All merchants need to know about the best credit card processing services for their business – whether it's a one-man bricks-and-mortar store or an online-only Silicon Valley tech giant, finding the right payment processing service can save you a significant of money.
Payment processing providers are split generally into traditional merchant services providers, who open you up your own merchant account with an acquiring bank, and the new guard of software-as-a-service (SaaS) start-ups who process payments through their own holding account and then pay out to you. Within those categories, you have providers who offer a high level of bring-your-own-developer customization, and the basic building blocks variety that almost anyone with some content management experience can use.
Some offer discount rates for volume businesses, other target SMBs and micro businesses with their offering. It’s a competitive and varied market with a wide range of niche providers, however, our selection of the best credit card processing companies is Helcim for its fast, secure, complete eCommerce platform, that also manages to be affordable and flexible.
If you're just looking for a physical credit card payment solution then Square payment services could be a better bet. Read on for more of the best credit card processing companies to choose from or answer some questions to get a quote from our vendor partner.
1. Helcim: best overall
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While some very small businesses processing under $2,000 a month in payments may not see the cost efficiencies with Helcim, you can be sure that these will start to rack up once your business begins to grow. With no set up fees or early termination fee it’s worth having a go – it even has a 30-day free trial.
We know you came here because you are interested in credit card and payment processing, but it’s such a small piece of a very large merchant puzzle. What if that puzzle were offered to you all in one box? We picked Helcim as our best overall because it offers a unique, fast and easy to use all in one merchant platform that is unrivaled by competitors.
It takes just minutes to register to use Helcim, and you are given immediate access to your online portal and virtual terminal so you can start building your product straight away. If you are a new business, then Helcim allows you to sculpt both your online and instore offering around the services it provides. It can organize web hosting, domains, shopping carts, gateways, virtual terminals, POS hardware and software, mobile apps, accounting integrations – you name it. Although, be warned that while it offers plenty of integrations, it doesn’t support a wide variety of providers. If you are an existing business transferring over then it can reprogram your hardware and help you integrate any existing services, or transfer to new ones it supports.
Read our full Helcim review.
2. Stripe Payments: best for customisation
Available in more than 25 different countries, offering payments in 100 different currencies, with almost endless integrations and options for mPOS and bricks and mortar, as well as a virtual terminal for low risk online only businesses, Stripe is a stand-out product for medium to large companies looking to grow with the expectations of their client-base.
Billing itself as the best platform for running an internet business, Stripe powers the likes of Google, Amazon and Shopify. It offers transparent, competitive pricing of 2.9% +30c for online payments and 2.7% +30c for in person payments, but that’s probably not the main reason you will chose it. The real draw is the high level of API developer tools available, giving your business the chance to ultimately customize not just what your payment gateway looks like, but how your customers interact with it, and how you accept payments.
Because of the high cost of employing a developer – and you will need one on staff because Stripe is improving its offering all the time – and because you won’t see cost savings with the pricing structure until you’re processing a large volume each month ($50 - $80,000), this is really a choice for larger businesses. But if you’re in a position to take advantage of what’s on offer it really is second to none.
Stripe’s multicurrency payment processing is available on a highly customizable platform with a central portal for you to control and monitor what is going on. Your developer can use a variety of different languages to build a payment portal that meets your businesses specific needs. If your business is subscription-based then Stripe offers the opportunity to build an ecosystem around customer experience that is responsive to a client’s needs rather than based around a billing cycle.
Read the full Stripe Payments review.
3. Flagship Merchant Services: best for personal service
Not everyone wants a snappy SaaS provider with instant sign up and fancy developer tools. If you prefer good old fashioned chat on the phone then Flagship Merchant Services is still operating a more traditional business model.
You need to fill out an extensive pre-application form online, but once you’ve done that Flagship Merchant Services has everything it needs to get your account up and running. You will be assigned a rep who will walk you through the process, and once you’re all registered it will give you access to their online portal. This backroom area is hosted by Authorize.net who are also your payment gateway. It’s intuitive and no developer is required. There are no set up or termination fees, but do make sure that you obtain the other prices up front, as the biggest complaint among users is hidden costs.
Flagship does not advertise its pricing online because it offers tailored plans customized to your needs. This means that you get to do a bit of old-fashioned bartering as well, so make sure you know what the competitors are offering to get the best deal for your company.
Read the full Flagship Merchant Services review.
4. Fattmerchant: best for large volume
For a flat $99 per month fee Fattmerchant gives you access to great rates at volume and excellent customer service.
This Florida-based merchant services provider wants to be the leader in transparency around processing costs. With 0% markup on interchange pricing, their rates start at just 8c a transaction. For businesses processing more than $1m a year, their premium subscription, which costs $199, reduces that to just 6c. If you are a very high volume business, this option makes a lot of sense.
On top of its transparent pricing model, Fattmerchant also offers exceptional customer service. Like Dharma Merchant Services, you will struggle to find a complaint against it online. There’s a 24/7 in-house customer care team with all contact details freely available.
This is a traditional provider so their application process takes a bit longer than, say, Square, but it does offer a personal service and will walk you through the process so any bumps are quickly smoothed. Fattmerchant's developer tools offer decent integration compatibility and an intuitive online portal and virtual terminal. That means that once you are set up, they’re easy to use with good customization options – although not quite as good as Stripe.
If you are a high-volume merchant looking for ultimate predictability over pricing, good customer service and low costs, then Fattmerchant is well worth checking out.
Read the full Fattmerchant review.
5. Dharma Merchant Services: best for ethical business
We don’t know how many other businesses out there offer incredibly competitive rates and the knowledge that you’re doing social good by using them, but Dharma really hits that mark.
If your business processes over $10,000 a month, loves great customer service and wants to support a socially conscious, ethical company, then Dharma could be the right choice for you.
Established in 2014 Dharma has absolutely the lowest processing rates out there for companies at medium volume and up. The standard pricing is just 0.15% +0.7c above interchange for storefront payment processing. There are even better prices for very high volume businesses. It asks for no set up or termination fees, and the monthly fee is low – around $20 for most merchants (plus $10 for the gateway).
A certified benefit corporation based in Washington state, Dharma meets the highest possible standard, globally, for transparency, sustainability and legal accountability. It is a carbon neutral business that supports fair trade and local suppliers and all employees walk, cycle or take public transport to work. Dharma banks with socially conscious Beneficial State Bank, provide all employees with healthcare, and employs an in-house team on a non-commissioned based wage.
The customer service is so good, you have to work very hard to find a complaint against them in the online forums. Each year it donates a large proportion of profits to charitable organizations, and co-founder Jeff Marcous has spoken publicly about his belief in ‘stewardship’ in business, not just making money.
Read the full Dharma Merchant Services review.
6. Square: best for SMBs
A category disruptor when it launched in 2009, Square started as an mPOS specific provider, the first to offer a card reader with mobile app. It has since grown into its boots, offering a full payment processing service including virtual terminal and custom hardware.
Square’s straightforward fees are published up front online, and it offers a feature-rich back end with no monthly fee or termination fees. Processing fees are a little higher than some other companies, (2.9%+30c for online, for example), but they’re attractive to SMEs because there is no monthly minimum, fast pay-out of funds, and no contract. It even has a debit card that updates with your funds in real time. Square also offers the fastest set up of any company through a fully online portal. You can verify your identity using iTunes, download their app and start accepting payments within minutes.
If you have a physical operation then you do need to invest in the hardware, which could be expensive. But Square offers a free card reader on sign up, and slightly better static chip readers for just $49.
There are plenty of flexible in-app functions, such as the ‘split’ function, which are made with small, responsive businesses in mind, and a good range of integrations.
Read the full Square Payment Processing review.
7. PayPal: best for micro-businesses
On the scene since 1999, everyone knows PayPal and it’s this high level of customer confidence that, in part, makes it attractive to small product and service providers. After all, if no one has ever heard of you, at least they’ve heard of the people processing their payment – and according to their own stats, shoppers using PayPal complete at checkout 88% of the time.
Available in 200 countries worldwide with multi currency solutions, PayPal offers you the flexibility to expand your business on a global scale – particularly useful if what you are selling is pretty niche and you wish to attract a geographically wide clientele. Payments also arrive in your account almost instantly, which helps with cash flow, and there is fast setup and an almost endless set of software integrations.
The payoff is price – PayPal is not a good choice for a volume business. In the US, PayPal charges a flat 2.7% for in-person transactions, 3.5%+15c for keyed-in transactions and 2.9%+30c for online transactions. While there are no set up, monthly or termination fees, if you are processing more than $5000 a month, you may get a better deal with a provider that does.
If you are a completely newbie then PayPal offers its ‘business in a box’ package, everything you need to set up and operate in eCommerce. It’s easy to use and very competitively priced – a great option for newbies. PayPal also offers a premium subscription service which is worth checking out if you are a slightly bigger operation. The basic service really comes into its own when used by small businesses who trade internationally but have a low volume and only occasional credit card transactions.
Read the full PayPal Business review.
8. iPayTotal: best for high risk merchants
It’s always going to be difficult to compare high-risk service providers to the general market, because they are apples and pears, but iPayTotal seems to be trying to level the playing field as best it can.
Set up in 2018 with high risk businesses specifically in mind, iPayTotal prides itself on offering a smooth, customer-forward service that is comparable to the general market services we’ve come to know and love.
High-risk merchants such as those dealing with online pharmacy, adult entertainment, gaming apps, gambling sites and even some travel providers have historically found an affordable credit card processing service with added extras and good customer service hard to find. Payment processing services that offer a great deal to merchants often do so on the basis that your business is low risk – it’s what allows them to discount the price.
iPayTotal specializes in high-risk merchants only. It offers a multi-currency, truly global service for Visa and MasterCard processing. It can set your account up within a week, quite fast for the high-risk sector, and it’s partnered with a variety of banks, payment gateways and other software providers to give your business a high level of choice and flexibility. There are plenty of integrations plus API developer tools for true customization.
iPayTotal does not publish rates as these are different for every single customer depending on the business, financial history and the underwriter. It does admit the rates usually start around 3.5%. It also can’t tell you if there will be any set up fees or how much they might be, because while iPayTotal doesn’t charge a set-up fee themselves, Visa and MasterCard may require additional paperwork and the cost could be around $1000, which iPayTotal will pass on. However, it does offer a free application, so at least you know it can provide a service and what it is before you part with any cash.
As is common in the high-risk sector, iPayTotal holds a 10% ‘deposit’ from each transaction which is paid out after 180 days. It also doesn’t pay out your funds until you have a minimum of $5000, and it pays out every two weeks for the two weeks prior, so make sure your business plan takes that into account when thinking about cash flow.
iPayTotal is hot on fraud, and will offer you a variety of tools and assistance to reduce your business vulnerability, especially to chargebacks. The company offers an online portal and virtual terminal where you can see all the details of your account, and it also offers Skype and email customer service options, as well as a chat bot on its website.
Read the full iPayTotal review.
What to Look for in a credit card payment processor?
Choosing a credit card processor is a big decision for your business. You need to be able to accept credit and debit cards, but navigating the landscape of processors can be confusing since there are many pricing models and complex contracts. The first step is to take stock of your business and what you need. Figure out how many card sales you make and decide if you need mobile processing.
Next get quotes from several credit card processing companies. Some, but not all, processing companies list their prices online. And even then, most companies base pricing on your sales volume and average ticket size. By comparing different offers, you can better gauge what you’ll end up paying and may even be able to bargain down the costs.
What are the costs?
Cost is one of the biggest influencers as you choose a credit card processor. The costs are broken into two categories: processing rate and fees. The processing rate is usually a percentage of each sale along with a small transaction fee. Most rates range from 2 to 4 percent of each transaction, though this is may vary based on your monthly volume, average ticket size and what industry you’re in. There are multiple pricing options, including tiered, interchange plus and flat rate.
Tiered pricing is the most common structure, though experts criticize it for its lack of transparency. In this structure, transactions are divided into several tiers based on the type of card used and whether the card is present or keyed in. When you call for quotes, processors tend to disclose the rate for qualified debit transactions, which are the lowest. Be sure to get information about all the tiers and find out which transactions qualify for those tiers. If you have a lot of debit card transactions, this pricing model may good for you.
Most experts prefer the interchange-plus pricing model, which adds a markup to the interchange rates charged by the credit card companies. This makes it more transparent and simpler than a tiered pricing model. You may need to prod the processor to give you a quote for this model, and some require you to process through them for a while before you can use interchange-plus rates.
Flat-rate pricing is the simplest – you just pay a fixed percentage of each transaction or a percentage of each transaction plus a small transaction fee. This pricing structure is probably best for small businesses with less than $2,500 a month in sales as well as for businesses with fewer credit card transactions. This is the pricing structure often offered by mobile processors like Square, and it's quicker to set up and tends to not have as many fees as others. However, it isn’t ideal for businesses with high sales volumes because the transaction fee is higher than in other pricing models.
In addition to processing costs, there are fees. The most common are monthly fees, fees for PCI compliance, monthly minimums and various network fees the processor may pass on to you. Some processors may also try to charge fees for memberships, cancellation and other vague services. Read through your contract before you sign and ask your sales rep if any of those fees can be waived.
Credit card processing equipment
Most processing companies offer free equipment, such as a terminal, when you sign a contract, or they allow you to borrow the equipment you need. When possible, buy the credit card readers and other equipment outright. It may increase your upfront costs, but free offers tend to require you to sign long-term contracts and leasing equipment can be quite costly.
If you opt for a free offer, look for a one-year contract the becomes a month-to-month contract after the first year. Also, check if you have to pay the full cost plus any cancellation fees if you change processors before the end of the contract.
A free placement program is a little different – you get the equipment for free, but when the contract expires or you switch processors, you must return it. Free placement programs have additional costs and monthly minimums you’re expected to meet.
Credit card processors also often push leasing. They may say it's like paying for a cell phone plan, but in the long run, you will end up paying more than if you’d bought the equipment outright. Most equipment comes with warranties or insurance, so you can replace it if it breaks, which is an advantage touted by sales reps trying to get you to lease.
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