Best Credit Card Processing Services of 2019

Mark Pickavance ·
Updated
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The first step in choosing a credit card processing service is to identify how your payments usually come: online, on the phone or in person. Some card processors are specifically tailored to retail or e-commerce businesses, where others are more flexible in the types of transactions they handle.

Look for features that differentiate the services, including costs and how the processing overhead is divided between the customer and the merchant. With some services, there’s a monthly subscription fee in addition to per-transaction costs.

Below are some popular credit card processing services worth checking out.

Editor's note: Looking for pricing information on credit card processing services? Answer the questions below, and our vendor partners will contact you with a free quote: 

 

Best for Small Business

Helcim

No business needs financial surprises, and Helcim delivers an effective solution where all the costs are transparently presented. There are three payment scales, one each for in-person sales, online sales and sales to nonprofit organizations. In-person costs are 0.25% plus 8 cents, and online is 0.45% plus 25 cents. Nonprofit is just 0.1% percent and 10 cents. Helcim’s plans also include monthly fees, and the amount depends on whether you accept cards in person, online or both. There are additional charges for payment reversals, failure to establish your PCI compliance for security, and changing your bank account or business name. What Helcim delivers for these fees is a system that can take POS payments using Android and Apple phones and tablets either through a hosted online store or via a virtual terminal on a computer. They also sell retail terminals and Ingenico mobile card readers, if you need those. And it also integrates to QuickBooks for accounting purposes and a vast range of third-party shopping carts for online stores. The only negative aspects of Helcim is that there are some business sectors it won’t work with, like some financial services, mystics and for-profit adoption. And the mobile card reader isn’t EMV (chip card) compliant, which is a necessity for those taking payment on the go. Overall, Helcim provides a reliable and effective service for small business owners with transparent pricing that avoids surprises.
Pros
  • Transparent pricing
  • Great shopping cart integration
Cons
  • Lacks EVM on the mobile reader
Get QuoteHelcim
Best for Online Businesses

Stripe

Stripe is one of the best solutions for e-commerce card processing. Not only does it connect with a wide selection of shopping carts for payment processing, but it is also very easy to bind Strip into your own webpage to process a payment or donation, either with HTML or a plugin. The software interfaces with many accounting and billing applications. Such integration means sales data can flow directly into ledgers and invoices can be automatically generated, all of which reduces the workload involved in managing a growing e-commerce business. Stripe also offers a POS system – a recent addition to its offerings – making it useful for businesses that sell online but also like to sell at trade shows and market venues.
Pros
  • Excellent integration with accounting programs
  • Highest level of payment security
  • Flat payment plan
  • Developer friendly
Cons
  • 1% extra cost on international sales
Get QuoteStripe
Best for Mobile Processing

Square

Many payment processors hide the full cost of processing, but Square isn’t one of them. It offers a flat payment plan where all card transactions are processed at a 2.75% fee and invoice payments at 2.5% plus 10 cents per transaction. For online processing, you’ll pay 2.9% plus 30 cents, and keyed cards transactions are charged at 3.5% plus 15 cents. These aren’t the lowest prices around, but Square offers enough flexibility that it should work well across a range of business types, including online retailers, retail shops, restaurants and service providers. Alongside the processing service, Square has a range of capture hardware that includes a countertop register, contactless chip-and-pin, standard chip and magstripe readers. The only recurring complaint that Square customers have is that the customer service lines are only open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Pacific time, Monday through Friday. Not having a person to contact in the evening or on the weekend could be a deal breaker for some small businesses.
Pros
  • Flat payment plan
  • Accounts integration
  • Flexibility for many business types
Cons
  • Support hours
Get QuoteSquare
Best for Low Volume

PayPal

Handling occasional payments for ad hoc sales can be a challenge for any business; no one wants to pass up business, even if it doesn’t come through the usual channels. PayPal has one of the most flexible mechanisms for dealing with online transactions, making it great if you only have take cards online once in a while. However, it isn’t the cheapest way to process cards, so it’s less suited if you’re doing so on a regular basis. In-person sales are charged at 2.7%, and online transactions are 2.9% plus 30 cents. PayPal does more than online transactions, though. For example, PayPal Here is a mobile card reader solution that uses a reader connected to a mobile phone. A basic card reader costs just $15, and its transactions are charged at 3.5% plus 15 cents. Plus PayPal has a selection of different EVM-compliant readers that cover chip-and-swipe, chip-and-tap and keyed scenarios. PayPal has evolved a great deal in the past few years, and there’s even have a service where the merchant doesn’t even need to have a PayPal account.
Pros
  • Flexible
  • Quick to set up
Cons
  • Expensive transactions
Get QuotePayPal
Lowest Rates

Payment Depot

Price may not be your most important consideration for those who process a low volume of cards, but if you make a lot of transactions, it’s important to control costs and avoid passing high fees on to the customer. Payment Depot provides a flat fee for card processing starting at just $49 per month plus 15 cents per transaction, making it perfect for moving large ticket items. The Basic $49 plan covers $25,000 of sales per month, and it can scale up to a $199 monthly fee for unlimited volume with just a 5-cent transaction fee. The second tier, at $79 per month, includes access to a free mobile reader and terminal and it gives you $75,000 of processing with a 10-cent transaction fee. Payment Depot can be used with a payment gateway, virtual terminals, POS systems, credit card terminals and through mobile payment.
Pros
  • Very cheap
  • Excellent reputation
  • Covers most payment scenarios
Cons
  • Only accepts U.S.-based merchants
Get QuotePayment Depot
Best for Corporate Vendors

Flagship Merchant Services

Flagship Merchant Services is designed to take card payments through all the standard mechanisms and scenarios, including include telesales, POS systems, table service, wireless capture and e-commerce platforms. The allure, along with the numerous access points, is the low cost of each transaction and that the company now processes American Express at the same fee rate as Visa, Mastercard and Discovery. Flagship is also at the sharp end of the PCI compliance being pushed hard by credit card companies to protect against fraud. As a vendor, you have a grace period to gain compliance, after which time you incur a monthly cost penalty until you are certified. However, there are a couple of aspects to this business that should be mentioned. On the other hand, the company doesn’t publish standard pricing online. Instead, you are encouraged to ask for a quote so that a salesperson can contact you. We spoke with representatives and were told there are several standard monthly fees depend on the types of processing that you want, plus a yearly $99 PCI-compliance fee and a minimum of $25 per month in processing costs even if you do no business at all. There is also a transaction fee, although this appears to vary between customers. Flagship has been particularly successful with corporate vendors and has a large number of customers that include Subway, Mag Tools, Verizon and Avon.The reason we recommend it for corporate vendors is because they’re the customers who are happiest with the Flagship service. The same can’t be said for smaller customers, many of whom have complained loudly about the low levels of customer support, hidden charges and having funds withheld from them during disputes.
Pros
  • EMV & NFC terminals
  • PCI-compliant hardware
Cons
  • Numerous complaints
  • Poor customer service
Get QuoteFlagship Merchant Services
What to Look for in a Credit Card 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, call several processing companies to get quotes. 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.

What About 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 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.

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.