April 22, 2021

Best Credit Card Processing for Small Business

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The best credit card processing providers offer transparent pricing, flexible terms, and good features. Here are the top processors for different businesses.

71% of consumers prefer to pay with a debit card or credit card.[1] Nowadays, it's essential that businesses are able to accept card payments.

The best credit card processing provider isn't just about looking at the fees. You also need to consider:

  • Your type and size of business
  • What features you need
  • Quality of service

How do you sort through hundreds of providers to pick the best one?

After hundreds of hours of research, these are the companies that made our top 10 processing providers. Whether you're a new business or looking to switch, there's a good fit for you. Read on.

Best Credit Card Processors for Different Types of Businesses:
  1. Square: For Small Mobile Businesses
  2. PayPal: For Accepting PayPal In-Person and Online
  3. Stripe: For Online Businesses
  4. Payline Data: For Businesses Processing $5k - $10k/month
  5. Dharma: For Businesses Processing $10,000+/month
  6. Stax by Fattmerchant: For Businesses Processing $15,000+/month
  7. Payment Depot: For Businesses Processing $25,000+/month
  8. National Processing: For Restaurants
  9. CDG Commerce: For Different Pricing Structures
  10. PaymentCloud: For High-Risk Businesses

Bottom Line Recommendations

Before the detailed breakdown, here are our bottom-line recommendations for the best processing companies for different business types.

  • If you're a new or small business with processing less than $5,000 a month, Square is the best option. It has simple flat-rate pricing and you can get set up quickly.

  • If you're a mid-volume business processing up to $15,000 a month, use an interchange-plus provider like Payline Data.

  • If you're a large, high-volume business processing over $15,000 a month, use a subscription-based provider like Payment Depot.

 SquarePaylinePayment Depot
 Visit SiteVisit SiteVisit Site
 

Square

Payline

Payment Depot

SPECIAL OFFER
Free Mobile Credit Card Reader - Learn More

SPECIAL OFFER
Free 1st Month of Processing - Learn More

SPECIAL OFFER
Save 40% or More - Learn More

 

Benefits and Features

Pricing Model
Flat rate
Interchange-Plus
Subscription
Swipe Rate
2.6% + 10¢
Interchange + 0.2% + $0.10
Interchange + 15¢ (for processing up to $25,000/mo; discounts for larger volume)
Online Rate
2.9% + 30¢
Interchange + 0.40% + $0.20
Interchange + 15¢ (discounts for larger volume)
Monthly Fee
No monthly fees
  • $10 per month for in-person processing
  • $20 per month for online processing
  • $10 per month for virtual terminal
  • $49/month (process up to $25,000/mo)
  • $79/month (up to $75,000/mo)
  • $99/month (up to $150,000/mo)
  • $199/month (over $150,000/mo)
 Visit SiteVisit SiteVisit Site

Keep reading to learn more in detail about these companies and our other top picks.

10 Best Credit Card Processing for Small Businesses

© CreditDonkey

1. Square

Best for: new businesses; small mobile businesses

  • Simple flat-rate pricing with no extra fees
  • Fast and easy to get started
  • Free mobile swipe reader
  • Great app with lots of features
  • Account holds and freezes
  • Poor customer service
  • Not for high-risk businesses

With a free mobile reader and simple flat-rate fees, Square is an easy and affordable option for new businesses. There's no approval process, so you can get started right away.

There is no contract or monthly fees. You only pay for what you process. If you don't have any sales that month, you don't pay anything. You can stop and go at any time.

That makes Square ideal for small mobile shops or businesses with sporadic sales (such as food trucks, seasonal sellers, market vendors, coffee shops, etc.).

Square also offers one of the best mobile POS apps with tons of features to help you running your business. Straight from the app, you can:

  • Accept swipe, chip, and contactless payments
  • Accept payments offline without Wi-Fi connection
  • Send custom invoices
  • Add tax and tip
  • Set discounts and issue refunds
  • Set installment plan for customers, but you're paid upfront
  • Manage customer database
  • Track employees and inventory
  • Get detailed reports and sales trends

Cost:[2]

  • Swipe and chip: 2.6% + $0.10
  • Online: 2.9% + $0.30
  • Manual keyed-in: 3.5% + $0.15

There are no other hidden fees. All accounts get a free payment gateway, virtual terminal, and online store. Square has no chargeback fees either.

The downside is that the processing fees can be high, especially if you have very small average ticket sizes. If your sales are usually $10, that's $0.36 in fees.

Square is an ideal entry-level option for new businesses. But as your business grows, you'll want to switch to a provider with a different pricing model (which we'll cover later on).

Square is a third-party payment services provider. This means you don't get your own dedicated merchant account. This makes it faster to get started, but there are some downsides, like frozen funds. Learn more in our detailed guide on Square vs. merchant accounts.

2. PayPal

Best for: small businesses that want to accept PayPal

  • Accept PayPal & Venmo in-person and online
  • Fast and easy to get started
  • No contract
  • Cheaper in-person processing rates
  • Higher online processing rates
  • Account holds and freezes
  • Extra fees for additional features

PayPal offers the best range of payment options to customers. You can accept all major cards, digital wallets, PayPal, and Venmo. With hundreds of millions of PayPal and Venmo users, it can be a big advantage to have those payment options for customers.

PayPal is incredibly easy to set up. You can use it with most major ecommerce platforms. Within minutes, you can install a free online checkout button on your site.

If you take in-person payments, it offers a PayPal Zettle POS app that lets you take cards on your smartphone. You can even accept PayPal and Venmo payments via QR code scan.

Cost:[3]

  • Swipe, chip, and tap transactions: 2.29% + $0.09
  • QR code transactions $10.01 and above: 1.90% + $0.10
  • QR code transactions $10 and under: 2.40% + $0.05
  • Online credit and debit transactions: 2.99% + $0.49
  • Online PayPal and Venmo checkout: 3.49% + $0.49
  • Keyed-in transactions: 3.49% + $0.09
  • Virtual terminal: 3.09% + $0.49

PayPal also offers some special transaction rates for these types of businesses:
  • Nonprofits (online websites): 1.99% + $0.49
  • Micropayments plan: 4.99% + $0.09

Compared to Square, PayPal offers lower transaction rates for in-person payments (especially for QR code transactions over $10). But for online transactions, the rate is higher, though you do get the benefit of accepting PayPal and Venmo.

If you want to accept payments over the phone, the virtual terminal is only available under the PayPal Pro plan and costs $30/month. Recurring billing for subscriptions is an extra $10/month.

PayPal used to offer the PayPal Here POS app and card reader. But that is no longer available to new merchants. Existing users can still continue to use it, along with the 2.7% per-swipe processing rate. New merchants can only sign up for PayPal Zettle.

3. Stripe

Best for: online businesses looking for advanced customization

  • Advanced customization options
  • 450+ platforms and extensions
  • Accepts international cards
  • 24/7 support vis phone, chat, and email
  • Need a developer to make use of tools
  • 2-day funding time
  • Account holds and freezes

Stripe is the most powerful processor for online businesses. It has a strong focus on technology. It's known for advanced API tools that allow for complete customization of your checkout experience. But you'd have to have a developer to make use of them.

Stripe is a good choice for subscription services, in-app purchases, online platforms, and B2B businesses. It may be too much if you just need basic checkout buttons. Look into PayPal or Shopify instead.

Some of Stripe's features include:

  • Integrates with dozens of online shopping carts
  • Supports 135+ currencies and dozens of global payment options
  • Hundreds of apps and extensions
  • Stripe Billing for recurring billing and invoices: you can set trial periods, tiered pricing, and usage-based pricing
  • Stripe Connect for marketplaces and platforms: sellers can create their own accounts and get paid from customers

Cost:[4]

  • 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
  • Additional 1% for international payments in any currency

Stripe also offers in-person processing for 2.7% + $0.05 per swipe. So it could also be good if you're a mostly online business that occasionally sells in-person.

Larger businesses can talk with Stripe to get a custom interchange-plus pricing.

Did you know? Stripe users include Lyft, DoorDash, Slack, Instacart, and Booking.com.

4. Payline Data

Best for: businesses processing $5k - $10k per month

  • Transparent interchange-plus pricing
  • No early termination fees
  • Works with smaller businesses
  • Free one-month trial
  • Fees for extra features
  • Online rates more expensive than others
  • $25 monthly minimum

We're now getting into the full-service merchant accounts. Once you're seeing steady sales, switching to a merchant account with interchange-plus pricing will help you save more.

Traditional merchant account providers usually work with more established businesses, but Payline Data accepts smaller businesses. So it's a good choice if you're still growing your sales.

Payline Data has no contract and no termination fees. It offers a one-month free trial, so you can try it out first.

Cost:[5]

  • Retail: Interchange + 0.2% + $0.10; $10/month
  • Online: Interchange + 0.4% + $0.20; $20/month

Payline's pricing is not the cheapest you'll find (especially for online), but it does work with smaller businesses processing just a few thousand a month. And compared to flat-fee structures like Square, it comes out to be cheaper.

It also has several add-on fees. A virtual terminal will cost $10/month. Recurring billing is $29.95/month, which is expensive compared to other providers.

There is a $25 monthly minimum. That means if you didn't have enough sales to add up to this minimum, you'll still be charged $25.

5. Dharma Merchant Services

Best for: businesses processing over $10k per month

  • Low interchange-plus pricing
  • No early termination fees
  • Gives back to charity
  • 2-day funding time
  • Usually only works with larger businesses
  • $25 account closure fee

Dharma charges some of the lowest credit card processing rates on the market. Compared to Payline, they offer lower processing fees. But they generally only work with larger businesses processing over $10,000 a month.

All accounts get the MX Merchant payment gateway, which also includes a virtual terminal, mobile processing, customer database, and reporting tools. It integrates with most major shopping carts.

Cost:[6]

  • Storefront: Interchange + 0.15% + $0.07; $20/month
  • Virtual: Interchange + 0.2% + $0.10; $20/month
  • Restaurants: Interchange + 0.15% + $0.07; $20/month

Processing AMEX cards has a slightly higher markup. Dharma's fee for AMEX is 0.25% + $0.07 for in-person and 0.30% + $0.10 for online transactions.

There are some fees for additional features. Invoicing and recurring billing is $10/month, and processing ACH transfers is $25/month. Other fees are clearly displayed on the website.

For very large businesses processing over $100k/month, Dharma offers a further discount.

Dharma is also known as a socially conscious company. Each year, it gives back to nonprofit organizations in the categories of social justice, education, environment, health, and animal welfare.

6. Stax by Fattmerchant

Best for: businesses processing over $15k per month

  • Low fixed per-transaction markup
  • No early termination fees
  • Robust Omni platform
  • Omni software fee
  • Not for smaller businesses

For larger businesses, a subscription-based provider like Stax by Fattmerchant will help you save more. You pay a monthly membership fee, but get lower processing markups. This more than justifies the membership fee if you have lots of sales.

One big advantage of Fattmerchant is the robust Omni payments platform. It's an all-in-one solution to help you run your business. Some features include:

  • Monitor and reconcile payments, refunds, and deposits
  • Invoicing and recurring billing
  • Inventory and customer management
  • Assign employee roles and permissions
  • Advanced analytics tools
  • Access monthly processing statements
  • Sync with QuickBooks Online

Fattmerchant even offers developer APIs to create your own custom shopping cart solution on your website, app, or software.

Cost:[7]

  • Starts at $99 per month subscription fee
  • Swipe and chip: Interchange + $0.08
  • Online: Interchange + $0.15
  • Omni platform starting at $49/month

You'll pay a monthly subscription for processing plus a monthly fee for the Omni software. Omni starts at $49/month for one single form of payment. It goes up to $89 if you take multiple payment types, and $129 for larger, multi-location businesses.

7. Payment Depot

Best for: businesses processing over $25k per month

  • Low fixed per-transaction markup
  • No early termination fees
  • Different plans for different sized businesses
  • Next day funding
  • 20% restocking fee for returned equipment
  • Not for smaller businesses
  • Doesn't work with high-risk businesses

Payment Depot is another subscription-based provider. Compared to Fattmerchant, very high-volume merchants can save more. Payment Depot only accepts merchants with $15,000 average gross monthly revenue.

Payment Depot offers four pricing plans with different processing limits, so you can choose the best fit. You can switch plans at any time as your business fluctuates.

It only charges a small fixed fee for all payment methods, regardless of whether you're taking credit cards in person or online. So it's also better if you sell on multiple channels.

Cost:[8]

  • $49/month; Interchange + $0.15 (for up to $25k monthly)
  • $79/month; Interchange + $0.10 (for up to $75k monthly)
  • $99/month; Interchange + $0.07 (for up to $150k monthly)
  • $199/month; Interchange + $0.05 (no processing limit)

Starting with the Most Popular plan ($79/month), you get a free basic terminal. The upper-tier plans can get more advanced free equipment. If you already have exiting processing equipment, Payment Depot can also reprogram it for free.

You can choose month-to-month billing or an annual subscription. Both choices allow you to cancel at any time. Annual memberships offer a discount and 90-day money-back guarantee.

Payment Depot qualifications: You must be in business for at least 6 months, have average of $15,000 in gross monthly revenue over the last 3 months, and have personal FICO credit score of 500.

8. National Processing

Best for: restaurants

  • Low interchange-plus or subscription rates
  • No contract
  • Next day funding
  • Conditions to waive termination fee
  • Cancellation fee if you were given free equipment
  • May have software fees

National Processing offers a low interchange-plus pricing for small businesses. Larger businesses can switch to subscription pricing with a lower markup rate.

The interchange-plus rate is especially good for restaurants. No other provider competes with National's restaurant rate.

Cost:[9]

  • Interchange-Plus (for small-medium businesses)
    Retail: Interchange + 0.18% + $0.10; $9.95/month
    Restaurant: Interchange + 0.14% + $0.07; $9.95/month
    eCommerce: Interchange + 0.29% + $0.15; $9.95/month
  • Subscription (for larger businesses)
    Interchange + $0.09; $59/month, or
    Interchange + $0.05; $199/month

The only thing to watch out for is their free equipment deal. This may require a contract with an early cancellation fee. If you don't want to be tied down in any way, it's best to have your own equipment. Or, they offer a range of sleek Clover products for purchase.

There may also be some undisclosed software fees. You'll have talk to a rep to get more details.

National Processing doesn't have a contract, but there are some conditions to waive the termination fee. You must have a lower competitor quote in writing. If National cannot match or beat the offer, then they won't charge you a termination fee.

For merchants processing at least $10,000 per month, National Processing has a promise that if they can't beat your current processing rates, they'll give you a $500 Visa gift card.

9. CDG Commerce

Best for: businesses wanting a provider to grow with them

  • Different pricing structures based on business volume
  • No early termination fees
  • 24/7 customer support
  • Fewer equipment options
  • Some monthly fees not displayed on website

CDG Commerce has an interesting pricing structure. It offers different pricing models to fit the needs of your business.

Small businesses processing $1,000 to $10,000 a month can start with a simple flat-rate plan. For mid-size businesses up to $200k/month, it offers interchange-plus pricing. And for large businesses, CDG offers a subscription plan that's competitive with Fattmerchant pricing.

Cost:[10]

  • Flat Rate (for $1,000-$10,000/month)
    Swipe or chip: 2.75% + $0.30
    Online: 2.90% + $0.30
    Amex surcharge: 0.25%
  • Interchange-Plus (for $10,000+/month)
    Swipe or chip: Interchange + 0.25% + $0.10
    Online: Interchange + 0.30% + $0.15
  • Wholesale Membership (for $10,000+/month)
    Starts at $49/month; Interchange + $0.10

The flat-rate pricing isn't the lowest. But unlike Square, you get your own merchant account and support from their team. If your business is quickly growing and you don't want to keep on switching providers, CDG Commerce may be appealing.

You can get a credit card terminal for free, but must purchase insurance for $79/year. This can be a more affordable option than buying your own equipment outright.

10. PaymentCloud

Best for: high-risk businesses

  • Specializes in high-risk processing
  • Free rate review
  • Dedicated account agent
  • Fees not disclosed on website

High-risk businesses often have a hard time finding a merchant account provider. A lot won't work with them because they don't want to deal with the risk of losing money.

PaymentCloud has developed a strong reputation for specializing in high-risk merchants. Whether you're in a risky industry or previously had a failed business, a dedicated, experienced staff will work with your unique needs. They leverage their 10+ banking relationships to help you find the right fit.

But the processing fees aren't disclosed on the website. You'll need to speak with a rep to get a personalized quote. Note that high-risk processing usually has higher rates and account fees. You may even have to agree to a contract length.

High-risk doesn't just mean sketchy industries. Even businesses like memberships, electronics, financial services, web design services, and those with large average ticket size can be considered high risk.

How We Chose the Best Credit Card Processors

To find the best credit card processing companies, we first considered the different types of businesses out there. New businesses have different needs than established companies. Online startups have different needs than retail.

Once we established different business categories, we compared processing companies to find the best fit for that category. We looked at these factors:

  • Competitive pricing
  • Transparency
  • No contract
  • Setup and ease of use
  • Good, well-rounded features
  • PCI compliance

We finally narrowed down the list by picking providers with the best balance of fees against features offered (except for PaymentCloud for high-risk processing, since rates depend on your unique situation).

What Is Credit Card Processing?

If you want to accept credit cards from customers, you need the help of a processing service.

A processing provider offers the equipment, technology, and services required to process card payments. It acts as a middleman between you (the merchant), the banks, and your customers.

The main services include:

  1. Accepting and processing debit cards and credit cards, as well as other forms of electronic payments.

  2. Providing the necessary hardware and software for processing, such as card readers, POS, payment gateway (for online businesses), and virtual terminal.

  3. Maintaining PCI compliance to protect your customers' credit card data.

  4. Providing online tools to keep track of transactions, monitor employees and inventory, manage customer data, see sales trends, and more.

Merchant Account vs. Payment Services Provider

The first step is to decide which kind of provider you want to use. This mostly depends on how new your business is. The two options are:

Merchant account provider
Merchant account providers are a full-service credit card processor. You get a unique merchant ID number and a dedicated merchant account just for your business.

These types of accounts require underwriting to approve you as a client. The provider will thoroughly review your business to determine how risky you are. Oftentimes, they only want to work with established businesses with a history of steady sales.

Merchant accounts usually offer lower processing costs, better account stability, and better customer support.

Payment service provider
Payment service providers (like Square) are the simpler option. You don't get your own merchant account ID. Instead, your transactions are processed together with many other businesses into one huge shared merchant account.

These providers don't have a lengthy application process. You just sign yourself up and can get started right away. Thus, they're better for new and micro-businesses.

But because of the simplicity, the processing fees are higher. Your account will also be more closely watched afterwards. Account holds and freezes are more common if they think a transaction seems suspicious.

How Much Does Credit Card Processing Cost?

In general, you can expect the overall cost to be 2.5% - 3.5% of your processing volume. This means if you have $10,000 in credit card sales each month, your processing fees will be $250 - $350.

Your total processing fees includes several components:

  • Interchange fees: These fees are paid to the card issuing banks (like Chase, Bank of America, etc.) to cover operation costs and risk. These make up the major bulk of your processing fees.

  • Assessment fees: These are paid to the card networks (Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and Amex) for using their card brands.

  • Processor fees: These are fees your processing provider charges. This is the commission they get for each transaction, plus any fees for services and features.

Interchange and assessment fees are set by the card associations. They're the same no matter which provider you use. So when shopping around, you only need to compare the processor fees.

What to Look for In a Processing Provider

To find the right provider for you, don't only look at the cost. You want to find a provider with the best processing fees while providing the services you need.

Here are some main things to look for when comparing companies.

Pricing Structure for Your Size Business

It's important to get the right pricing structure for your business. Most providers specialize in one type of pricing, so that helps narrow down your search right away.

Choose the right provider for your needs right now. Of course, we all hope our business grows over time. When you've outgrown your provider, you can switch to another provider that fits better with your new situation.

  • New or small business (under $5,000/month):
    It's best to get started with a payment services provider with flat-rate pricing, like Square or PayPal. There's no approval process, so you can take credit card sales right away.

    The downside is that all the fees are blended together, so you don't really know how much the provider is charging. The fees tend to be higher in exchange for the simplicity and convenience.

  • Low to mid-volume sales (up to $15,000/month):
    If you have steady sales between $5k and $15k per month, a merchant account provider with interchange-plus pricing (like Payline Data) will allow you to save more.

    In interchange-plus, the interchange fees are clearly separated from the provider markups. So you know exactly how much the provider is charging. It's also easier to compare providers.

  • Large business (over $15,000/month):
    For larger businesses, you'll save the most with subscription pricing, like Fattmerchant or Payment Depot. The processor markups are very low, so your savings will more than justify the membership fee.

If a provider offers tiered pricing, stay away. This structure is the most confusing and can come out to the highest rates.

Other Account Fees

Besides just looking at the processing rate, pay attention to other account fees and miscellaneous charges. Watch out for:

  • Account setup fees
  • Monthly or annual fee
  • Monthly processing minimum
  • Payment gateway fee
  • Virtual terminal fee
  • PCI compliance fees
  • Chargeback fees
  • Statement fees

A lot of additional fees can increase your overall processing rate. You want to take all the fees into account when comparing providers.

Contract

Traditionally, merchant accounts required a contract (usually 3 years). But nowadays, a lot of providers have done away with contracts and offer month-to-month billing.

There should be no reason to choose a provider with a contract. You should be able to cancel whenever you want with no termination fees.

Payment Methods

Consider all the ways you plan on taking payments: in-person, online, contactless, PayPal, invoicing, auto-recurring billing, by phone, or ACH transfers.

Make sure the provider supports your payment methods. And see if they charge extra for it. A lot of providers may have an extra fee for virtual terminal, recurring billing feature, and ACH platform.

Equipment

If you need hardware, see what options the provider offers, and how much. If you already have equipment, see if they're able to reprogram it to work with their POS.

If the provider is offering free equipment, ask in detail what the deal entails. Is there a contract in exchange for free equipment? Or fees when you return the equipment?

We don't recommend leasing equipment (if that's an option). You can end up paying way more over time than if you just bought it outright. Plus, leasing equipment often comes with a contract that's hard to break.

Customer Service

Quality of service is super important to your relationship with your processor. You want to be able to get help when you need it.

As you shop for providers, get a sense of how responsive and helpful their support staff is.

Generally, payment service providers have poorer customer service, and mostly rely on self-troubleshooting or email support. Merchant account providers offer better support. You often even get a dedicated account rep.

Bottom Line

Ultimately, the best credit card processing for you will mostly depend on your business size.

New businesses have more limited options. It's best to start with a flat-rate payment processing service like Square or PayPal. They're easier to set up and offer simpler, more predictable pricing.

As your business grows, you'll find much cheaper rates with interchange-plus or subscription pricing.

Just like with any product, carefully compare and shop around. Get a few quotes from different companies. Make sure you get a full disclosure of all the potential fees. This way, you can compare which one offers the best overall value.

References

  1. ^ FRBSF, 2020 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice, Retrieved 6/7/2021
  2. ^ Square Pricing, Retrieved 4/6/2021
  3. ^ PayPal Merchant Fees, Retrieved 8/5/2021
  4. ^ Stripe Pricing, Retrieved 4/6/2021
  5. ^ Payline Pricing & Processing Fees, Retrieved 4/6/2021
  6. ^ Dharma Merchant Services Rates, Retrieved 4/6/2021
  7. ^ Fattmerchant Plans & Pricing, Retrieved 4/6/2021
  8. ^ Payment Depot Pricing Plans, Retrieved 4/6/2021
  9. ^ National Processing Pricing, Retrieved 4/6/2021
  10. ^ CDG Commerce Pricing Plans, Retrieved 4/6/2021

Anna G is a contributing writer at CreditDonkey, a credit card processing comparison and reviews website. Write to Anna G at feedback@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

Note: This website is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content. You do not have to use our links, but you help support CreditDonkey if you do.


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