Choosing the right credit card processor will give you the peace of mind to know that your ability to accept alternative forms of payment won't be shut down, frozen or restricted due to something out of your control.
With over 1,000+ credit card processing options available, all specializing in a certain type of business - how do you know which is best for your business?
Our team of merchant service industry experts has researched & analyzed every single one - and in this guide we’ve done all the hard work for you by hand-picking the top payment providers for any business looking to accept credit card payments.
To make it easy on you, we’ve categorized them based on business-model, industry, risk classification & product/service mix – taking out all of the guesswork (and treachery) of picking the wrong solution for your unique situation.
Process more sales. Save on fees. Sleep at night.
Because business is hard, but collecting money shouldn’t be.
Let’s get started.
“38% of small business customers have been unable to make a purchase at a physical store because their form of payment wasn’t accepted.” 1
Wow. Maybe that’s part of the reason why:
“70% of the United States population carries a credit card, with 34% of Americans carrying 3 or more cards.” 2
People want to buy things, and if you’ve done all the hard work to get them to buy from YOU, but you can’t accept their payment at the last second - you’re in big trouble.
Although, for most business owners, this isn’t even their primary concern.
The biggest reason for choosing a good merchant account provider comes from a concern from other side of the coin – the fees they pay by giving consumers all these different payment options to ensure the sale, like: point of sale card swiping, ipad terminals, chip readers, ecommerce functionality, online payment gateways, accepting credit cards, recurring/subscription billing, split payments, etc.
So, without further ado, here are the best merchant service providers to help you collect payments – broken down by the most important factors you should consider.
Best Overall – High Risk: Easy Pay Direct
Good for high-risk category businesses, and merchants with sales of $1,000,000+ per year.
Best Overall – Low Risk: Payment Depot
Good for low-risk category businesses, and merchants with high transaction volume and sales over $25,000 per month.
Best for Startups: Stripe
Good for start-ups and businesses with low transaction volume, and/or transaction size.
Best for Small Business: Helcim
Good for small businesses, processing less than $120,000 per year.
Best for Mid Sized Business: Fattmerchant
Good for small to medium sized businesses.
Best for Retail / POS: Square
Good for physical non-chain retail stores that need to accept payments POS, or over the phone.
Best for Restaurants: Dharma Merchant Services
Best for low-risk category businesses.
Best for International: eMerchantBroker
Best for low-risk category businesses.
Best for Nonprofits: CDGcommerce
Best for nonprofit organizations.
Let’s break down the pricing, pros, cons and considerations for each merchant service provider.
But first - is there any difference between the two? Why do we keep saying "credit card processing companies" AND "merchant account providers"?
Well, for all intents & purposes that you need to be concerned with – the answer is that there is no difference.
Merchants (aka business owners, aka YOU) know that they need the ability to accept credit cards. But for the most part, that's pretty much where their interest stops. "Credit card processing" and "payment processing" is the most colloquial term for this.
A "merchant account" is really the specific type of bank account where these payments go, and the merchant account provider normally refers to the organization that provides access to this account, and other "merchant services" that you (the merchant) might need - like a card swiping machine, payment gateway, ecommerce shopping cart, etc.
As far as your needs go - they are synonymous, but we are saying both of them just to make sure business owners know they are in the right place!
Alright, now that that's taken care of, let's get to looking more in-depth at the best credit card processing companies - aka merchant account providers 😉
Serving more than 60,000 merchants, Easy Pay Direct caters to eCommerce and ‘Card Not Present’ businesses (CNP).
Basically, they specialize in “high risk”, which simply means businesses that are in an industry (or operate with a business model and/or marketing model) that is traditionally associated with higher disputes, chargebacks, etc.
Here are some examples of businesses that they are especially good for:
Risk isn’t a bad thing, but it’s important to know where your business falls on the spectrum of low, medium and high risk businesses.
In fact, Easy Pay Direct actually refers to these sectors as ‘special needs’ instead of ‘high-risk’ which we love - because it illustrates how these types of businesses have specific needs - but once met, can provide excellent growth advantages for them. Including lower fees, better growth opportunities, and tools to help you operate smoothly.
Easy Pay Direct’s pricing model is transparent and easy to understand as well.
Their website also indicates that interchange plus pricing is available on request.
If you’re in the “high risk” category, Easy Pay Direct is your go-to choice.
Payment Depot processes more than $4,000,000,000 in annual transactions through 3,000,000+ transactions each month.
Payment Depot utilizes an “interchange plus” pricing model. Meaning, they charge a flat-fee for each transaction (based on your membership tier) on top of the base interchange fee that all merchant account providers have to pay to the Visa/MC associations no matter what. This flat-fee for each transaction is their markup.
Payment Depot pricing model at a glance:
With that they provide everything else you might need, like a merchant account, payment gateways, virtual terminals, etc.
Payment Depot is kind of like Sam's Club, or Costco, but for credit card processing. Their prices are lower than pretty much anywhere else you’re going to go – but you have to be a member to get access to them.
For this reason, we chose Payment Depot as the best option for businesses that process a high-volume of smaller transactions, and the best overall (for non high-risk merchants).
Payment Depot is used by big brands like Subway, Arco, Dominos, etc. and is such, great for businesses that process a high volume of transactions each month.
Stripe is our top choice if you need a quick & easy way to accept credit card payments online. Although not quite as easy to set up and integrate as Paypal, we’ve found Stripe to be much more reliable.
Both Stripe & Paypal fall into the category of “merchant account aggregators” – which basically means the companies have one huge merchant account, and when a new user “registers” with them they allow them to use it.
Like if you were to let someone borrow your bank account and store some of their cash in it.
Well what happens if that person starts doing weird stuff? You’ll probably cut them off. Same with merchant account aggregators.
For this reason, they are a great choice when you’re just getting started – but as you grow you need to leave your parents house and get out on your own.
Stripe’s pricing reflects that of an aggregator, and is higher than if you chose a merchant provider that specialized in your industry, field or risk category.
Stripe’s pricing at a glance:
Aside from being “at risk” by leveraging someone else's account (the way aggregators do) one of the big drawbacks of Stripe is that they don’t offer any retail or offline solutions. And, the customer service is very impersonal.
Although they have a large knowledge base and great resources for developers – if you don’t have someone on your team who can navigate that “techy” side of things you’re pretty “up a creek”.
Great for just getting started and accepting payments online, not great for when you’re growing and need more services and account stability to support that growth trajectory.
Helcim is a great choice for smaller businesses that process less than $120,000/yr in sales.
They have no monthly fees, and they price by charging only a small markup on top of interchange (which is of course the wholesale cost of accepting credit cards - something that all merchant account providers must pay no matter what).
This makes Helcim a great choice for low volume businesses, since there aren’t any costs incurred if no payments are taken.
In addition to their simple, and low-volume friendly pricing structure, Helcim does an excellent job serving a wide variety of different types of businesses using (mostly) proprietary technology.
Since most of the things a merchant will need can be provided by the company itself, it means there aren’t additional 3rd party fees that will pop up for things like: invoicing systems, equipment fees, online payment gateways, etc.
These industries Helcim is well suited for, include:
That’s a pretty wide range!
If you are processing under $120,000 per year in sales, and fall into one of those categories, Helcim is a great choice for you.
Fattmerchant is great all around for small businesses.
Fattmerchant uses an interchange plus pricing model, on top of their monthly membership fee, that includes virtual terminal, shopping cart, mobile, APIs, and a friendly team of support specialists that can bring valuable insights that make payment processing easy for small business owners.
Fattmerchant’s pricing at a glance:
Another benefit of Fattmerchant is their integrations.
Fattmerchant integrates with 90% of all third party POS systems, and will let you keep the one you’re already using if you’re looking to switch over.
Square is a great option for any business that accepts in-person payments at their physical location.
Square ranks #1 on our list of the best POS systems, so the fact that they also double as a credit card processor is a bonus.
Over 2,000,000+ businesses use Square for processing payments in person, largely due to the ease and compatibility of their POS card swiper.
Square also provides functionality for payment processing online, on the go, via recurring invoices, and manually – in case you want to take a payment over phone (card not present).
Another benefit of Square being able to get paid quickly.
Many credit card processors take a few business days for fund withdrawals, but Square gets your money into your bank account, next business day.
Square’s pricing is transparent & easy to understand. They utilize flat-rate pricing where you pay the same rate no matter what card a customer uses – including AMEX & Discover.
There are no startup fees, monthly fees, authorization fees, cancelation fees, terminal fees, statement fees, or other common industry-standard markups.
On the flip side, when merchant account providers don’t charge those kinds of fees it can be a signal that their base flat-rate fee is higher than you will pay with a more boutique provider.
Square’s pricing varies slightly by industry & POS hardware, but here are the most commonly offered rates:
One downside with Square is accessibility to customer support, which isn’t available 24/7. But chances are if you’re a mom & pop shop, or retail store, you probably won’t be open all night anyways.
Dharma Merchant Services is a merchant account provider headquartered in Vancouver, Washington.
Founded in 2007, “Dharma” is a certified eco-friendly “green” business. One of their big attractions is that they donate a percentage of their net profits to non-profit organizations.
Gotta love that!
As for a credit card processing option, Dharma falls under the category of low-cost payment processing, and specializes in the healthcare industry.
Dharma’s big areas of expertise include:
They aren’t only good for the healthcare industry, however.
Dharma also works with a lot of restaurants & bars, and has partnered with Clover to make POS transactions easy for these types of merchants.
They also provide lower rates for restaurants, bars, and quick-service eateries.
Dharma pricing at a glance (for restaurants & bars):
eMerchant Broker is our top recommendation for international & “cross-border” credit card processing. They are great with facilitating payments across the world, and will also work with / approve many “high-risk” business types.
If you’re having trouble getting a merchant account, or want to accommodate international sales, eMerchant Broker is a great option for you.
For more info visit the eMerchantBroker website.
CDGcommerce offers customized merchant account services for a variety of different industries, but in general is the best choice for nonprofits - as they don’t charge monthly fees or require monthly minimums for nonprofits organizations.
Their rates vary based on transaction volume & specific product needs, but pricing for nonprofit typically starts at interchange plus 0.20% + $0.10 per transaction.
Depending on your size, their pricing breaks down as follows:
There’s a lot of options when it comes to merchant accounts and credit card processing, and choosing the right one can have a hugely positive (or negative) impact on your business.
They each have their areas of expertise, and can offer better options for a specific type of business by focusing on that category. Conversely, they will give up features, functionality, and other rate-based advantages to businesses that fall outside of their bailiwick.
For the most part, these factors all orbit around where your business falls on the “risk spectrum”.
Why? Because if a business messes up and doesn’t have enough money to refund its unhappy customers - that financial burden falls on the merchant account provider. Therefore, depending on the type of business you run (selling coffee vs. selling male enhancement pills on auto-bill) there will be a much bigger chance of credit card disputes, chargebacks, etc. from your customers.
Merchant account providers know this. And they charge fees, and prepare/specialize, to accommodate this accordingly!
Typically when you’re just starting out you’ll want to get setup fast with a merchant account aggregator, like Stripe or Paypal. Or an all-around POS system like Square.
Then, as your business grows, you will want to branch out from your initial choice and consider a more specialized provider – one that can give you better rates, protect your account from closure, and provide more advanced equipment and features that will help you grow.
Which credit card processing companies are best for your businesses?
Here are our recommendations for the top merchant accounts: