Pay as you 
go
No
Stripe Yes Flat rate No Pay as you
go
No
Flagship Merchant Services No Interchange-plus
or tiered
Yes Month to 
month
Yes

Fattmerchant

Yes Flat rate Yes Month to
month
Yes

Fiserv

No Flat rate Varies Varies Yes

TSYS

No Flat rate Varies Varies Yes
FIS No Interchange-
plus or flat rate
Varies Varies Yes

Our Reviews

Square: Best Low-Fee Payment Processor

For its 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, comes with a full suite of POS features.
It's the only top mobile credit card processor that charges a per-transaction fee to its in-person processing rate.
Square is the best low-fee payment processing company because the only fee it charges for its basic credit card 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 that don't process enough transactions to justify paying account maintenance fees each month. Square also has the best mobile payment processing app. The app is free to use – all you pay for is processing. April 2020: For existing merchants, Square is waiving its software subscription fees for the month of April and has refunded March subscription fees. Software applications included in this program are: Square Appointments, Loyalty, Marketing, Payroll, Restaurants, Retail, Square Online Store and Team Management. Additionally, the company has partnered with Skillshare to offer Square sellers a free three-month membership to Skillshare. Some of the learning tracks available include three designed for Square merchants: Sales & Marketing, Leadership & Management, and Business Operations. October 2019: Square has announced a change to its pricing. In-person transactions accepted with a card reader or swiper now cost 2.6% + $0.10. For existing Square merchants, this rate change is effective Nov. 1, 2019. For new merchants, this rate change is effective upon signup. This pricing information will be considered as part of our evaluation when we next fully update our credit card processing reviews.
Read Review

Helcim: Best For Small Business Overall

Helcim's pricing is transparent, making it easy to see rates and fees online, so you know what you'll see 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.
Visit Site
Helcim is the best merchant service provider for small businesses because it's very transparent with its pricing, posting its complete rates and fees online. This full-service merchant account provider offers interchange-plus pricing to all of its merchants, its retail rates are lower than average, and it has a rate-lock guarantee that promises not to raise its markup for the life of your account. Also, instead of charging a handful of standard fees like most full-service payment processing companies, it charges a single monthly fee, which includes statements, customer service, PCI compliance and access to Helcim Commerce, the company's all-in-one payment platform. Like other top payment processors, Helcim provides its services on a month-to-month basis, so there are no early termination fees if you close your account.
Read Review

Flagship Merchant Services: Merchant Service Provider With the Best Contract

Flagship offers month-to-month services to all of its customers and doesn't charge a cancellation fee.
It offers its merchants a choice of interchange-plus or tiered processing rates.
It lacks pricing transparency, and its 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.
Flagship Merchant Services is the full-service payment processing company with the best contract, because it offers merchant account services to all of its customers on a month-to-month basis and doesn't charge a cancellation fee. By contrast, standard merchant processing contracts have three-year terms with a short cancellation window of 30 to 90 days before automatically renewing for additional one- or two-year terms. They also have early termination fees to discourage you from exiting your contract before the term expires, some with liquidated damages clauses that make it very expensive to cancel. Additionally, Flagship offers a choice of interchange-plus or tiered rates, allowing you to select the best pricing model for your business. If you're already processing, Flagship will negotiate with you to see if it can meet or beat your current pricing. It has a monthly minimum, and it charges a monthly fee, monthly payment gateway fee and PCI compliance fee. It doesn't charge application, setup or payment gateway setup fees, though.
Read Review

Fiserv: Best Merchant Account Provider for Retail

Flat-rate pricing is available through its Clover website.
Experienced retail businesses that process a high monthly volume of sales can negotiate competitive interchange-plus pricing and favorable terms.
Small businesses may be able to find better pricing elsewhere.

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.

We selected Fiserv, which was formerly known as First Data, as the best retail credit card processor. It's an industry leader that high-volume retailers can negotiate with to get a good deal, it offers incentives to veterans, and it allows retailers in tourist towns to accept payments via Alipay, a popular Chinese payment app.

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.

 

More

PayPal Credit Card Processing: Best Low-Volume Payment Processor

As one of the best-known brand names in credit card processing, it inspires customer confidence in your business.
It's one of the few processing services that can be used by individuals, making it a great option for freelancers or solopreneurs.
Its chip and contactless card reader is more expensive than competitor card readers.

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 low-volume credit card processor.

November 2020: PayPal has announced the launch of a cryptocurrency service that will allow its 26 million merchants to access cryptocurrency through the platform, allowing users to buy, hold, and sell Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, and Litecoin. Users will be able to convert cryptocurrencies into fiat currency without incremental fees. PayPal also plans to expand cryptocurrency support to Venmo and international markets in the first half of 2021.

PayPal is also our pick as the best Android mobile credit card processor. While some mobile credit card processing apps are platform-specific, the PayPal Here app works equally well on both Android and Apple phones and tablets, and its Android app includes all the same features as the Apple version.

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 only pay for the processing you use.

PayPal is very transparent with its pricing, and 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:

  • 2.7% 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.
  • 3.5% + $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 a higher rate.

Accepting payments online or by invoice:

  • 2.9% + $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:

  • 3.1% + $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).
  • 3.5% 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 monthly gateway fee
  • No annual fee
  • No annual or monthly PCI-compliance fee
  • No early termination or account closure fee

Incidental and optional fees. Some of PayPal's additional services 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 examples of 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. This option allows you to accept payments directly on your website and includes a virtual terminal
  • Cross-border fee: 1.5% 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 2.5%

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

Terms. There's no long-term contract requirement with PayPal, as 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 account fees and you want to close your PayPal account and switch to a full-service processor, you can do so 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, at a brick-and-mortar location and online, via invoice and 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. The basic Mobile Card Reader costs just $19.99, but it isn't EMV compliant as it only reads magstripe cards.

Because there's a greater risk of counterfeit fraud when you use this card reader, PayPal will hold your funds in a reserve account if you use it to process more than $500 of sales in a seven-day period. You can avoid this problem by choosing one of PayPal's other three card readers.

The following credit card readers are EMV compliant and connect to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth. PayPal also sells receipt printers, cash drawers, stands and cases.

  • PayPal Chip and Swipe Reader: Free. Until December 31, 2019, new PayPal Here merchants will receive this card reader at no cost. If you need additional readers or you already have an account, it costs $24.99. With it, you can accept magstripe and chip cards.
  • PayPal Chip and Tap Card Reader: $59.99 (or $79.99 with charging stand). Accepts magstripe, chip and contactless cards. This model also accepts mobile payments from Apple Pay and Google Pay as well as contactless credit and debit cards.
  • PayPal Chip Card Reader: $99.99. Accepts magstripe, chip and contactless cards as well as mobile wallets. This is the only model that has 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 two plans for this payment method as well as a payment gateway option:

  • PayPal Payments Standard. There's no monthly fee for this plan; all you pay are the processing fees for your online transactions. With it, you place buy buttons on your website that redirect your customer to a checkout page hosted by PayPal.
  • 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 already have a merchant account through another processor and need a payment gateway for your website, this may be a good option for you. With it, you can accept credit and debit card payments on your website as well as PayPal payments. You can also offer your customers PayPal Credit as a payment option. It costs $0.10 per transaction (above the processing rates you pay your other processor), and there are no setup or monthly fees.

Online invoicing. You can create and send invoices by logging into PayPal's website using your business account credentials or 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.

Accept payments from international customersIf 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.

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.

Additional Considerations

Here's additional information about PayPal 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 noted 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.

SecurityPayPal 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. You can also offer your customers financing options on purchases over $99 through PayPal Credit.

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 a lot of little fees to keep track of, and they could add up quickly. Though to PayPal's credit, it lists them 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 well – 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 seller best practices can reduce the likelihood of having your money held in a reserve account. You also want to 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 may be closed without notice.

 

More

TSYS: Best for Professional Service Providers

It offers medical practitioners flat-rate pricing with no monthly processing minimums or cancellation fees.
The TSYS Health Division has healthcare-trained, in-house, U.S.-based customer service agents.
It doesn't post its rates online, so you must call the company for a quote, which is inconvenient for busy merchants.
TSYS has been in business for more than 35 years and recently merged with Global Payments, making it one of the country's largest payment processors. It works with large and small businesses in many industries, providing reliable and comprehensive merchant account services. We selected TSYS as the best payment processor for professional service providers, specifically those in healthcare-related industries, because it offers competitive pricing, charges few fees, has in-house customer service agents trained in healthcare services, and partners with the American Medical Association to offer discounts to medical practitioners.
Read Review

Fattmerchant: Payment Processor With the Best Rates

There's no percentage markup on transactions, so in addition to a monthly fee, you only pay interchange and a flat per-transaction fee.
It has a merchant dashboard that you can use to analyze your sales.
You need to process a minimum of $7,000 per month for this pricing model to save your business money.
Fattmerchant is the payment processing company with the best rates. It uses the interchange-plus pricing model but doesn't charge a markup percentage. Rather, it only adds a per-transaction fee to the published interchange fee – the rate set by the credit card companies (Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express) that everyone pays. For account fees, it charges a single monthly membership, or subscription, fee. There are no separate fees for statements, PCI compliance, customer support or account maintenance. Though the monthly membership fee is higher than what some of its competitors charge, its processing limits are less restrictive. The company notes that businesses need to process at least $7,000 per month for this to be a cost-effective credit card processing solution. Small businesses that process a high volume of transactions each month will see the most savings on their overall costs.
Read Review

FIS (Formerly Worldpay): Best Direct Payment Processor for Small Businesses

FIS works directly with small businesses, offering them competitive pricing and terms.
It integrates with more than 1,000 software applications and has developer tools that businesses can use to create custom integrations.
It doesn't post any rates or fees online, so you must contact the processor for a quote.

FIS, the result of a 2018 merger between Vantiv and FIS, is one of the largest credit card processors in the world and claims the title of No. 1 global merchant acquirer. The company recently announced a merger with FIS (Fidelity Information Services), a leading technology provider for financial institutions. Once settled, the combined company will be known as FIS.

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. 

 

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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.

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Stripe: Best Payment Gateway Provider for Online Businesses

Stripe is highly versatile, with integrations, premade checkout forms, APIs and developer tools.
It has competitive rates and pay-as-you-go pricing.
Although it offers 24/7 support by email and chat, and you can request a call back, you can't call the company directly for support.

Stripe is an online payment processing company that works with businesses of all sizes, including small startups to multinational corporations. It's designed to facilitate credit card payments for e-commerce, mobile commerce, subscription as a service, marketplace and platform businesses. 

We chose Stripe as the best online credit card processor 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. Or, for businesses with development resources, Stripe offers APIs and developer tools that allow you to create customized checkout forms or entire payment flows for your website and mobile app. 

Additionally, Stripe has competitive rates and provides its services on a pay-as-you-go basis, so you're not locked into a lengthy contract. It's also one of the few processors that refunds the chargeback fee if a dispute is resolved in your favor. 

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

  • 2.9% + $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.
  • 0.8% 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

  • 2.7% + $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. 

Incidental fees you may encounter while using Stripe include the following: 

  • 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 10 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 of either two or seven days. Most businesses are on the two-day schedule – which is an average amount of time – but if Stripe considers your business to be a higher risk, you're on the seven-day schedule. If your cash flow is often tight and you need to receive your money faster, you might want to consider a different processor, as many offer next-day deposits and some, such as PayPal and Square, offer instant transfers for an additional fee. 

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 expensive 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 want to 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, and, instead, sets you up as a submerchant under its master merchant account. This has some advantages, such as faster account setup that doesn't require a credit check and simplified PCI compliance with no PCI-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. 

You want to make sure that … 

  • Your business type and the products and services you sell aren't on Stripe's 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 Stripe 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 there's 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 marketing software. Plugins for third-party services are also available. 

Checkout

The second easiest way to use Stripe is to embed 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 customer's 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 customized checkout form that complements the look and feel of your website. As with 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 Stipe 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 create a customized solution for recurring payments and subscription billing. You can decide how to charge customers, such as a flat recurring fee or a charge based on product usage or tiers. You can choose how frequently you bill your customers and offer discounts and trial periods. 

Stripe Connect

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

Stripe Terminal

You can now use Stripe to accept 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 to it, 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 made using 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.  

July 2020: Stripe has added a customer portal feature to Stripe Billing, its invoice and subscription billing service. With it, your customers can manage their billing details themselves – which can save you time, since your customers will be able to view their accounts to check their billing history, upgrade or downgrade their subscription, cancel their subscription, and update their payment method. This is a prebuilt solution, which means it's easy to set up, and Stripe hosts it to keep it secure. You can, however, 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.

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're still required to comply with PCI data security standards and complete a self-assessment questionnaire 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, and 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. 

Here are some additional points to consider before signing up with Stripe. 

  • Stripe doesn't provide inbound phone support. If you run into a problem while using Stripe, 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 if there's something irregular about your transactions, such as an abnormally high sales ticket, that makes Stripe suspect fraudulent activity.

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Pricing

Cost is often a top factor in which merchant service provider is best for your business. There are three types of costs you need to investigate:

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

The best merchant services and payment gateway providers post all of this information on their websites, but many companies require you to call and speak with a sales representative so they can make you an offer based on 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 "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. Where it gets confusing is that different providers calculate these costs differently, which makes it difficult to compare pricing quotes. Before you start gathering pricing quotes, you need to understand what costs go into processing fees and what the different pricing models are.

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 charged by the card networks that every processing service provider pays the same amount for.
  • 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 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, it has the best pricing for most merchants.

When you're quoted this rate, it will look something like this:

  • 0.30% + $0.15. 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% + $0.10. The card association fee for Visa would be an additional 0.15% + $0.02. Adding up all three costs, the full rate you pay for this transaction would be 2.10% + $0.27.

The best merchant service companies offer this pricing model to all their merchants and are very upfront with their markup, posting it on their websites and volunteering it when you call for a quote. Some of the merchant service account representatives we spoke with in our testing only provided interchange-plus pricing if we specifically asked for it, and some reps were hesitant to fulfill this request. Some agents noted that interchange-plus pricing would only be an option for established merchants, meaning you must operate for a certain number of months with a tiered pricing model before you would be a candidate for an interchange-plus plan.

Other agents we spoke with advised our testers against the interchange-plus pricing model, cautioning that it's only beneficial for vendors processing large transactions or a very high volume of transactions each month. However, this advice directly contradicts the expert recommendations we encountered in our research.

Tiered pricing: Though this is the most common pricing model, industry experts criticize its lack of transparency. Other names for this model are 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, mid-qualified and non-qualified, 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 only apply to regular debit cards that you accept in person using a card reader. Mid-qualified transactions are usually rewards cards, and non-qualified transactions are most often business or foreign cards, though some also include premium rewards cards. Most merchant services offer three tiers, though some have as few as two or as many as six.

When you see this rate advertised, it looks something like this:

  • 0.39% + $0.21. 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% + $0.21. If it's a rewards card, it would be downgraded from qualified to mid-qualified, which might add an extra 1% to the cost. So, for this example, the rate you pay would be 2.59% + $0.21.

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. It's also important to 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.

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:

  • 2.75%. Using the above scenario with the rewards Visa 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 you pay 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 from merchants who saw fees on their credit card processing statements that they weren't told about when they signed up for their accounts. 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 you'll be obligated to pay before signing up with any processor.

Here are some of the fees that most merchant services providers charge. For a detailed list of fees to look for as you read processing contracts, consult our article, "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. It usually costs $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, as 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, which means that you adhere to the data security standards the Payment Card Industry 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 it each year, or the processor may note it on your statement. On average, this fee is $99.
  • 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.
  • Chargeback fee: If a customer disputes a charge and requests their money back, the processor charges you this fee. Chargeback fees usually cost $15 to $25. Chargebacks are more common when you accept credit cards online than in person, because typical reasons for chargebacks include delivery failures, technical errors, fraud and customer dissatisfaction. Another common cause of chargebacks 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 or 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 pricing quote or look for a provider that doesn't charge them.

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 can be the most expensive option, though costs depend on the type of system you choose. Tablet POS systems are often the least expensive and work with mobile card readers. Models with built-in card readers cost $1,000 to $1,500.

The most important thing you need to know about processing hardware is to avoid leasing it, as leasing contracts are noncancelable and, in most cases, you'll pay much more for the equipment than it would cost to buy it upfront. It's enough of a problem that the FTC cautions against it, noting that businesses that lease may pay thousands of dollars for equipment that costs just a few hundred dollars to purchase.

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 with their pricing, clearly posting their rates, fees and processing hardware costs on their websites. Look for a merchant account service that offers interchange-plus pricing and doesn't charge setup fees, cancellation fees, or non-standard fees like quarterly technology fees and 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 an extra register or even another location 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 (PCI DSS). 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 like 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, CRM or accounting software, you'll want a merchant account or payment gateway that integrates with them so you can easily sync data instead of manually downloading and uploading it between systems.
  • Payouts: How and when you receive your money after a sale is an important consideration. 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. As part of our testing, we evaluated merchant payment services on how open their representatives were with important information, and we considered how complete and consistent the information was.
  • 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 certain limitations, such as monthly processing limits or vendors that only support one acceptance method, will be issues or not.

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 and before you give the company your bank account and Social Security numbers. You should make sure you're aware of all the fees listed in the contract, as you will be expected to pay them even if the sales rep didn't tell you about them. If the sales rep offers to reduce or waive the term length or certain fees, you need to make sure those changes have been amended in the contract or that you receive a written waiver.

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. We then reached out to merchant service companies as a prospective customer requesting pricing quotes and contracts to review. We also asked the reps questions that new merchants might ask to help us evaluate customer service quality and gather details about the companies that we couldn't find on their websites.

The nine merchant account providers and payment gateway services that made our best picks are Fattmerchant, Fiserv, Flagship Merchant Services, Helcim, PayPal, Square, Stripe, TSYS and Worldpay. The 11 providers that made our short list are Authorize.Net, Braintree, Chase Merchant Services, Dharma Merchant Services, Elavon, EMSPlus, Global Payments, Moolah, Payline, Payment Depot and SumUp.

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, it 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 to having your own merchant account. You can often get better 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 to 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 on 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 a favorable one.

Outside of coming to a favorable agreement with the credit card company, there are other ways you can offset your credit card processing fees. One way many businesses do this is to push the fees onto the customer in the form of a surcharge, or offering a small discount to customers who pay with cash. This tactic is generally seen at gas stations, where credit card transactions have a higher cost than cash. While this eliminates the credit card processing fee levied against your business, it could be a double-edged sword, as it could push credit card users away from your business. Be aware that the credit card networks have strict rules around surcharging, so you want to make sure your policy is in line with their recommendations. [Read related article: The Truth About Free Credit Card Processing]

Alternately, 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 on their person. 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, there are several things you should have 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 riskiness will depend on things like the business's potential to be a victim of credit card fraud or a high rate of returns. How long the business has been in operation will also be considered, 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 or defaults on its record and if it had any previous merchant accounts on record. In addition to information on the business, 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 application or setup fees – but this is unusual among the best processors – so you may want to consider other options if the company charges this fee. [Read related article: The Ultimate Small Business Guide to Credit Card Processing Fees]

What to Expect in 2020

Many industries are making the customer experience a priority in 2020, and the payments industry is no exception. Customers have high expectations around payments, and merchants want to work with credit card processors that can help them meet these expectations. 

An Ingenico press release explained it well, saying, "Payment is a core element of commerce and the customer experience. Consumers only want one thing from payments: They need to be effortless, or totally unobtrusive, whilst still being fully under their control. By default, this means that the experience has got to be 100% secure." 

Security is always a top concern when it comes to credit card processing. Merchants worry about being hacked, and consumers worry about their card data being stolen. According to Mobile Payments Today, "every dollar of fraud creates approximately $3 in total losses for a business – not to mention the pricelessness of their reputation." 

Consumers aren't forgiving when it comes to fraud. In an Ekata report, 60% of the 7,000 North American and European consumers surveyed "believe that responsibility for avoiding fraud lies with the companies that have access to their personal data." If they experience fraud on a company's platform, 91% of them won't do business with that company again, and 86% of them will also tell others about their experience. 

Although EMV card readers have been extremely effective in deterring counterfeit fraud at the point of sale, online credit card fraud continues to rise. Juniper Research says that merchants will lose $130 billion to card-not-present fraud between 2018 and 2023. To combat this, payment processors are expected to spend close to $10 billion by 2023 on fraud detection and prevention efforts. 

In a TSYS blog post, Scott Talbott, senior vice president of government affairs at the Electronic Transactions Association, describes the fraud-fighting technology that processors are investing in: "These tools are powered by technological advancements like machine learning, biometrics, geolocation tools and artificial intelligence. They are critically important in the fight against increasingly sophisticated criminals." 

Explaining how this technology works, Mobile Payments Today said, "The most robust fraud prevention measures employ predictive modeling through real-time machine learning and artificial intelligence applied to both a specific business payment activity and to other businesses in the same industry segment. And successful implementation greatly depends on continuous data capture and analysis."

February 2020: Visa is shaking up its published interchange rates. In a document seen by Bloomberg, the card network notified its banking partners of upcoming changes to its rate structure, saying, "Based on the most recent review in the U.S., Visa is adjusting its default U.S. interchange rate structure to optimize acceptance and usage and reflect the current value of Visa products." The card network notes that the interchange structure "has been largely unchanged for the past 10 years" It plans a two-part implementation process, set for April and October. Although rates for online purchases and other card-not-present transactions will increase, rates for businesses in education, healthcare and real estate will decrease. Visa will also include new categories for rent, vending machines and parking.

March 2020: Business owners should be checking their credit card processing statements in 2020. If you discover you are paying a PCI noncompliance fee, it's time to revalidate your certification so you can stop overpaying for your processing and do your part to prevent a data breach. 

According to the new ControlScan/MAC 2020 Acquiring Trends Report, merchant PCI compliance has fallen since 2018. Of the merchant acquirers surveyed, just 26% reported that 60% or more of their merchants are PCI compliant, and 23% reported compliance from less than 25% of their merchants.

May 2020: Recognizing the increased challenges placed on gas station owners due to COVID-19, Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover have again postponed the EMV liability shift for fuel pumps. Gas station owners now have until April 2021 to upgrade the processing equipment on their automated fuel pumps to accept EMV chip cards and contactless payments. To help merchants resolve an increased number of chargebacks for canceled services due to COVID-19, Visa said it would cap chargeback fees for certain disputed charges. It is also delaying changes to its interchange fees until April 2021 – with the exception of lowered fees for supermarket transactions.

October 2020: Mastercard announced the expansion of Mastercard Donate, a program that allows cardholders to give back to the charities of their choice. After registering their debit or credit card information with Mastercard Donate, cardholders can round up their purchases to the nearest dollar and donate that amount of change to their preferred charity.

"Now more than ever, charitable organizations need our support," said Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer, president of healthcare at Mastercard. "By providing choice in how [cardholders] give, we can ensure that their dollars have impact, whether locally or globally, with a one-time donation, recurring donations or opportunities to give based on roundup amounts."

Lori Fairbanks
Lori Fairbanks,
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Lori Fairbanks has years of experience writing and editing for both print and online publications. After graduating from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Arts in English, she worked as a magazine editor and then as a freelance writer and editor for a variety of companies, including marketing firms and a medical university. She now writes about small business finance, including accounting software, credit card processing and point-of-sale systems for business.com and Business News Daily.

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Steven Freeman
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Speak to your local banks and see what they can offer. Once you obtain a competitive rate (lot better than Paypal for example) with all required inclusions you can then hook it into a credit card gateway provider which in turn can connect to your website or shopping cart.
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Fees depend on a number of variables including size of average transactions, number of transactions, and annual/monthly volume. The industry is highly competitive. I am a member of Costco they offer On Site and In Store 1.38%¹ Plus 19¢ per transaction, Online 1.99%¹ Plus 25¢ per transaction and On-the-Go 2.49%¹ $0 per transaction. Service is sponsored through Elavon.
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John - You said "Umbrella Corp" so I want to clarify something first. I don't use that term anymore because I could have a consolidated group of corporations or a corporate entity that owns 100% of several LLC's. So... If you have a situation like those I just described, go by the Legal structure and tax I'd number. If you have multiple legal entities, each should have its own bank account to properly collect its own income. If you commingle collections in any of the above scenarios,...
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Other Services Considered

Chase Merchant Services, formerly known as Chase Paymentech, is one of the largest processors in the industry. It offers a wide range of products to help small businesses accept credit cards in person, online and on the go. Its processing services comes with advanced fraud protection, data encryption and other security tools to make sure your business and customers stay protected from cyberattacks. Read Review.

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. 

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.

 

 
 
 

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.

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